U.S. U-17 Women start fresh with new cycle, World Cup Qualifying

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The U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team begins its quest for World Cup qualification tomorrow in Guatemala. The new-look team will try to avoid the same fate that felled the side two years ago in regional qualifying.

It’s an unavoidable plot twist, so we might as well get it out of the way now. That’s right; the U-17’s failed to advance out of CONCACAF Qualifying last time around. The team missed the cut in the semifinals after coming up short in a penalty kick shootout against Canada. This despite outscoring its opponents 38-0 during the tournament. This despite finishing runners-up in the inaugural 2008 U-17 Women’s World Cup.

The shocking elimination sent tremors through the domestic women’s soccer community and provoked familiar questions regarding the USWNT’s future standing in the grand scheme of things.

Ten months later, U.S. Soccer named April Heinrichs Technical Director and Jill Ellis Development Director for the women’s youth national teams. The appointments may not have been a direct result of the U-17’s failure to qualify, but it did indicate U.S. Soccer’s willingness to be proactive. For the first time ever, official posts were established to oversee the development of female players at the grassroots level.

Albertin Montoya (pictured) was later charged with retooling the U-17 program. Shrewd move? Absolutely. Montoya presided over FC Gold Pride in WPS, whose stellar title run in 2010 had commentators wondering whether it was the best club side in women’s soccer history. The team was admired for its stylish, possession-oriented 4-3-3 that perfectly suited a cast of top-billed stars including Marta and Christine Sinclair.

The 37-year-old has personal experience at this level, having participated in the 1991 U-17 World Cup in Italy. Montoya has seemingly taken a root-and-branch approach when it comes to talent identification and player development. Like with FC Gold Pride, premiums are placed on technical skill and tactical nous.

The California native appears to be imparting those virtues to his U-17 side, as per an interview with U.S. Soccer:

“With my player pool, since day one I have been showing them Barcelona clips. During our last camp, [sic] I showed them about a 20-minute clip of Barcelona and it was the best game we’ve had so far. Rarely do you see a youth team combine 15, 20, 25 passes without the other team touching a ball and then still get an effective shot off…You have to watch the games, it’s not just good enough to show up and play. We’re way beyond those times.”

Montoya’s side features some of the country’s brightest college prospects including midfielder Morgan Andrews, forward Margaret Pruce, and goalkeeper Jane Campbell.

The current cycle of up-and-comers will take the stage at an undeniably intriguing time for women’s soccer in the domestic sphere.  Technically proficient teams like Japan and France have helped usher in a new paradigm, suggesting a possible sea change in the women’s game. The viability of the professional game looks as uncertain as ever with the recent ‘hiatus’ of Women’s Professional Soccer.

Regardless of what the future holds, the U-17’s will hope to get off to a bright start in its hunt for qualification. With Albertin Montoya at the helm, it’s all about the fundamentals. And maybe a little redemption.

Here’s the team’s group stage matches:

May 3 Bahamas Under-17 Women 4 P.M. ET

May 5 Trinidad & Tobago U-17 Women 4 P.M. ET

May 7 Mexico U-17 Women 7:30 P.M. ET

Matches can be viewed live via CONCACAF TV.