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Nov. 24, 2018 — A concerning trend, or is it?

This past week, the United States U-17 women’s national soccer team crashed out of the U-17 World Cup in South America.

For a nation which has won the senior women’s World Cup on three occasions, and which are the current cupholders, this should be a concerning development.

But at the U-17 level, this kind of performance is expected. Look at what the U-17 women’s national team has done the last several cycles:

2008: Silver medal
2010: Failed to qualify
2012: Group stage
2014: Failed to qualify
2016: Group stage
2018: Group stage

Yep, so it’s been a decade since the U-17 women’s national soccer team has played a knockout game at a Women’s World Cup. And on that 2008 side were only a few players who are recognizable names today, such as Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, and Kristie Mewis.

U.S. Soccer has reacted to this, but only in recent years. This is the second year of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which has scooped up much of the best talent and placed them on teams which are together 11 months out of the year. But this year, the competing Elite Clubs National League has benefitted from a number of clubs defecting from the Development Academy.

Whether the benefits of having so many players in year-round competition will lead to success at the national level is anyone’s guess. The thing is, it’s hard to manifacture the kind of passion and desire that the likes of Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Carli Lloyd, and Michelle Akers have shown over the years. Most of these players were relatively late bloomers, even though Hamm and Lloyd had celebrated scholastic careers.

In other words, I think it’s a fool’s errand to think you can manufacture the next Hamm or Lloyd in a domestic youth league of any sort — DA, ENCL, or the NCAA. It takes players who are used to being in a professional environment, having to earn their place on the team on a daily basis.

In other words, I think there are going to be a lot more Mallory Pughs who skip college altogether to play for an NWSL team.

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