CHICAGO -- United States Under-17 men's national team head coach John Hackworth announced Wednesday the 18-man roster that will represent the U.S. at the CONCACAF Under-17 Final Round Group A Qualifying Tournament from April 12-16 in Heredia, Costa Rica.
Hackworth selected his 18-man roster from the 40 available players in U.S. Soccer's Under-17 Residency Program based in Bradenton, Fla. All of the players were born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, with only backup goalkeeper Brian Perk making the roster from the younger 1989 age group.
The U.S. opens against El Salvador on Tuesday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET, before facing Cuba on Thursday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. ET and finishing the final round qualifying tournament against Costa Rica on Saturday, April 16, at 9 p.m. ET. The U.S. will play all three matches at Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero. Every U.S. match of the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament can be followed live via ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics.
The winners of Group A and Group B, which will be contested among Mexico, Canada, Haiti and Honduras in Mexico from May 17-21, will qualify for the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship to be played in Peru from September 15-October 2. The two second-place finishers will play a home-and-home playoff series for the third and final CONCACAF berth for the world championship.
The U.S. is the only nation to qualify and compete in all 10 FIFA World Championships at this age group. The U.S. won the CONCACAF Final Round Qualifying Tournament twice (1983 and 1992) when just one winner was crowned from 1983-1996. Since the event became a final round qualification consisting of two groups in 1999, the U.S. has won their group twice, taking home the Group A title during the past two competitions in 2001 and 2003.
"We know going down to Costa Rica and qualifying for our World Championship will be a difficult task for us to accomplish," said U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team head coach John Hackworth. "We are confident that the 18 players we've selected will give us the best chance to get through to Peru. We will no doubt need to play our best to succeed, but the players know our goal is to come out on top in the group and guarantee ourselves a spot in the World Championship."
The U.S. will be looking to secure a spot in Peru without the services of their most prolific scorer as forward/midfielder Quavas Kirk suffered a broken foot during the team's final preparation match on April 3 against Haiti. Since joining the U-17s in September 2003, Kirk has lead the team in scoring with 39 goals and 17 assists, including an astounding 16 goals and five assists since January, the same month he was drafted in the third round by the L.A. Galaxy in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. In the match against Haiti, Kirk scored two goals and notched an assist in the 4-0 victory before getting injured.
Looking to pick up the slack will be forward Preston Zimmerman, who has been a consistent scoring threat since joining the U-17s almost exactly a year ago in early April. Since joining the team in Bradenton, the Pasco, Wash., native has compiled an impressive strike rate with 21 goals in 44 games. More importantly, Zimmerman has shined when the stakes are highest, leading the U-17s in international goals scored with eight strikes in just 18 games.
Hackworth will also count on forward David Arvizu and midfielders Ryan Soroka and Kyle Nakazawa to propel the U.S. attack during qualifying. Arvizu's composure and field awareness up front has complimented the hard-charging style of Zimmerman as the combination has paid dividends for the U.S. Soroka's swift playmaking skills and blazing speed make him a nuisance for opposing defenses on the flanks, while Nakazawa's poise in the midfield and ability to find the open man has provided the U-17s with a creative midfield attack.
"Losing Quavas Kirk is unfortunate, especially since he has really played well the past couple months," said Hackworth. "But we have been extremely versatile in our attack and are confident that the collection of starters and reserves included in the roster will be able to step up and fill the offensive void."
A fixture for the U.S. in the defensive midfielder position is Nikolas Besagno, who was the first overall pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft by Real Salt Lake this past January. Despite joining the U-17s only last April, Besagno quickly made his way into the starting lineup as he impressed with tough tackles, smart decisions and a durable work rate.
Ofori Sarkodie, an intelligent and rugged central defender who has the range to also be dangerous in the attack, leads the U.S. backline with 20 international appearances, all starts, in the past two years. Ofori will direct the rest of the defensive unit that has included Eric Lichaj (20 international starts), Richard Edgar (20), Carlos Borja (18), Blake Wagner (11), Kevin Alston (10) and Amaechi Igwe (six).
Bryant Rueckner is the first-choice goalkeeper for the U-17s as he has an impressive 1.13 goals against average, including 11 shutouts, while compiling a 22-12-11 record during the past two years.
Since joining U.S. Soccer's Residency Program in September of 2003, the Under-17s have compiled a 46-26-14 overall record and a 7-8-5 international record, while almost outscoring their opponents two-to-one (196 GF, 100 GA). In 2004, the U.S. competed in four international tournaments in France, Northern Ireland, Peru and Ecuador, twice finishing in second place.
El Salvador advanced to the final round of qualifying by winning the UNCAF Triangular 1 last December. El Salvador defeated a tough Guatemala side 1-0 before cruising into the final round with a thrashing of Nicaragua, 9-0.
The U.S. last met El Salvador during the 2003 CONCACAF Under-17 Qualifying Tournament in their second match, struggling to a 1-1 draw. The U.S. also faced El Salvador in a home-and-away playoff series for the third and final CONCACAF berth in 1999 after finishing in second place in Group A. The U.S. won the playoff 10-1 on aggregate to qualify for the '99 FIFA U-17 World Championship in New Zealand, where Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley led the U.S. to their best showing ever by advancing to the semifinals and eventually finishing in fourth place. Overall, the U.S. has faced El Salvador six times in qualifying, holding a 5-0-1 record with 24 goals for and only three against.
Cuba advanced to the final round for the first time since the 1993 tournament by defeating Trinidad & Tobago 6-2 on aggregate in the Caribbean Zone Second Round Series 1 last year. After taking the first leg 3-1 in La Havana, Cuba, on Nov. 26, the Cubanos won the second leg by the same score in Trinidad on Dec. 10. The U.S. holds a 3-0-1 record in four tight qualifying matches with five goals scored and just one against.
As host of the final round of the CONCACAF U-17 Qualifying Tournament for the first time, Costa Rica did not need to qualify. The U.S. has faced Costa Rica six times in qualifying (four in the final round) and holds a even 2-2-2 record against the Ticos. The U.S. Under-17s only two losses against Costa Rica came in the first round of qualifying in '94 and '96, while going undefeated (2-0-2) against them in the final round.
U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team Roster
Brian Perk, GK
Bryant Rueckner, GK
Carlos Borja, D
Richard Edgar, D
Amaechi Igwe, D
Eric Lichaj, D
Ofori Sarkodie, D
Kevin Alston, M
Nikolas Besagno, M
Omar Gonzalez, M
Kyle Nakazawa, M
Ryan Soroka, M
Neven Subotic, M
Blake Wagner, M
Eddie Ababio, F
David Arvizu, F
Jeremy Hall, F
Preston Zimmerman, F