3215_isi_gallardojoe_usmntu17jd121113078 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Joe Gallardo Says U.S. U-17 Team Is Talented, Confident

Six months ago the 16-year-old San Diego native was nursing a broken leg. Now he's the leading the attack as the young Americans try to lock down World Cup qualification in Honduras.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 02, 2015
1:26 PM
THE UNITED STATES U-17 national team opened its World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday in impressive fashion, routing Cuba 5-0 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Joe Gallardo earned man of the match honors with a hat trick but the 16-year-old San Diego native was thrilled just to be on the playing field.

In August, Gallardo was playing with the U.S U-17 team at Copa Mexico de Naciones in Mexico City when he suffered a broken leg during a 6-0 win over China.

Though initially devastated by the injury, Gallardo was determined to get back for World Cup qualifying and he fought through a lot of pain during his rehabilitation to make it a reality. He now feels 100% and Friday's hat trick put the exclamation point on his recovery.

“I always knew that if I did things right and if I did my therapy right, I would be back in time to play in qualifying,” Gallardo told American Soccer Now. “That is just what my doctor said. But sometimes I would have a doubt because sometimes my leg would hurt a lot. Thankfully I was able to overcome this injury.

“It was a very good feeling for my first international trip back—especially in CONCACAF,” the five-foot-eight forward added. “It’s been my dream to play in this tournament. I am just thankful I got the hat trick and I am thankful we got the three points.”

U.S. head coach Richie Williams was particularly excited to have Gallardo back with the team. Gallardo's hat trick gave him 13 career goals for the U.S. U-17 team and his return ensured that the team’s high-powered offense would be at full strength heading into qualifying.

After Friday’s win, the U.S. U-17s have outscored opponents 16-4 so far in 2015. The young Yanks play Trinidad & Tobago tonight (6pm; Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes).

“It’s great to see Joe back from his injury,” Williams said after Friday's win. “Joe’s a good goal scorer—he was proving it up until his injury. He worked extremely hard, he played well, and he was rewarded with his three goals. I believe that he’ll continue to do that throughout the tournament.”

This U-17 team has been getting more press than previous teams both because of impressive results and the fact that players have been attracting interest from prominent clubs in Europe. Christian Pulisic is the engine of the midfield and he signed a long-term deal with Borussia Dortmund. Similarly, Luca de la Torre is at Fulham, Danny Barbir is at West Bromwich Albion, and several others are reportedly affiliated but can’t yet move due to a combination of their youth and lack of E.U. passports.

Gallardo also plays abroad. Last year he made use of his Mexican passport and signed with Monterrey in Liga MX. While he admits to wondering what his options might have been had he had waited until after the U-17 World Cup, he is happy at Monterrey and it fulfilled his desire to leave the American academy structure to turn professional at an early age.

“At the time it seemed like the right decision,” Gallardo said. “I was playing in the academy and I didn’t think that soccer was doing any good for me. I felt that being in a professional environment was going to help me a lot more to become a good soccer player. But I am happy and I don’t regret anything.

“I haven’t talked with my club lately since I’ve been so focused with the national team,” he continued. “But I am playing for [Monterrey’s] U-20 team so hopefully I get a spot on the team because I just got moved up. I am one of the youngest players on the team.

"Hopefully I get a starting spot.”

Despite his Mexican heritage and the fact that he plays his club soccer in Mexico, Gallardo, a dual-national, is 100% aligned with U.S. Soccer. He developed his game in the United States and has been a key part of youth national teams from an early age.

“It has always been a clear decision for me to play with the U.S.” Gallardo said. “I grew up here and I just really feel a lot of love for the country and for the shirt. My dream is to play with the first team of the U.S. national team.”

Gallardo, like many observers, is bullish on the current U-17 squad. Over the past 18 months, the team has registered wins over Brazil, Colombia, Bosnia, and Paraguay along with multiple wins over England and Croatia.

The past cycle has left Gallardo and the rest of the core both confident and eager to get to work as the team eyes October's U-17 World Cup in Chile.

“First of all, I am just focused on what we came to do here and qualify,” Gallardo said. “We’re really confident. You never want to underestimate an opponent but we feel that we have a good squad. I think we can do good things. I think this team has a lot of potential.

"I think the team can win the U-17 World Cup. I believe that a lot of our players have the potential to play with the first team. I have a lot of good feelings about this team and these players.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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