Despite going win-less in their 3 matches in the Carnary Islands the positive’s for the US U18 squad far out weigh the negatives.
For too many years US youth soccer leadership and supporters (myself included) have placed misguided emphasis on results. Victories at the Nike Friendlies only go so far. In actuality wins and loses mean little at this stage, yet are too often used as the only measure for success in our youth ranks.
And that’s easy to understand.
As US fans we are constantly searching for our savior, the chosen one, our first ‘world class’ player, and it’s tough for most fans to correlate meaningful development without trophies or victories.
However, things they are a-changin thanks to a couple forward thinking coaches.
US U18 and U15 coaches Javier Perez and Hugo Perez took young squads to Spain and Dubai respectively this month to play older and more experienced teams. They are two coaches who have placed a premium on growing players, instead of padding the numbers in the win column.
The US U18s took an extremely young squad led by experienced core ’96s Emerson Hyndman, Shaquell Moore and Rubio Rubin, and a host of some of the more talented US ’97s to the Copa Del Atlantico in the Canary Islands, to face Spanish and Argentinian squads in particular that were composed of players nearly two years older.
Javier Perez relied heavily on the talented core these ’97s allowing Mukwelle Akale drive the offense and stalwart defenders Erik Palmer-Brown and Tommy Redding shore up the defense.
On paper these ’97s should have been physically and technically over-matched by a Spanish side that includes youth players from some of World’s best academies and an Argentina side that boasts a number of 1st team players in the Argentina Primera Division.
This was not to be the case. Despite consecutive 0-1 losses, a number of US players were extremely impressive in front of scouts from top teams in England, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. A number of these prospects have become priorities for clubs.
US ’97 Mukwelle Akale was particularly impressive with dazzling displays that out-shined some of the world’s top play-making prospects in Spain’s ’96 Jose Angel Pozo la Rosa (Manchester City) and Argentina’s ’95 Maximiliano Rolón (FC Barcelona) and ’95 Giovanni Simeone (River Plate). Akale was named the tournament’s best player despite not scoring himself and playing for a squad that only logged two goals in 3 matches.
Lots of credit should be given to Javier Perez who has continually pushed Mukwelle to step his play up, while at the same time giving him the freedom to play his own style, something that Mukwelle was unable to do during his time at US Residency under U17 coach Richie Williams.
Mukwelle was joined by ’97 Tommy Redding on the list for tournament’s best player, coming in 7th, not bad for a defender who was playing against players logging 1st team minutes at their clubs. Redding was one of the highest rated defenders along with Sporting KC’s Home-grown talent Erik Palmer-Brown. In Redding and Palmer-Brown Perez has forged the foundation upon which to build his back-line. Both are physically imposing and possess great soccer minds. Add in the ball-hawking defensive midfielder Benny Swanson and the ’97s look have found a solid core in defense.
These are exciting times for US youth prospects. But it is important to temper expectations. Joining academies at some of the World’s finest clubs hardly guarantee’s long term international success. Likewise, joining ‘smaller’ clubs does not devalue there talent. In many respects the deal that took ’99 US U15 defender Kyle Gruno to Leicester City is much better than some of the other US youth internationals at bigger clubs.
Whatever happens it is key that we, as fans, stop placing such importance on wins and losses and continue to support these coaches who push these exciting prospect to their limits while at the same time giving them the freedom to play.