In a year that saw the U.S. women win Olympic gold and lift the U-20 World Cup, the U.S. U-17 girls suffered a first-round exit at the U-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan last month, despite going undefeated and conceding only one goal. The two teams that edged the USA on goal difference, France and North Korea, reached the final. We spoke with U.S. U-17 coach Albertin Montoya, the director of Northern California youth club MVLA who took the U-17 helm after guiding FC Gold Pride to the 2010 WPS title.
Soccer America: What did you think about the American players in general at this age group? Do you feel confident you saw all the players you needed to see to find the best group you could take?
Albertin Montoya: I feel comfortable that we had a pretty good grasp on the best players in the country. But what I will go back to – and what we keep saying as a country for both our men and women – that we could be better technically. And tactically as well, but technically we’re still not comfortable enough with the ball.
We talk about playing a certain way. We want to possess the ball much more. But in order to do that we have to have players who just love being with the ball at their feet.
The challenging part about the national team is you have to get the right mixture of athletes and players who can play, and kind of put it together, and at the same time developing the players.
When you see some of these other countries and how good they are with the ball. For example, that North Korea team, every single one of them handled the ball like a No. 10.
Soccer America: What was it like going from club coaching to national team coach?
Albertin Montoya: As a club coach, looking from the outside in, I would watch our national teams and think, gosh, why aren’t we playing a certain way? Why can’t we player better than that?
Now that I’ve been there – I kind of put it back on us club coaches, which is we need to do a better job developing these players technically so when they do go to the national team stage we can play the way we talk about we want to play. But we need the players to be able to do that.
I even fell into the trap where, maybe we don’t have enough of those types of players. So we need the athletes who can compete a certain way to help you get the results.
Ideally, you have the athletes with the technical skill. We’ve got to get our players better all-around with the ball. It goes back to doing that from 8 to 12 years old and building that foundation.
We talk about it all the time, all around the country, we have just got to get it done. Get coaches on board. We’ve got to get top coaches at the younger age groups. Unfortunately that’s just not happening enough.
Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Rockridge SC in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.