The US U-17 Men's National Team has enjoyed a very encouraging 2016, culminating in a series of impressive and dominating performances at the Nike International Friendlies.
In 2017, the U-17s will get the opportunity to further their reputations in competitive play on the global stage: there is the U-17 World Cup in India in October. But to get there, the young Americans must first qualify via the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship.
The regional tournament will be held in Panama, kicking off on April 21. Twelve qualifying teams have been divided into three groups of four. The top two teams from each group will then be divided into two groups of three - and the top two teams from those "Classification Stage" groups will advance to the U-17 World Cup. (And the Classification Stage group winners will play each other to determine the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 champion).
For the Americans, there is little to fear from the CONCACAF tournament. Since September, the U-17s have showed well against regional opponents, beating Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and Jamaica in friendlies. There have been a couple of hiccups - a late-August loss to Mexico and an early-October loss to Panama - but the general pattern of results suggests this US U-17 group should be heavily favored to land a top-four place at the CONCACAF tournament, at the very least.
The draw for the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship took place on December 13. Unusually for a regional tournament, the USA and Mexico - traditionally heavyweight contenders at every level of the men's game in CONCACAF - were not seeded to be kept apart from each other in the opening stages of the competition. The draw duly delivered both teams into the same group.
The competition's structure is such that Mexico and the USA likely won't fret over seeing each other in the opening stages. Both teams will be confident of claiming one of the top two spots in their group, and that will see them neatly kept out of each other's way during the "Classification Stage". If they meet again in the final, both will already have met their primary goal for the CONCACAF competition: qualification for the U-17 World Cup.
The three four-team groups at the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 tournament are as follows:
Group A: Curacao, Haiti, Honduras, Panama
Group B: Costa Rica, Canada, Cuba, Suriname
Group C: El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, USA
The top two from each group will then be divided into two groups of three. The top two from each group in the Classification Stage move on to the U-17 World Cup - and the group winners play for the CONCACAF U-17 title. The Classification Stage groups will be determined as follows:
Group A runner-up
Group B runner-up
Group C winner
Group A winner
Group B winner
Group C runner-up
The Group Stage's Group C has quickly been dubbed the CONCACAF U-17 Championship's "Group of Death". With respect to El Salvador and Jamaica's U-17 programs, they each made it to the tournament as the third-best team in their respective qualifying competitions: they're not the Caribbean or Central American equivalents of the North American power-duo, Mexico and the USA.
If there is a "Group of Death" in this tournament, it looks likely to be Group E of the Classification Stage. If results in the Group Stage go as expected, Group E will likely see host nation Panama (favorite to win Group A), Costa Rica or Canada (presumptive winner of Group B), and either Mexico or the US (near-certainty one or the other will be the runner-up in Group C).
If there is to be a challenge to the
expectation absolute conviction that Mexico and the US will be in the U-17 World Cup, it will probably occur in Group E of the Classification Stage.
But we must wait a few months for the CONCACAF U-17 Championship to kick off before we find out.