: Tell us about the Aegean Cup and what the team can expect to see at the tournament
Richie Williams : “The last [U-17] cycle participated in this tournament. It was Wilmer Cabrera’s last tournament before he left U.S. Soccer. It was at the same time two years ago, and I actually started up coaching right after the tournament. From what I’ve heard and looking at the organization of it now, it looks like a very good tournament, a competitive tournament.
“We’re matched up in our group with France, Norway and Scotland – three very good teams. There’s another group of four [Azerbaijan, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine]. We’re going to have three games and the top two in the groups will play each other for a championship and the second placed teams will play for third and fourth. We’re hoping to get to Turkey, get a couple days of training in, then get ready for the games and hopefully be successful.”
: What achievements are you looking for from the team that will qualify the trip as a success
RW : “First off the ability to get three international games is great for our group, for our team just to get experience. International experience against good teams is the number one reason why we travel to these tournaments.
“Secondly, being in this tournament, we want to go and play well. We want the team to do well and we want the team to be successful at the same time. It’s a great tournament to achieve all these things. I’m not going to measure it as winning one game vs. winning three games as being successful or not. We’re just looking to get to Turkey, get some training, play three very competitive games and play well. Hopefully that will make for good results also.”
: What opportunities does a high- profile tournament like this provide players in the U.S. Soccer structure and in the wider soccer community
RW : “It gives us the ability to play teams from different parts of the world. In this case, three European teams that we don’t get a chance to play all the time. We get to see their style of play, how their teams implement their style and again, just the experience in terms of playing these teams, which will help our guys develop and help our team develop. That will lead to being successful in [U-17] World Cup qualifying next year. We wouldn’t see these European teams in qualifying, but hopefully we qualify for the World Cup and there’s a chance we see these teams again.”
: What are some of the thoughts behind how you selected this roster
RW : “Most are with the Residency Program right now, but we have some players that are not involved and are with clubs outside the United States. We have Joe Gallardo at Monterrey who’s not with us full time in residency. We have Luca de la Torre from Fulham, who will be coming in and isn’t with us full time at Residency.
“Two other players were not able to come, who would normally be involved for this tournament – Josh Perez from Fiorentina and Danny Barbir, who’s at Manchester City. We also have two birth-year ‘99s coming in, who will be part of the 20-man roster. Basically we have 16 players from Residency, who train with us every day and four players based outside.
“Then, with any roster you put together, you want to put a good roster together in terms of the players that are in good form, who have been playing consistently well and who have some experience. So we think this roster will come together and go to Turkey and be successful.”
: Speaking of players in good form, Joe Gallardo, Christian Pulisic, Luca de la Torre and Haji Wright have done very well already against international
competition this cycle. What are you expecting to see from them at this tournament
RW : “What we like to see from all our players is that they are consistently developing, they’re consistently playing well. The four players mentioned are all very talented players and even in the short period of time we’ve had them, about the last six months, you can see their improvement over that time. We want to continue seeing Joe and Haji scoring goals, creating goals and the same with Christian, creating and scoring goals and helping in the attack. Luca in the midfield, from box to box, helps us with possession and keeping the ball and also is dangerous.
“So, we’re just hoping they continue doing what they did from when we started up last year in the Mexico tournament, and then in Spain we had a very good trip, and finally the Nike Friendlies. We just want them to grow and develop and get better individually and as part of the team.”
: What did you see from the younger guys included on this roster – Edwin Lara and Nicholas Taitague – that made you and the coaches feel that they were
ready to gain some experience on this trip
RW : “Edwin has been in with us from day one. He’s a left back who’s done very well for us over the last six months. We think he, as a younger player, has developed physically ahead of some of the other ‘99s, and he’s helped us over the last six months.
“Nick is the other ’99. He came with us to Mexico back in August. He’s done very well with the ‘99s. He’s one of their best players. He can play as an attacking midfielder; he plays out wide as a number 11 and is a very good talent that we think can help our team.”
: This will be the first international tournament for a few players, McKinzie Gaines, Elijah Rice and Devin Vega, at the U-17 level. How are you
planning to sprinkle them into the lineup and what do want to see from them by the end of the tournament
RW : “McKinzie is brand new to the cycle. Elijah and Devin have been in Residency this past semester. All three are attacking players. They’ve been playing well. We feel they can conform. McKinzie’s very new, but we see a lot of good qualities in him and we’re hoping he can contribute right away even though he’s only been with us for a short period of time.
“We’re looking for all three of them to go out there and play well. Be aggressive getting forward, be able to create goals and score goals, but also play within the team. We hope that on their off days, they take advantage of their opportunity at this international tournament and help the team be successful.”