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US Teenage Soccer Team Plays in South Korea


South Korea is hosting a tournament of the world's best teenage football teams. The "Under 17 World Cup" is a chance for global sports fans to catch a glimpse of the Beckhams and Ronaldos of the future in a make-or-break setting. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin spent a little time with the United States team before they were eliminated by Germany - and learned about some of the challenges facing young American soccer players.

Lugging water and equipment. Doing homework on the road. And practicing hard, rain or shine.

That is the price the young U.S. athletes pay for a shot at soccer stardom.

The U.S. team is one of 24 that came to South Korea for the Under 17 World Cup competition.

The organizer, FIFA, has been streaming highlights and even entire games all over the world on its website, in partnership with regional broadcasters.

By the time they make it here, these players take part in a residency program first started by U.S. Soccer in 1999. They live, train, eat, and go to school together.

U.S. Head Coach John Hackworth says the program helps build strong soccer players - and well-rounded human beings. "The development both on and off the soccer field has been significant. I think they've become much better soccer players, but they've also matured and grown as people, and learned how to be in this kind of environment - and the expectations and standards that we expect from our national team."

Unlike many U-17 teams, the U.S. team does not come from a place where there is a deeply embedded soccer culture. Still, the team's communications officer, Kate McMaster, says there is a small but intense body of fans. "The soccer culture in the U.S. is more of an underground culture. But the people that are involved in that are very involved in it. They follow it very closely; they watch our every move. So the culture is there."

More Americans may be paying attention to soccer these days, following the recent splashy arrival of English superstar David Beckham, now playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

These young men may not attain the stardom of a David Beckham - but they learn some valuable lessons about applying themselves. "We've definitely put in a lot of hard work, and a lot of fitness, all kinds of ball drills and stuff. And I think it's really helped us prepare a lot for the World Cup" says Jared Jaffrey, midfielder

Of course, it's not all about hard work. Win or lose-- these world class athletes still find some time for fun.

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