U.S. U-17s open against North Korea
With two highly touted MLS youngsters on the roster, the United States Under-17 national team kicks off the FIFA U-17 World Championship on Saturday in Chiclayo, Peru against North Korea. The match kicks off at 1:45 p.m. ET and will air live on Galavision and on tape delay on Fox Soccer Channel at 3 p.m. ET.
Featuring at the front for the Red, White and Blue is Los Angeles Galaxy draft pick Quavas Kirk. Selected in the third round of January's SuperDraft, Kirk has yet to appear in a Galaxy jersey, instead remaining with the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., to complete his education and continue to hone his skills.
Kirk missed the CONCACAF qualifying tournament earlier this year after suffering a broken foot in April, but he's back, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win against China a fortnight ago. Prior to his injury, Kirk had built up an incredible strike rate, scoring 16 times in 15 games to start the year. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Kirk presents an impressive physical threat to opponents.
Another physical threat - though in a totally different manner - is No. 1 SuperDraft pick Nikolas Besagno of Real Salt Lake. A fixture for the U-17s since joining the squad in late 2004, Besagno will man the defensive midfield and can be expected to make a few well-timed crunching tackles in the next two weeks. He has made one professional appearance, starting against FC Dallas on June 4 and playing 68 minutes. He picked up a caution after clipping Ronnie O'Brien's ankles and headed a corner kick just over the bar.
The U.S. U-17 program has, in recent years, been the most successful of U.S. Soccer's men's programs. Arguably, Real Salt Lake head coach John Ellinger earned his current job with the success he brought to the U.S. youngsters.
In 1998 and 1999, Ellinger guided the squad to an unbeaten streak of 25 games, culminating in the side's fourth place finish at the world championship in New Zealand. In 2003, the USA bounced back from a disappointing 2001 finish to take fifth place in Finland. Among the players who have come through the U-17 program in recent years are Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu.
Since current U-17 head coach John Hackworth took over from Ellinger last November, little has changed in terms of the team's success. Hackworth holds a 12-3-1 record in international play, including a 2-0-1 record in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. The U.S. finished at the top of their group in that tournament to qualify for an 11th consecutive World Championship at the U-17 level. The USA is the only country to appear in all 11 U-17 championships.
In addition to North Korea, the Red, White and Blue have been drawn into a group with Italy and the Ivory Coast. They meet the Italians on Sept. 20 and face the African country on Sept. 23. Four groups of four teams each are in the competition, with the top two from each moving on to the knockout phase, which would begin for the United States on Sept. 26.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.