CARSON, Calif. — Landon Donovan first made his name starring for the US Under-17 national team, which he led to the final four of the 1999 World Cup in New Zealand, so he has a rather unique perspective on the American youth soccer landscape.
His take, following the U-17s' inability to qualify for next fall's World Cup in the United Arab Emirates? We have to do better.
“It's sad for those players and for [head coach] Richie Williams, because it's such an awesome experience and opportunity,” Donovan, who won the Golden Ball as tournament MVP after the US finished fourth 14 years ago, said following the LA Galaxy's training session Thursday morning. “I'm sad for those kids, that they don't get a chance to experience it. For me, it was some of the best memories of my life.
“It's disappointing. At the same time, there's no question with Olympic qualifying, 20s and 17s, we need to take a pretty honest look at what's going on, and we all have to do a better job. That falls on all of us. It's not one coach or a few coaches or certain players, it's everybody who's involved in soccer in this country. We need to take a look at ourselves and do a better job. No question.”
The U-17 team was eliminated by Honduras last weekend in the CONCACAF quarterfinals, and Canada, Mexico and Panama will join the Hondurans as the region's representatives at the 24-nation championship, which runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 8. The Americans had qualified for the 14 previous tournaments and reached the knockout stage in six of the last seven.
The US, with Donovan's Galaxy teammate Jose Villarreal starring up top, qualified for this year's U-20 World Cup in Turkey after missing the 2011 event, just the fourth time in 16 championships the Americans had failed to qualify since debuting in 1981, the tournament's third edition. The men's Olympic team did not qualify for last year's London Games and missed the 2004 Athens Olympics, too.
Donovan was part of the 2000 Olympic squad that finished fourth in Sydney.
His 1999 U-17 teammates included DaMarcus Beasley, who won the Silver Ball as MVP runner-up, plus Kyle Beckerman, Bobby Convey and Oguchi Onyewu.
“You're always going to have fluctuations with players [on youth national teams], and certain teams have better players,” Donovan said. “But at the end of the day, we should be qualifying for all these tournaments. I think we can all agree on that fact.
“Sometimes setbacks are good. It makes you look at things honestly, and you can figure them out.”