CHESTER, Pa. – As the former boss of the US Under-17 residency program, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth knows how difficult it can be to lead a group of teenagers into high-pressure international tournaments.
So even though the US failed to qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time following a stunning loss to Honduras in the CONCACAF quarterfinals Sunday, Hackworth doesn’t believe it’s a troubling sign for American soccer.
“I don’t think it’s a trend at all,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “Unfortunately, the world as a whole looks at when countries make World Cups as the benchmark whether something’s working or not. And I don’t think that’s the case. This particular group of players had done extremely well in the last year-and-a-half and had some great results. Knowing young players, we need to be careful what we say about them and how we value them based on one game.”
Hackworth, who guided the Americans into the quarterfinals of the 2005 U-17 World Cup and the Round of 16 in 2007, added that he feels very bad for US U-17 coach Richie Williams and his staff. Before this year, the US had made 14 consecutive U-17 World Cups since the tournament’s inception in 1985.
“When you go into a one-game-for-everything situation, our sport can be cruel that way,” Hackworth said. “There’s no question that playing in CONCACAF on the road in a win-or-go-home battle for the World Cup is a tough situation.”
Union defender Sheanon Williams, who played under Hackworth at the 2007 U-17 World Cup, also feels bad for the youngsters because he knows that the World Cup is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve now missed out on.”
But he also agrees that failing to qualify shouldn’t be an indictment on the state of US soccer of the residency program at Bradenton.
“For them not to make it and the added pressure of them being the first team not to make it is really tough,” the Philly fullback said. “But I’m not worried about it because it can happen. We were supposed to qualify for the Olympics. We didn’t. It happens. Once you get down to the quarterfinals, it’s win or go home and they lost a game.”
Like Hackworth, Williams doesn’t believe missing out on the U-17 World Cup is going to become a trend.
“I think that we’ll get back on track,” he said. “I think even more emphasis gets put on it now that we didn’t qualify. It’s just something that usually for the US doesn’t happen twice.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.