LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The future of American soccer will be on display this week at the The Premier Sports Complex, which will play host to the 2015 Nike International Friendlies and U.S. Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase.
The big attraction is the United States Under-15 Boys National team that will compete against teams from Brazil, England and the Netherlands. The goal of the players is to represent their countries at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
"This is the age group (15) were it starts with player identification and evaluation. There is a lot of talent across the country in this age group," said Tony Lepore, U.S. Soccer head of scouting.
The U-15 BNT and the U-14 National Development program are closely tied in order to streamline player development so that U.S. soccer officials can become familiar with the core players around that age group.
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"We have increased our focus to identify and evaluate talented players at the younger age groups in U.S. Soccer Training Centers," Lepore said.
The U-15 team comes together several times throughout the year to train and play against top development clubs from around the world. The main goal at that age group is player development and player evaluation.
Lepore said the importance of players being introduced to the national team's program and being involved in its training centers cannot be understated.
"To get to know them better helps prepare them for a Youth National Team camp. It's all part of the process as the players move up the ladder with the Under-17, 18 and 20 national teams," Lepore said.
The U.S 15-under BNT is coached by John Hackworth, who took the position a year ago and is a former head coach for the U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team.
"The U-15 coach's job is to prepare a large pool of players early in the developmental cycle of the Youth National Teams," Hackworth said. "One key component is taking the messages from the Senior Nation
al Team and keeping them consistent throughout the programs so that players know what is expected at the highest level and we are properly preparing them."
The tournament will feature three doubleheaders with Team USA playing the late game of each match day. The U.S. is scheduled to play England on Wednesday, the Netherlands on Friday and Brazil on Sunday.
The Nike Friendlies matches will also compete this week along with the Academy Winter Showcase. The U-17/18 teams of BW Gottschee and Charges Soccer Club will complete Thursday at 3 p.m. and the Philadelphia Union U-15/16 will face the LA Galaxy U-15/16 on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Nike Friendlies began in 2001 to provide top-level competition for Youth National teams. In 2008, U.S. Soccer Development Academy joined the Winter Showcase, allowing the U.S. Scouting Network to evaluate players from across the country at different age levels.
Wednesday, Dec. 2
Netherlands vs. Brazil, 3 p.m.
USA vs. England, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 3
BW Gottschee U-17/18 vs. Chargers Soccer Club U-17/18, 3 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 4
Brazil vs. England, 3 p.m.
USA s. Netherlands, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 5
Philadelphia Union U-15/16 vs. LA Galaxy U-15/16, 3 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 6
England vs. Netherlands, 3 p.m.
USA vs. Brazil, 6 p.m.