The United States roster for the U-17 World Cup has some names you already know, teenagers who have not only made their professional debuts, but have received a non-insignificant amount of minutes in Major League Soccer.
Those players, particularly Sporting KC attacker Gianluca Busio and Seattle Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva, will anchor the team both on and off the field as the team looks to make noise in Brazil out of Group D starting on October 27 in their opening match against Senegal.
"I expect them to be leaders on the field, but they can still have a bad game," US U-17 coach Raphael Wicky told reporters on a media conference call on Thursday. "But I expect them to be role models in preparation, in warm-ups and in the locker room, raising their voice when something goes wrong. These guys who are in professional teams, I expect them to step up and tell the guys to behave more professional. They'll also make mistakes, but their experiences off the field is very important."
Busio made 22 appearances, including 10 starts, for SKC this season, in which he added three goals and an assist. Leyva made four starts, and a further two appearances from the bench, while making the lineup 11 times in the USL Championship with Tacoma Defiance.
"These experiences are very important, first of all for them," Wicky said. "At such a young age to experience first-team minutes, the highest level of competition and training. Hanging out in the locker room, seeing how the top players behave, prepare and take things seriously. Those experiences are extremely valuable for their development."
Busio was listed as a forward rather than a midfielder, an indication of how Wicky plans to use his young star.
"When we first started in April, I tried him as a winger with Gio (Reyna) inside," Wicky explained. "I quickly realized Gio is comfortable outside and Gianluca feels comfortable inside in the pockets. He has this gift to put himself between the lines, to find really good spots. Almost every game he plays he creates big chances, I want him in the center of the field mostly. But that can vary. If they want to have rotations, that can happen, that's their choice. But I want him inside, he's really good there."
As for Leyva, he too has a number of roles he can fill within central midfield.
"Leyva will be a box-to-box player, depending on if it's one or two central midfielders," Wicky said. "Sometimes he might be a little more defensive but that will depend on the tactics. It's been a great season for Danny, having so many minutes in MLS. It's very good for his development. He's a very important player."
Both players were named to the Best XI for the U-17 Concacaf Championship in May, where the United States fell in the final to Mexico 2-1 after extra time. The team played possession-based and up-tempo soccer then, something Wicky plans to continue in Brazil.
"I want us to be a team which gives everything in every single day, moment and game," Wicky said. "That's the base for me. Working together, fighting together, that's the base that makes a good team. Secondly, I want a team that's proactive. With the ball, creating chances and make the opponent makes errors. The same proactive against the ball, we don't want to wait for them to do something, we want to force something.
"We're going down there to win," Wicky added. "Every single team is going there to win, so are we."