It’s not been easy to be a fan of the USMNT for a while, now. Youth teams are always full of promise and excitement, though, and three Sounders players had been called up to represent the US at the U-17 World Cup in Brazil.
I’ll admit that I was pretty high on the team’s prospects, but especially on the three Sounders, Ethan Dobbelaere, Danny Leyva, and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez. I was sure that this tournament was going to be a platform for the trio to break out. I had watched them play with Tacoma Defiance, I had been impressed by the pedigree of Raphaël Wicky, the coach brought in in March, and I thought the team had played pretty well in World Cup qualifying. Leyva and AOC had both gotten plenty of playing time for Wicky when they were available, and Dobbelaere seemed to have made enough of an impression recently to think that all three would likely contribute as the US U-17s made a good showing in their group against Senegal, Japan, and the Netherlands.
Things didn’t look promising after the first game against Senegal, where Leyva started and played all 90 minutes in a 4-1 loss. The US got on the board early, but gave up a goal on a free kick at the end of the first half. The US seemed to be drowning as Senegal applied pressure and started pouring on goals. The US couldn’t seem to find their passes as they looked to play through the middle, so often opted to play the ball long and effectively removed Leyva from the attack and the possession. Dobbelaere came on in the 62nd minute, and AOC saw the field for the last 10 minutes.
Dobbelaere and Ocampo-Chavez tried to make an impact, but no one on the team was really able to get anything going. Leyva ended up being one of several US players who seemed unable to make any sort of an effort to stop a Senegal counter that resulted in a goal as the US pushed numbers forward to try to get a goal.
Things were better against Japan, as the US managed their only point in a 0-0 draw that saw Dobbelaere join Leyva in the starting XI. Both players would go the distance, presumably showing some belief in the two Sounders as Wicky opted to make changes elsewhere on the field to try to find a goal. The performances were somewhat improved all around, and Leyva was able to be more involved, but there just wasn’t any luck to be had. Strangely, with the US in need of a goal, Ocampo-Chavez was never brought on in spite of Wicky only having used two subs and AOC being a consistent threat with Tacoma and one of the top scorers for the US during qualifying.
The US went into their final game of the tournament needing a win to have any hope of advancing, so it was encouraging to see Leyva and Dobbelaere start again. Dobbelaere was again one of few players regularly trying to take players on and make something happen, but never really managed to have a real impact. Leyva was more involved than in the Senegal game, but once again was too often bypassed by his teammates to make much of a contribution. He did manage to play a few nice diagonal balls and crosses to switch play, but no one on the US team was really making much in the way of positive contributions.
With the US down 1-0, Wicky made the choice to bring on AOC to start the second half. Unfortunately, it was Dobbelaere who made way for him, depriving us of a real chance to see the three Sounders on the field together.
Deployed on the right wing, AOC had a handful of opportunities to attack from wide spaces, but often ended up playing the ball square or backwards as the players around him failed to make dangerous supporting runs. Outside of those unsuccessful forays towards the opponent’s third, Ocampo-Chavez was often too busy tracking back and defending while the right back Joe Scally burst forward. With their hopes of advancing on the line, the US got blown out 4-0, and they never really looked like they were going to be capable of a different outcome.
In the end, the US scored one goal, allowed eight, and never looked particularly good. What ever the cause, it’s not particularly promising from a team or coaching perspective.
While the team was pretty bad, I don’t think that there’s any cause for concern for the Sounders trio. With the whole team not looking very good, I don’t think any of them played their way out of consideration for the US in their age group. It’s somewhat concerning that Ocampo-Chavez saw so little of the field, but, given his reputation with the Sounders and his production with Tacoma, I’d probably chalk that up to what Wicky wants from his forwards and a preference for Ricardo Pepi and Gio Reyna more than any real shortcomings for AOC. Dobbelaere may not have managed to create much in the way of real goal scoring chances, but it’s at least promising that he wasn’t even really on the radar a year ago and worked his way into being one of only eight players to appear in all three games while earning two starts. Leyva was one of five players to start all three games.
One silver lining to all of this is that the three of them will be able to be in the building when the Sounders face TFC in the MLS Cup Final. Hopefully after that they can get some rest after a wild year and a first full professional season for Leyva and Ocampo-Chavez. After some well-deserved down time, it would be nice to see all three continue to develop and ideally play the majority of the season with Tacoma Defiance in 2020. While it wasn’t a good tournament for anyone, the future is still plenty bright for the Sounders who made the trip.