JAMIE HILL - Saturday, June 18, 2011
The US is no stranger to opening a World Cup campaign with a match against the Czech Republic.
American soccer fans will long remember the debacle of the 2006 World Cup, which began with a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of the Czechs. The U-17 team will open their version of the World Cup with a match against the Central Europeans in Torreon, Mexico on Sunday.
Under the leadership of Wilmer Cabrera for the second consecutive cycle, the US qualified for the U-17 World Cup after emerging victorious the regional CONCACAF championship in February. In the process, the team won all five of its matches, although extra time was required against El Salvador and Canada.
While projecting talent at the U-17 level can be a fool's errand, the American team will feature a squad filled with young players who have shown flashes of talent.
The defense will be anchored by Mobi Fehr, an intriguing player who joined the Bradenton residency program from Tokyo Verdy in Japan.
In the midfield, Alejandro Guido, Matthew Dunn, and Marc Pelosi earned plaudits for their play in the qualifying campaign. The US team will be without top scorer Andrew Oliver, but the squad should provide plenty of capable replacements in the form of Jack McBean, Mario Rodriguez, and Alfred Koroma.
Kendall McIntosh of the San Jose Earthquakes' academy and Fernando Pina of the Houston Dynamo academy will compete for the starting goalkeeper position.
Following Sunday's tilt, the US will face off against Uzbekistan in Torreon on June 22 and finish group play against New Zealand in Pachuca on June 25.
The top two teams in the group be guaranteed passage to the Round of 16, although the forgiving 24-country format means that the best four third place finishers will also progress.
The US U-17s will be attempting to improve upon their showing in 2009, when they were knocked out by Italy in the second round.