While both the United States and Canada were unable to triumph at last week’s Under-17 Concacaf Championship, it was still mission accomplished as both programs secured a spot at this year’s U-17 World Cup, slated to take place in Brazil this fall.
The competition provided a platform for some of the continent’s brightest up-and-coming stars. And there were several players who made the most of it, helping their sides progress to this year’s center piece tournament for their age group.
Of course, there is a long path for every player seeking to navigate his way from a U-17 squad to the full national team. Establishing a professional career is priority one, even for players who showed promise during the tournament in Florida.
Here’s a look at six players from the US and Canada who showed signs of making that jump one day.
F Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
The son of former US men’s national team midfielder Claudio Reyna was one of the most recognized players heading into the tournament. And the former NYCFC Academy star didn’t disappoint for the US, scoring six goals and chipping in three assists. Reyna’s ability to beat defenders in 1v1 situations made him difficult to stop, and Mexico often double-teamed him immediately in the final. How his game progresses at Borussia Dortmund against better competition is going to dictate how fast he develops as an attacking threat.
M Danny Leyva (Seattle Sounders)
No young US player has enjoyed a more significant rise during 2019 than Leyva, who started the year on the outside looking in when talking about the U-17 qualifying squad. However, after his excellent preseason with the Sounders, earning the bump up from the Defiance to a Homegrown contract, Leyva emerged on the other side of the qualifying competition as one of the best players in the pool. The central midfielder can defend with vigor, but also jump-start attacks with his passing range and quick decision-making. Making his first team debut for the Sounders in an official competition is next on his check list, but don’t be surprised to see Leyva continue his rapid climb in the coming years.
D Kobe Hernandez-Foster (LA Galaxy Academy)
Hernandez-Foster was a star at center back for the US | Courtesy of U.S. Soccer
Despite playing the competition out of position, Hernandez-Foster left no doubts about his quality. The LA Galaxy Academy defender has everything a coach would want in an attacking left back — he looks comfortable and confident on the ball, is an incredible passer and a very smart player. He showed all this while playing the most minutes of anyone on the US squad in central defense. Even if his future is elsewhere, his immense quality was easy to see.
F Jayden Nelson (Toronto FC Academy)
Canada has a star in the making at winger with Nelson | Courtesy of Canada Soccer
Aside from Reyna, electric Toronto FC Academy attacker Jayden Nelson was one of the competition most entertaining players to watch. Like his US counterpart, teams had difficulties dealing with Nelson when he had the ball at his feet. That was obvious from Canada’s first game of the tournament, where Nelson came off the bench and gave US right back Joe Scally all kinds of issues, hitting the bar in the game’s final moments of a 3-2 loss. He finished U-17 qualifying with five goals
D Nathan Demian (Vancouver Whitecaps Academy)
Projecting center backs at the U-17 age group can be a tricky prospect, as a player’s physical development can factor significantly into the equation when considering an international future. Provided Demian grows out enough, he has all the pieces to be a dominant center back. He reads the game well, makes good decisions under pressure for a player of his age and doesn’t back down from physical opponents. He played every minute of his five matches in Bradenton, including all 120 minutes of his side’s triumph on penalties against Costa Rica that secured a spot in Brazil.
F Kamron Habibullah (Vancouver Whitecaps Academy)
Habibullah is a special player on the left wing | Courtesy of Canada Soccer
Despite being only one of two 2003s named to Canada’s roster, Habibullah emerged as a key player. Like Nelson, he can score goals from wide areas, and he’s a savvy player with his passing that can setup teammates. Habibullah scored three times and set up three other goals, and could be knocking on the door for a Homegrown offer from the Vancouver Whitecaps if he continues to develop in this way.