While the senior members of the United States Men’s National Team are holding their heads in intense shame after getting owned in horrifying public fashion and failing to qualify for the World Cup, the U.S. under-17 national team is killing it. The U-17 group is stocked with some of the hottest prospects in U.S. Soccer history, and they’re playing up to their pedigree at the U-17 World Cup in India right now.
Today, they played their first game in the knockout rounds against Paraguay, who were previously undefeated and by any metric do not suck. And instead of a close game between two good teams who medaled in their respective continental championships, the U.S. blew the doors off of Paraguay.
Timothy Weah led the way with a hat trick and helped the U.S. run away with a 5-0 win to reach the quarterfinals. As the son of a former Ballon d’Or winner George Weah and a jewel of the Paris Saint-Germain academy, Weah isn’t an unknown or anything, but right now he looks like one of the most fearsome attackers in the tournament. His hat trick was the first hat trick by any U.S. player in the knockout stage of a World Cup at any level. His second goal was a gem.
Weah may have had the match of the World Cup so far, but he’s not the only guy on this team. Striker Josh Sargent (who will head to Werder Bremen in 2018) has scored oodles of goals for the U-17s and even shone with the U-20s. He and Andrew Carleton assisted each other on the third and fourth goals of the night, both of which were very slick scores off of perfectly placed passes. We’ve known about Sargent’s exploits at the youth level and head for goal; Carleton might be an even better prospect. Consider the ball that sprung Weah for his opening goal. Weah, Carleton, and Sargent form one hell of an attacking trio.
The U.S.’s next game will be against the winner of Japan-England. If they win that one, they’ll probably get either Germany of Brazil. For too long, the United States has lagged behind in developing kids between the ages of 16 and 20. If players go through college and only turn pro when they’re 23, they’re about five years behind their European and South American counterparts, who tend to break into first teams at 18. USMNT fans probably feel like shit right now and will continue to feel like shit for the next five years, but with U-17s doing so well and the strong crop of U-20 players coming through, at least there is hope on the horizon.
Turning the program around after the World Cup qualifying debacle starts with the youth teams, and fans can watch Weah, Carleton, Sargent, and everyone else on the U-17 team (to say nothing of Weston McKennie, Nick Taitague, Haji Wright, Brooks Lennon, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Emerson Hyndman, Josh Perez, Matthew Olosunde, Gedion Zelalem, and Mukwelle Akale) and be encouraged.