The United States hold the enviable record of being the only team to have qualified for every single FIFA U-17 World Cup since its inception back in China in 1985. With a focus on youth development and overall organisation, the US Soccer Federation has created something of a dynasty at junior level, with full-time residency camps making a lean, mean fighting unit out of the young lads. In fact, their surprise loss against Jamaica in Korea 2007 qualifying was their first in 18 games and their first against Caribbean opposition since they lost to Trinidad & Tobago back in 1988. Led by veteran coach John Hackworth, the Stars and Stripes will be hoping to improve on their best-ever finish, a semi-final place at New Zealand 1999, when they line up to fly the flag in the Far East this summer.
The Americans roared to finish top of CONCACAF's Group B of qualifying for Korea 2007, but were made to suffer along the way in Kingston from 30 April to 6 May. Opening their account with a 3-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago (two goals from Alex Nimo leading the way), the Americans then went on to thank Billy Schuler and Mykell Bates for the two goals that downed Canada (2-1). But, perhaps suffering from a bit of complacency after winning their first two matches, they let a 2-0 lead slip away in their third, conceding three to hosts Jamaica in the final 12 minutes. Despite the defeat, the Americans still qualified early, earning six points in three games to assure themselves of at least third place. However, Coach Hackworth would not have been well pleased about the porous defending on display and got the best again from his boys in their final match against already qualified Costa Rica. Gregory Garza and Ellis McLoughlin scored to seal a 2-1 win and top spot in the group.
John Hackworth is known to be a soft-spoken, fatherly figure in US Soccer circles, and his ability to motivate the youngsters is not up for debate. He took over from former head coach John Ellinger in November of 2004 - after standing as his assistant for over two years - and led the States to the quarter-finals at Peru 2005. Before joining the US Soccer federation coaching staff, he was head coach at the University of South Florida in the vaunted American collegiate leagues and for over four years he oversaw the full-time U-17 residency program in sunny Florida. As a result of all his experience at this level, his familiarity with the players could not be better.
Alex Nimo, at 17 years old, already knows where the goal is. With three strikes in five qualifying matches, the Portland, Oregon-based hit-man hit the ground running. Tall, and possessing an imposing physique, the striker is equally at home in the air and with the ball it his feet. Growing up in war-torn Liberia, he eventually settled in the Pacific Northwest after spending time in a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana. Nimo has had to overcome great odds to achieve his current status and is already drawing comparisons to legendary Liberian striker George Weah. A new addition to the U-17 residency program, the player - who holds Brazilian legend Ronaldo as his idol - is bound to make some waves in Korea this summer.
What they said...
It's amazing to have won the qualifying Group in Jamaica. Now we have to look forward to South Korea and the World Cup. We have to get prepared for that and be determined to do well there as well. We will do all we can to prepare and be ready to go. (US midfielder, Gregory Garza)