The US U-17 men's national team has its sights set on qualifying for the U-17 FIFA World Cup in Brazil this November, but first comes the Concacaf Championship, set to get underway on Thursday in Florida.
Head coach Raphael Wicky knows the task at hand is difficult – navigating regional qualifying is seldom easy – but is confident the group can advance for a record 17th time. The pieces are still coming together under Wicky, who was hired March 8 after most recently leading Swiss side FC Basel.
“We want to try, of course, to be dominant on the ball and off the ball,” Wicky said via a conference call. “First of all, I want to see a team that works together in all phases of the game. When I was watching footage of this team, I saw that they work really hard and they have a lot of energy. This is a strength of the team, it's a very positive point.”
One of those strengths lies in players with MLS experience, of which the 20-man roster has plenty. One notable inclusion is Sporting Kansas City midfielder Gianluca Busio, who has three goals this season Peter Vermes’ team.
“So far, I know his personality [is] he needs to be part of a team,” Wicky said of Busio. “He alone, even if he has regular minutes, he's not going to make a team alone. It's about the team, and he's aware of that. I'm very happy to have him here.”
One of the big names not in camp, though, is Atlanta United left back George Bello. Wicky said he’s been in communication with last year’s MLS Cup champions, and the 17-year-old isn't at full fitness as he's returning from injury.
But when group-stage games get underway May 2 against Canada – ones against Barbados (May 4) and Guatemala (May 6) follow suit – a Seattle Sounders duo could feature heavily. That is, of course, recent Homegrown Player signing Danny Leyva in midfield and youth standout Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez at forward. Two weeks ago, they helped the Sounders become the first MLS side to win the Generation adidas Cup’s Champions Division.
“Alfonso is in a great form, scoring a lot of goals at GA Cup, as well as working hard for the team,” Wicky said. “Daniel just made an amazing experience being on the bench with the first team, which hopefully gives him even more wings to fly and to help the team perform well."
Should the U.S. make the knockout round, games will be held on May 9 (round of 16), May 12 (quarterfinals), May 14 (semifinals) and May 16 (final). All games from the Concacaf Championship will be broadcast on Concacaf's Facebook page and Univision Deportes Network.
Wicky had an early-April camp with the team and doesn’t plan on changing too much.
“We knew we weren't going to come in here and change everything, because I don't have that much time to train with them,” Wicky said. “The new things we want to bring in are pretty basic concepts or basic principles. So far, I'm very happy with what I've seen."