CHICAGO The U.S. Under-17 ’88 Men’s National Team has accepted an invitation from CONMEBOL to participate in a South American international tournament from Sept. 11-26 in six venues in the southern part of Paraguay. Along with the U.S., the 12-team tournament includes all 10 CONMEBOL federations and CONCACAF rival Mexico.
The U.S. was placed into Group B along with Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador, and will play all three of its group games in Encarnacion, which is located near the Paraguay-Argentina border. The U-17s will kick off the tournament against Argentina on Sept. 12, before taking on Uruguay on Sept. 15 and finishing group play on Sept. 18 against Ecuador.
In the two other groups, Group A consists of all South American teams with Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, while Mexico was placed in Group C, probably the toughest group, with Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.
The top two finishers in each group, along with the top two third place teams will advance to the quarterfinals, which will be played on Sept. 21 in Itaugua and Sept. 22 in Luque. The semifinals will also be played in Luque on Sept. 24, while the final will be played in Paraguay’s capital city, Asuncion, on Sept. 26.
“Taking part in a tournament against quality international competition from South America will be great experience for our young players,” said U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team head coach John Ellinger. “We are looking forward to the challenges Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador will provide for us as it will be a good measuring stick to see how far along we are and what we need to improve moving forward. Our ultimate goal will be to get out of our group and move onto the second stage to make a run for the final.”
The U-17 MNT, which last week kicked off the fall semester of U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., will travel to Paraguay with an 20-player roster. Ellinger will bring a potent attack as Quavas Kirk, Preston Zimmerman and Ryan Soroka have all demonstrated the ability to find the back of the net. Kirk leads the team in overall goals scored with nine (three international), while Zimmerman, who joined the residency program just this April, has compiled an impressive strike rate with eight goals (five international) in 18 games. Soroka, whose swift playmaking skills and blazing speed make him a nuisance for opposing defenses, leads the team with five assists, while adding four goals.
On defense, the U.S. is bolstered by a backline of Carlos Borja, Richard Edgar, Eric Lichaj and Ofori Sarkodie, that has played well together during their first year in residency. Along with first-choice ‘keeper Michael Rueckner, the Under-17s have held their opponents to just over a goal a game, compiling a 1.10 goals against average.
Ellinger also added six players who just started Residency this semester to the roster as defenders Patrick Rickards and Joel Smith, midfielders Drew Yates and Matt Armstrong, forward Eddie Ababio and goalkeeper Brian Perk will all make the trip to Paraguay. Perk and forward Michael Stephens are the only two players on the roster born in 1989 as the rest of the team was born in 1988.
The U-17s have steadily improved since coming together in September 2003, compiling a 24-17-9 record while outscoring their opponents 89-61. After a lackluster showing in April in their first international tournament the Montaigu Tournament in Montaigu, France where they finished eighth, the Under-17s came away with back-to-back second place finishes. Less than a month later at the Ballymena International Tournament in Northern Ireland, the U.S. won their group before falling in the final to Switzerland in penalty kicks. In early August, the U.S. traveled to Peru for the Copa Telefonica Tournament, where they defeated Peru and tied Ecuador to finish behind tournament winner Colombia.
The tournament will provide the U-17’s an opportunity to play against tough international competition in a tournament format, a valuable experience as the U.S. moves towards CONCACAF qualifying in Costa Rica from April 12-16, 2005. The U-17s will attempt to continue its streak of being the only nation to qualify for each FIFA Under-17 World Championship, a total of 10, one every two years since 1985.