Stars aligned for a U-17 World Cup run 

June, 17, 2011
06/17/11
10:53
AM ET

MEXICO CITY -- Right after the big boys finish with their match Gold Cup elimination match on Sunday against Jamaica, another American team will be just getting started half a continent away. Kicking off their record fourteenth FIFA Under-17 World Cup, the U.S. takes on the Czech Republic in Torreon, Mexico.

As this blog has pointed out plenty of times, the U.S. is the only nation to have been to every under-17 World Cup -- once every two years since 1985 -- but the Americans have never finished better than fourth. An improvement on that in Mexico would certainly be a nice boost to the program right about now, especially if Bob Bradley's group can't find a way to win the Gold Cup.

But judging from performances this far in the cycle, it's a bit of a stretch to expect Wilmer Cabrera's current team to go too deep into this World Cup. The group is not without its bright spots -- it managed a CONCACAF title for the first time ever -- but even with that title and a World Cup seed in hand, the overall quality of this bunch looks less than overwhelming.

Of course, there are lots of ways to say that, some more constructive than others.

"This team is more hard-working," said Cabrera. "The past cycle, I would say it was more talented, more skilled, the players had a little bit more quality, technical skills. This team is a little bit more hard-working, we recognize that. But they try to work hard because they know they have some technical limitations that we're working on."

Brent Latham is a soccer commentator who covers the youth national teams for ESPN.com. Based in Guatemala, he has attended youth World Cups from Peru to Egypt, and places in between.

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