The 2003 U-17s: Where are they now?
That's what Jamie Watson was thinking after the Korean Republic scored on an own goal just 11 minutes into the U.S.'s first game at the 2003 U-17 World Cup in Finland.
Just three months earlier, Korea blanked the American 17's 3-0 at the Busan International Youth Tournament.
"It was like they were a pro team and we were a rec team," Watson, a striker, remembers of the first game. "I was like 'Oh [expletive], this can't happen again.'"
Just five minutes after Korea's goal, which found the net after ricocheting off U.S. defender Brandon Owens' shoulder, Freddy Adu scored on a dazzling run. Watson remembers Adu playing a through ball to himself, splitting the defense, before tying the game. Owens scored 10 minutes later.
Then Watson made it 3-1 -- the rout was on. Final score: U.S. 6, Korea 1. Adu finished with a hat trick and Watson had a goal and an assist.
"Oh man, it was awesome," said Watson, a former Generation adidas player, currently with the Wilmington Hammerheads in USL-2. "Every time we went up the field we scored. We literally kept scoring. We were laughing and joking. It was awesome."
Adds Owens: "I didn't know we were going to hit stride quite like that. I felt elation and relief. The run, I thought, would be the start of great things to come."
The U.S. finished 2-1 in group play, losing to Spain, which featured Cesc Fabregas. Eventual champion Brazil eliminated the Americans 3-0 in the quarterfinals. Here is a look at where all of those players who played in the 2003 U-17 World Cup are now.
Freddy Adu, forward: Adu, who scored four goals in the 2003 U-17 World Cup, is currently looking for a new team after being informed by Benfica that he's no longer in its plans. He spent the 2008-09 season on loan with Monaco in the French Ligue 1 but received sparse playing time. Adu came to Portugal after playing for D.C. United and Real Salt Lake in the MLS. Adu, only 20, is still viewed as a promising player and has become featured at times on the U.S. national team.
Corey Ashe, midfielder: One of the Houston Dynamo's most effective players off the bench. He made 22 appearances for the Dynamo last year, including eight starts. Ashe, who played at the University of North Carolina from 2003 to '06, entered the MLS in '07. He co-captained the U-17 team from 2001 to '03. He has played in 23 games for the Dynamo this season, including 12 starts, tallying three assists.
Adrian Chevannes, defender: Selected in the third round (36th overall) of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft by Colorado. Chevannes, who played for SMU, never suited up for the Rapids. He is now living in Fort Worth, Texas, and expects to enroll in graduate school next year.
"I had some injuries [meniscus tear and sports hernia] in college, so I pretty much knew I wasn't going to play professionally," Chevannes says. "So it was easier for me. But, if I had my way, I would have turned pro after residency. My family wanted me to get an education. I would have gotten a few trials and I was more hyped back then."
Steve Curfman, midfielder: Helped the USL-2 Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads to its first-ever regular-season title this summer. Curfman played in his hometown of Raleigh for the USL-1's Carolina RailHawks last season. Real Salt Lake took him in the third round (30th overall) of the 2007 MLS SuperDraft out of Wake Forest. He never played for Real Salt Lake.
"Ultimately, I would like to get back to the MLS," says Curfman, who also coaches the Carolina Soccer Club U-13 boys' team in Raleigh. "I was confident [in Salt Lake] and felt, at times, I deserved to play. But that was [Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis'] call. At some point, I would like to give it another shot."
John DiRaimondo, midfielder: Signed a developmental contract with D.C. United in March, after being released by the Colorado Rapids. DiRaimondo helped the Rapids to the MLS Reserve championship in '07 and made 11 appearances with the big club last season. He made his first appearance for D.C. United earlier this month after being loaned out to Harrisburg City and Richmond of USL-2.
Eddie Gaven, midfielder: His spirited play helped the Columbus Crew win its first MLS Cup in November. Gaven broke into the league with the MetroStars, now the Red Bulls, in 2003 at only 17. Gaven was traded to the Crew, along with defender Chris Leitch, for Edson Buddle in '06. Gaven scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over Chicago in last year's Eastern Conference final. Gaven has four goals in 21 starts for the streaking Crew this season.
"I'm considering dental school," Germani says. "I'm doing some part-time soccer stuff, I may want to get into a sports-related field. When I was younger, I thought I would play soccer my whole life. That didn't work out, but I still love the game."
Guillermo Gonzalez, midfielder: Serves as an assistant coach with the Cerritos ( Calif. ) Junior College women's soccer team. Cerritos finished 22-0-4 last fall to win its second straight California Community College Commission on Athletics state title. The L.A. Galaxy selected Gonzalez as a Project-40 player with the eighth overall pick in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft. Gonzalez played sparingly in four seasons for the Galaxy and was released in '07.
Brian Grazier, midfielder: Going back to school. Grazier will serve as a men's soccer graduate assistant at the University of St. Louis (where he played) this fall. He suited up for the Colorado Rapids' reserve team last year. According to Grazier, Colorado asked him to play in USL-1 this summer to get more experience and playing time. He decided on St. Louis, where he will work on a masters degree, perhaps, in higher education. "It was a tough decision," Grazier says. "I played soccer all my life, but I didn't want to bounce from team to team in the USL. I wanted to get on with my life and soccer will still be a part of it. I may want to coach one day."
Mike Harrington, forward: Started all 30 games at defender for the Kansas City Wizards last season -- a year after earning the team's rookie of the year honor. However, Harrington, selected third overall in the 2007 MLS Super Draft out of North Carolina, has been in and out of the starting 11 for the Wizards this year. He has just eight starts in 18 games. "It's been great for me [in Kansas City ], a great situation," Harrington says. "I was brought in and began playing right away, the coach and general manager believed in me. Sure, it was a little intimidating with some of the older players on this team, but I've gotten a chance to play and perform. That's what I love to do."
