U-17 WORLD CUP ALUMNI RETURN TO ACADEMY AT WINTER SHOWCASE

A few months ago, Andrew Carleton and Tyler Shaver were in India, representing the USA at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. On Saturday, Shaver laid out Carleton in the air for a 50-50 ball.

The former U-17s are back from India, and they've returned to the environment that bred them for international success: the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

"No hard feelings. We're brothers, it's part of the game," Carleton said. "A lot of us out here were all on the same team a couple months ago. It's a pretty cool experience to be able to play with the guys from your hometown against the guys that were on your team, that are your brothers. The level's good and it's getting better and better every year."

Saturday's match-up between Atlanta United FC and New York City FC was laden with U-17 alumni as Atlanta's Carleton, Justin Garces and Chris Goslin went up against NYC's Shaver and James Sands.

"There's a lot of great competition out here," Goslin said. "You can't take these games for granted, you've got to really work and show that you're a Youth National Team player, show that you are a step above. The Showcase breeds a lot of talent, it shows how much talent we have in the U.S."

The Development Academy is where Goslin and the rest of his U-17 compatriots will work to take the next steps of their development. After living the dream in India, wearing the crest to represent the USA in World Cup competition, the players were energized to return to playing stateside and taking on a heavier burden with their clubs. Former U-17 midfielder Blaine Ferri scored two goals in Solar SC's Showcase opener, earning a 2-1 win against Westchester Armour.

"When you're with your club, you have to be a leader," Ferri said. "With the National Team, everyone's a leader, but you have to take responsibility when you're with your club. You're a big part of the club, you have a big responsibility to get the win. My teammates expect me to play well, they expect me to get a goal."

For Shaver, India provided the opportunity to measure himself as a player. Now back in the Academy, he's eager to take what he learned abroad and apply it to improve himself. The Youth National Team is one part of the players' individual development, but the majority takes place in the Academy's everyday environment.

"Playing with the National Team exposes your weaknesses," Shaver said. "Once you're back with your club, you recognize what you need to work on. It accelerates your development when you're not with the National Team."

Atlanta's Justin Garces was the goalkeeper for the USA in India. He credits past Showcase events with driving his development as a member of Kendall SC. His Academy experiences prepared him to shine at the World Cup, where he picked up three shutouts. Upon return, and now with Atlanta United FC, he's come back as a more confident player.

"I would come to these Showcases and see everyone playing well. It would get me excited and make me work harder," Garces said. "Playing in front of all those people took a toll on me. It made me realize that nerves are just before the game. Once I was out there on the field, my nerves went away and I was able to play my game."

While these players ended their journeys as U-17s with October's World Cup, this week not only sees them back in action with their Academy clubs at the Showcase, but also the launch of the next generation of U-17 players at the Nike International Friendlies. All 20 members of the newly-minted U-17 roster come from the Development Academy Clubs. Many play up an age group at their clubs -- an experience that was invaluable in Carleton's development at Georgia United and Atlanta.

"At the World Cup, I was playing at my own age, some of the best teams in the world," Carleton said. "Having a good club to be able to push you and play a couple of years above my age helped me get used to the speed of play. It prepares you for those challenges, the physical level. Having a club that will push you and play you up helps a whole lot.

With the Nike International Friendlies now concluded, the new class of U-17s will return to their home clubs. Since 1998, the U-17s would traditionally live and train at the U-17 Residency Program at the IMG Academy in nearby Bradenton. Now, the Academy has reached a level to provide consistent, high-quality training environments and meaningful competition nationwide during its 10-month season. It's an ideal place to develop the rising U-17s and also continue the growth of the outgoing squad from India.

"Right now, the best way for me to get better is the Development Academy," Ferri said. "It's where the best players are. It's the best place for me to learn how to play soccer and how to develop as a player."