The Under-17 World Cup kicked off in Brazil on Saturday, and MLS will by represented by three different countries at the competition, with the USA, Mexico and Canada featuring players from MLS first teams, academies or USL sides.
Here’s the rundown for each nation:
Head coach Raphael Wicky put together a team that hummed at this year’s Concacaf U-17 Championship, coming up short against Mexico in the final. It was a 2-0 loss in extra time, but Wicky’s side squandered several gilt-edged chances to win the game in the first 90 minutes.
Though the side features ample professional experience, they face a tough group. Not finishing chances could prove costly, especially considering the level of competition. The team has ample scoring options in Giovanni Reyna, Ricardo Pepi and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, all who bring a wealth of experience to the U-17s.
Group D will be difficult for the United States. They open on Oct. 27 against a Senegal team that originally failed to make it to the tournament. But when Guinea, who finished ahead of them in Group B at the Africa U-17 Cup of Nations, were found to have fielded an ineligible player, Senegal made it.
Following the opening match in Cariacica, next up are the champions of Asia, Japan, on Oct. 30. Rounding out the group slate are the Netherlands, who won the U-17 European Championship earlier this year.
Gianluca Busio – Having eclipsed the 1,000-minute mark in his two MLS seasons, Busio is one of the most experienced players at the entire tournament. Likely to feature in central midfield, the Sporting KC starlet's ability to do a little bit of everything – attack, defend, create and score – is going to make him critical for the United States’ chances of success. With flank players like Andres Jasson and Gio Reyna key pieces as well, Busio’s experience and versatility allows him to fill in the gaps wherever the game requires.
Danny Leyva – The Seattle Sounders Homegrown Player is another central midfielder set for a big role in Brazil. Capable of going box-to-box or even lining up in a deeper role, his addition to the US team for qualifying represented a huge upgrade earlier this year. Like Busio, he’ll be tasked with doing a little bit of everything, while the forward line looks for goals.
Kobe Hernandez – A product of the LA Galaxy academy, Hernandez is slated to start as the left center back for the US. While his pro future projects as a left back, he was a stalwart in qualifying and brings a wealth of experience. He could come under pressure if the US make a deep run, but his calmness on the ball and ability to read the game is impressive for a player of his age.
In six previous trips to the Under-17 World Cup, Canada has never won a game, losing 14 and drawing four times. With a roster heavily comprised of MLS academy talent from Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, this could be the year to not only win a game, but also advance in the tournament.
Canada qualified for the World Cup thanks to a penalty-kick shootout win over Costa Rica in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Concacaf U-17 Championship. The squad traveled to Argentina on Oct. 11 to begin final preparations before opening the tournament on Oct. 26.
Drawn in to Group A with Brazil, Canada opened the World Cup with a loss against the hosts on the first day of the competition. But the other two games in the group are against Angola, making their first appearance at a U-17 World Cup, and New Zealand.
No game is going to be easy at this level. While Angola enter the competition having finished as runners-up at the U-17 African Cup of Nations, Canada obviously have more experience at this level. As members of the Oceania Confederation, New Zealand never face a difficult path to a World Cup, though the Kiwis did show well at the U-20 World Cup earlier this year. A win and a draw could put Canada in position to advance as one of the top third-place finishers.
Jayden Nelson – A tricky wide attacker, the Toronto FC academy product and TFCII player made 14 appearances in USL League One this season. That pro experience will make him a key player to spark the Canadian attack.
Gianfranco Facchineri – If Canada can’t get going in the final third, there could be long stretches of defending on the back foot. One of the candidates to don the armband in Brazil, the Vancouver Whitecaps academy center back will cut a crucial figure when Canada face pressure in their group matches.
Matt Catavolo – With Simon Colyn not on the roster (he picked up a hamstring injury that knocked him out of the tournament), Canada’s going to need someone in the midfield engine room to step up. Catavolo’s a candidate, as he’s emerged as a quality finisher and creator in the Montreal Impact academy. A tricky, technical player, the 2003-born player is a bright prospect and if he can impact the game at this level, it bodes well for Canada’s chances.
Back-to-back Concacaf U-17 champions Mexico head to Brazil looking to lift their third U-17 World Cup trophy and LA Galaxy Homegrown Efrain Alvarez is key to those ambitions. Earning more than 500 first-team minutes in MLS this season, the crafty playmaker can create moments of magic with the ball at his feet.
His role at the World Cup will be interesting to watch – will he be a starter from the opening game or come off the bench? Alvarez could boost his profile with a strong performance at this tournament, where Mexico begin vs. Paraguay and continue with Italy and the Solomon Islands in Group F.