A little over two months ago in New York I had the opportunity to meet with Wilmer Cabrera, then working as a staffer for MLS. I had remembered Cabrera as a player with Columbia in the 1998 World Cup but did not realize he had also had his coaching license at the time. Cabrera had a real vision for soccer in this country, and I appreciated the opportunity to share some of my idea for growing MLS with him. Less than a month later Cabrera left MLS and hired as the US U-17 Head Coach, leading up the US residency program in the Bradenton, FL. This followed an ungraceful exit for the US U-17 team at this summer’s World Cup where after being embarrassed by Tajikistan in the opening round they were humiliated in a rout to Germany in the Round of 16.
Most supporters of the National Team program like myself have modest expectations when our team enters an international competition. However in the case of youth events, particularly at U-17 and U-20 level our expectations are much higher given our recent history in these events and the emphasis the USSF has put on residency programs to develop our youth. Given my conversation with Cabrera and his international pedigree I could think of no better choice to pick up the pieces in the wake of this summer’s disaster.
Cabrera has said that playing for your country when you have the national badge on your shoulder requires so much more than club football. Developing a midset even among talented players that the team comes first is what I look for him to instill down in Bradenton.
The first tests of Cabrera’s work came this weekend as the US defeated Russia and Brazil in succession. Anytime you defeat Brazil at any level it is a cause for celebration but this win was particularly sweet. Brazil had crushed Turkey two days earlier 7-1 but behind goals from Carlos Martinez and Stefan Jerome the US won 2-0, the same scoreline with the same goal scorers as the victory over Russia. So far so good for the Cabrera era. The US plays Turkey in the final friendly of the Nike series Sunday and early this upcoming week I’ll be back with an analysis of all of the games the US played in the event.