The US U-17's went crashing out of their World Cup in Korea after losing 3 of their 4 games. In the process, there weren't any real standout players. Sure, there was the mandatory flashy, quick dribbler like Alex Nimo and even a goal-scoring defender like mighty mite centerback/captain Mykell Bates, but what stood out the most is that there really wasn't a central focus to the team, a talented hub around which the team revolved. This was a true team, even if they were a bit tactically naive, relied on set plays too much, didn't create enough chances from the run of play, and their movement and passing were too slow.
All that said, what we'll take a look at here aren't the "OMFG, I can't believe he did that!" category of players, but three of the U-17's who look to have the potential to be solid pros given a bit of seasoning. In the interests of spreading the love around, we'll take one player from each line and completely ignore the goalkeepers, because, as you know, it's been statistically and genetically proven that Americans breed goalkeepers like nobody's business (wink and grin to all my fine feathered loonball netminder friends).
We'll start at the back with Sheanon Williams. While Williams came to the fore in the final match against Germany for his "Big Bertha-esque", half-field cannon-shot throw ins, he was solid throughout at right fullback. Not spectacular, but solid. Defensively, you really only noticed him in the one-on-one's, in which he was reasonably successful, which means that his positioning and marking were pretty good. He got forward fairly well, though I can't seem to recall his crossing being terribly effective. Given the dearth of quality fullbacks in the US program, he'll have every chance to succeed, particularly if he brings more than flat-out athleticism to the pitch (hello Marvell Wynne!). And that throw-in makes him a real weapon from set-plays.
Moving into the midfield, we'll skip the flash and head right for the latest two-way mid to fall off the assembly line we seem to have put together - Jared Jeffrey. Honestly, save for the flying, two-footers, he's like a Michael Bradley Mini-me, right down to the floppy hair. Strong in possession, determined to win balls, making the smart pass with something approaching consistency - all that bespeaks a decent "footie brain" that will serve him well when he finally makes the jump to a professional career.
Speaking of Mini-me's, anybody else feel a compulsion to start chanting "Matty, Matty, Matty, Matty, Derbyshire" when watching Billy Schuler? And it wasn't just the pallid, gangly, Ichabod Crane-ishness of his physical appearance either. He's that weird sort of forward that isn't really blessed with an overabundance of any one particular gift, but seems to get the job done anyway. He makes good runs off the ball, can cross, has reasonable speed, and can hold the ball and run with it a bit. Here's hoping the finishing will improve with time and experience, because something about the kid set my radar pinging in the same way it did for Clint Dempsey a few years back.
So those were the three U-17's that really impressed me consistently. Others did it in spurts, like the aforementioned Bates and Nimo, though Nimo was all flash with little result while Bates was just too slow on the back line for my liking, despite all of his goal-scoring prowess from set plays. Bryan Dominguez and Abdus Ibrahim from the '91's also had their moments and could blossom into players of real quality (according to my current FM game, Abdus Ibrahim is going to be a real force in MLS ;-). Anybody else catch your eye?