When the US U-17s suit up for the CONCACAF Championship in Jamaica (Feb. 14-27), they will put an impressive streak on the line.
The championship will determine the region's four representatives for this summer's FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico, and though historically the US have been far from convincing at the international tournament — their best performance came in 1999 when Landon Donovan's team finished fourth — they do claim an unblemished record in reaching the event. The US is the only country to have qualified for all 13 world championships since the tournament began in 1985.
Their recent success at the CONCACAF Championship hints at their dominance within the region.
The Stars and Stripes have finished first in their group in every tournament since 2001 and have only lost one match since 1999, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Jamaica in 2007.
(CONCACAF canceled the 2009 edition following the group stages due to a swine flu outbreak in Mexico. The US won their three games with five goals coming from the Philadelphia Union's Jack McInerney.)
[inline_node:322870]Ironically, the closest the Americans have come to missing out on the World Cup came in 1999. Jamaica held the US to a scoreless draw in the final match of the group stage and took first place along with the automatic qualification spot.
The Red, White and Blue battled El Salvador, the second-place finisher in Group B, in a two-game playoff and easily prevailed, winning 6-1 in San Salvador before finishing the Central American side off with a 4-0 victory in Columbus, Ohio.
At that World Cup, the US defeated Mexico in the quarterfinals before falling to Australia on penalty kicks in the semifinals and losing to Ghana in the third-place match. Donovan took home the Golden Ball, while teammate DaMarcus Beasley finishing second in voting.
Despite a new format in 2011, Wilmer Cabrera's side is favored to earn a trip to June's World Cup. They play Cuba and Panama in the group stages, with the top two teams advancing to the quarterfinals. A win there and the Americans can book their tickets to Mexico.
But finally, a word of caution: Domination in the group stage isn't enough. The US women's U-17 side outscored their opponents 32-0 in the group stage of the 2010 CONCACAF U-17 Championship but couldn't find their way past Canada in the quarterfinals.
Mike Dickey's side lost in a shootout, becoming the first American U-17 team to fail to advance from their region.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.