What a difference 22 years can make
The preparation process for the USA's first appearance at the U-17 World Cup, in 1985, didn't much resemble the current setup. After state and regional tryouts, 30 players were told to pack for a trip to China, bring their passports, and convene for a final week of tryouts and games against local competition at the C.W. Post campus in New York. "Then they put us in a room and told 18 of us we're going to China in two days," says Lyle Yorks, a starter on the team. "A few days later, we're in Beijing playing against Guinea in front of 80,000 people."
By contrast, the team that Coach John Hackworth took to the 2007 U-17 World Cup in South Korea came out of U.S. Soccer's full-time Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida. In preparation for the finals last August in South Korea, Hackworth's team played games in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Jamaica, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, South Korea, Guatemala and Honduras.
The U.S. youth national team program became steadily more ambitious following the 1985 world championship and it has yielded some tangible results, with the USA standing as the only nation to have appeared in each of the dozen U-17 World Cups that have been contested.
In preparation for the 1989 tournament, the U.S. U-17s traveled to Europe and Israel for a series of friendlies. At the finals in Scotland, the U.S. team captained by current UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo and Claudio Reyna, rewarded Coach Roy Rees with a historic 1-0 win over Brazil.
The 1991 squad beat host Italy and Argentina to become the first U.S. team to reach the second round. By this time the U.S. Soccer Federation was already investing more time and money into its U-17 program than most other nations in recognition of the fact that it could not, like traditional soccer countries, depend on the youth programs of professional clubs to feed players into the youth national teams.