Kyle Helton, defender: From Sweden, to Atlanta and, finally, Austin, Texas. After Helton says he asked for his release from the New England Revolution last season, he ended up getting trials with three different Swedish second-division teams. According to Helton, one side, Landskrona Bois, told him they wanted to sign him, instructing him to go home to get the rest of his belongings.
However, when Helton arrived stateside, the offer was pulled. He remained in Atlanta with his parents, working camps, hoping to play for the USL-1's Atlanta Silverbacks. The Silverbacks folded after last year. Helton, a standout at Duke, began this summer with Austin Aztex's Premier Development League team, but was promoted to their USL-1 team. "You never know who is watching when you step on the field," Helton says. "One door can open and you can make a name for yourself, you can make history."
Phil Marfuggi, keeper: Served as a reserve for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of USL-2 last year. The New England Revolution drafted Marfuggi in the MLS supplemental draft in '07, but he was cut during training camp. Marfuggi was slowed by a severely torn abdomen, which forced him to sit out a year. He is finishing up his degree in sports management at Clemson, where he played in college.
Marfuggi is earning credits this summer as an intern strength and conditioning coach at Arizona State, working with the football team. He could land a graduate assistant job in Tempe, or at another school, when he graduates in August.
"Working out, strength and conditioning, that's a passion of mine," Marfuggi says. "Speed and agility training, plyometrics, I would love to work with a soccer team someday."
Brandon Owens, defender: Played for the Thunder Bay Chill in the PDL this season and will look for other opportunities next season.
D.C. United selected Owens in the first round (10th overall) of last year's MLS supplemental draft. Owens said he left the team in the preseason because "that's what I wasn't looking to do. I didn't want to make $12,900 a year."
After spending some time in Los Angeles (he played at UCLA), Owens is back in the game, hoping to get a look from the MLS or overseas.
"I'm excited to get another opportunity," says Owens, who may also enroll in business school. "I know it's a small window of opportunity, but I hope I can get a look from a few [MLS] teams."
Jacob Peterson, midfielder: Having a solid season with the Colorado Rapids. Peterson has played in 18 games, starting seven, with a goal and two assists. He appeared in 17 games last season, starting 10. Peterson made a team-high 14 appearances off the bench for the Rapids in '07, making his MLS debut a year earlier. Colorado named Peterson its rookie of the year in '06. He led Indiana University to NCAA College Cup championships in 2003 and '04, scoring a goal in each title game.
Steve Sandbo, keeper: Could have attended the MLS combine after his senior year at SMU in '07. However, Sandbo decided to take a job as an investment banker at ORIX Finance in Dallas, where he still works.
"I guess it's the road less traveled for a soccer player, but I'm happy," Sandbo says. "I think if I didn't get to play with the U-17 and U-20 teams, I might have thought about the MLS. But I'm happy with my career."
Jonathan Spector, defender: Injuries slowed the talented back this season at West Ham United in the Premier League.
Spector came back from a hip injury, but also sustained a concussion. He has competed across the pond since 2003, when he joined Manchester United and made his senior debut with the club a year later. He played on loan with Charlton Athletic in 2004-05, before joining West Ham in '06.
"Hopefully, I can come out next year healthy and win a starting spot," Spector says. "I have two years left on my contract, but I would like to maybe play for West Ham even longer. Make it my home, so to speak."
Danny Szetela, midfielder: Started the year as a bench player for Brescia Calico on Italy's Serie B -- on loan from Racing Santandar in Spain. However, Szetela returned to the U.S. last month, signing with D.C. United. He arrived in La Liga in '07 after playing for the Columbus Crew.
Julian Valentin, defender: Spent a month on loan with the Cleveland City Stars of USL-2, before returning to the L.A. Galaxy in mid-June. However, a foot fracture has kept Valentin out of MLS action. L.A. drafted Valentin with the 29th overall pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. He helped Wake Forest to the 2007 NCAA College Cup title. Valentin played in one game for the Galaxy last year. "Hopefully, I get more opportunities with the Galaxy," Valentin says. "I'm confident I can play in the MLS. I just want to get more minutes and get in more matches [when healthy]."
Jamie Watson, striker: Real Salt Lake made Watson, a Generation adidas player, the 13th overall pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. Watson played in Salt Lake for three years and didn't re-sign in '08. He played with Austin's PDL team, before signing briefly with FC Dallas. The MLS squad let Watson go during training camp this year and he's now starring for the USL-2 Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads. "I'd rather be in the MLS," Watson says. "But I'd be fighting just to get into games. Here, I play all the time, I'm a big part of the team, which is a good feeling. I definitely want to get back to the MLS. If I have a good season, I think I can." Watson made a good case for returning to the MLS this summer, leading USL-2 in scoring with 12 goals and six assists.
Quentin Westberg, goalkeeper: Born in France, Westberg was not part of the U-17 residency program. However, his dad, an American, reached out to U.S. soccer while Quentin was living in France. U-17 coach John Hackworth, an assistant at the time, and keeper coach Pete Mellor scouted Westberg in France. They liked him and brought him over for a few tournaments with the team. Westberg served as Marfuggi's backup at the '03 U-17 World Cup. Westberg now plays for Troyes AC in France's Ligue 2.
Others on the 2003 residency roster, but not members of the '03 U-17 World Cup squad:
Justin Rodriguez covers USL, NCAA and youth soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at email@example.com.