The SUM U-17 Cup is, first and foremost, a competition for the MLS academies and the players to test themselves against the best. But for United States U-17 national team coach Wilmer Cabrera, the games provide each player that is eligible to play for U.S. the opportunity to make a strong push for a look.
“It is important for us, because 50 percent of each team’s rosters has kids that are eligible for us, so it is very big and very important for us,” said Cabrera. “That is why the staff is here with me and we are checking the players. We also have some players from residency in this tournament, so we can evaluate and see the level of them with players in the same age.”
In addition, several college coaches have flown in to scout the games. Though the SUM U-17 Cup has seen a decent number of future pros, including the LA Galaxy’s Tristan Bowen and D.C. United’s Bill Hamid and Andy Najar, many of the players will forgo the pro ranks for college.
“It is an excellent and exciting environment to see the kids,” said SMU head coach Tim McClements. “It is a different look than an academy event, because there are so many teams and different age groups, so it’s an event that is a little more manageable.”
After completing each team’s first two games in the group stage, the third and final group game continues Monday night at Centennial Park in Friendswood. The semifinals take place Tuesday night at Carl Lewis Track & Field Complex on the campus of the University of Houston, with the final on Thursday.
“This is a great opportunity to prove not only to us but to the league where our program is and where our players are,” said Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson. “We have two academy players in our first team, and the path is there. If they are good enough, they will get a shot.”
For some, the pressure of getting their first minutes in a competitive setting for a youth professional side may be too much to bear. For others, their ability to cope with that pressure is one of the first steps to eventually becoming a professional.
“We’ve got players that made their debut [on Friday] for the Dynamo,” Clarkson said. “It’s one thing playing and another when you actually stick the uniform on and play against other MLS teams. You can’t underestimate the pressure and the weight of the jersey sometimes.”
Dwain Capodice is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com. Questions or Comments can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.