USA head to Nigeria later this month keeping alive a proud tradition as the only nation to have qualified for all 12 instalments of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. However, current coach Wilmer Cabrera a 48 times capped defender with ColombiaÂ is hoping this time his young stars and stripes can make a big splash on the global stage.
“It’s very good that we are making progress in the US at youth level and developing good players for the future,” the coach told FIFA.com in a recent interview. “But now is the time when we need to make the step up and not be content with just reaching the World Cup, but being more competitive once we’re there.”
The furthest any USA U-17 team has gone at the junior world finals was the last_four stage, achieved back in 1999 in New Zealand when current senior stars Landon Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu were in the squad. Although Cabrera is putting a little good_natured pressure on his boys, who strolled through their qualifying group in Tijuana, Mexico, his approach is that of teacher and mentor more so than stern taskmaster.
“At this age you have to be patient, you have to put yourself in their shoes, remember what it was like to be that age,” said the coach, a former standout with America de Cali, Independiente and Millonarios who relocated from his native Colombia at the tail_end of his playing days. “They are still kids, a lot of them. Some have big bodies and look like men, but their minds are still young and impressionable.”
Now is the time when we need to make the step up and not be content with just reaching the World Cup, but being more competitive once we’re there.
USA U 17 coach Wilmer Cabrera
If anyone is equipped to put himself in the shoes of these talented young charges it is Cabrera. Aside from playing in the senior FIFA World Cupâ„¢ in 1990 and 1998, the coachÂ Â a four time veteran of the Copa America _ also twice took part in a FIFA world finals as a wide eyed teenager. “I went to two Youth World Cups with Colombia in the 1980s,” said Cabrera, who played alongside Rene Higuita at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1985 in the USSR and then again at the 1987 edition in Chile. “This is how I get into their shoes. I remember the feelings I had back then both on and off the field. I can reflect on that experience and use it.”
Cabrera, who oversees the USA U-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Florida, which he calls “the best soccer school in the entire country,” has some fine talent at his disposal as he sets his sights on Nigeria 2009. Jack McInerny and Sebastian Lletget will likely lead the lines as the USA face a mixed bag of opposition in