Being an elite youth soccer player in the United States means missing out on the traditional high school experience. No prom, no homecoming and no pep rallies.
It can also mean accelerated entry into the work force.
Jack McInerney entered US Soccer's Bradenton, Fla., Residency Program in the fall of 2008. In March he made his Major League Soccer debut with the Philadelphia Union in front of nearly 40,000 fans in Seattle – at the age of 17.
McInerney notched his first goal in May against the Landon Donovan- and Edson Buddle-led LA Galaxy. The Galaxy have yet to suffer a loss in 12 matches this season and own 11 more points than any team in the league.
"We had a two-on-one and [Philadelphia Union midfielder] Fred dribbled it past… I don’t know who it was, but he created some space for me and played it through," McInerney said following the match. "I had a first touch and slid it past [Donovan] Ricketts."
McInerney's play in international competition has fueled his rapid rise. The Alpharetta, Georgia native has 31 caps to his credit and 18 goals. He recently completed a stint with the US U-20 team in Holland.
“Getting ready for MLS, I can draw back on that type of high level of play,” McInerney said of his play with the United States prior to his MLS debut in February. “You have to be ready to play every day. You have to be in great physical condition going in."
McInerney is one of 11 players on MLS rosters this season 18 years of age or younger. Francisco Nava Cobo, a native of Houston on the roster of the hometown Dynamos, Californian Luis Gil (with Real Salt Lake, see below) and McInerney are the only Americans in that group.
Major League Soccer's foreign U-18 contingent includes Juan Agudelo (17, Colombia, New York Red Bulls), Fuad Ibrahim (18, Ethiopia, Toronto FC), Omar Jasseh (17, Gambia, San Jose), Bryan Levya (18, Mexico, FC Dallas), Danny Mwanga (18, Republic of Congo, Philadelphia Union), Andy Najar (17, Honduras, D.C. United), Amadou Sanyang (18, Gambia, Toronto FC) and Roger Torres (18, Colombia, Philadelphia Union).
As the World Cup approaches in South Africa, MaxPreps highlights 11 other American teenagers making noise on the pitch at home and abroad.
Hometown: Maple Grove, Minn.
Notable: At 6-4 and 190 pounds, Cropper's size is intriguing in goal. He has trained with Leicester City in England and was credited with a shutout in May while playing with the US U-20 team against Senegal.
Hometown: Duncanville, Texas
Notable: A bit smallish at 5-4, but productive for the U-17 team last year with four goals and two assists in 19 matches. He also drew seven yellow cards, a good indicator he isn't afraid to challenge despite his size. Duran signed with the University of Dayton in March.
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Notable: Regarded as the No. 1 recruit in the nation by TopDrawerSoccer.com, Edwards' father is the athletic director at the University of California-San Diego athletic director but he is headed to play for UCLA.
Hometown: Garden Grove, Calif.
Notable: English Premier League power Arsenal is interested in seeing Gil in its youth academy, but he is with Real Salt Lake in the MLS for now.
Hometown: Clinton, Miss.
Notable: Gulley earned the distinction of being TopDrawerSoccer.com's No. 1 player in the 2012 class. He helped the United States U-17 team dominate Mexico 4-1 in February with a pair of goals.
Hometown: Concord, Mass.
Notable: Has spent the last two years with Birmingham City's U-18 team in England but played for the United States at the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria last year.
Hometown: Edwardsville, Ill.
Notable: A product of US Soccer's Residency Program in Bradenton, Renken is playing in Germany with the developmental team Hoffenheim of the Bundesliga (Germany's top league).
Hometown: York, Pa.
Notable: Played in 14 matches in 2009 with the U-17 team, scoring two goals with two assists.
Hometown: Battle Ground, Wash.
Notable: One of the few elite teenagers to play for a high school team, Palodichuk – a junior already committed to play for Duke – led Camas to the Class 3A state semifinals and a 19-1-1 record. He did not play at Camas as a sophomore while training in Bradenton with the U-17 team, scoring three goals with an assist in 13 matches in 2009.
Hometown: Lincoln, Neb.
Notable: Headed to Creighton University, Polak is among the most experienced players his age in international play with 35 caps.
Hometown: Dearborn, Mich.
Notable: Saad hasn't played extensively with US squads, but was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year after breaking state records for single-season (76) and career (172) goals. He will continue his career at the University of Michigan next fall.
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