U-17s impressive in Nike Friendlies 

December, 3, 2012

Last year, the U.S. U-17s had some good luck while rolling to the title at the Nike Friendlies, with a marquee win over Brazil capping the feat. This year, a much changed group missed that luck in coming up just short of another title.

But the U.S. was impressive nonetheless in tying Brazil, beating Turkey and dropping a last-minute decision to Portugal that cost Richie Williams' squad a second straight crown at the event.

The high point was a thrilling display of offensive production in all three matches -- to the tune of 11 goals -- led by Rubio Rubin, U.S. soccer's 2012 Young Male Athlete of the Year, who is quickly outshining his more ballyhooed young teammates and assuming the label of future star. The downside was a porous defense that conceded early and often, costing the team a follow-up win over Brazil and the tournament championship.

The Americans opened with a 4-4 draw against Brazil, coming from two goals down to take a 4-3 lead into the closing minutes before conceding the equalizer. They conceded early again to Turkey before pulling away with three late goals for a 4-1 win. Against Portugal, the U.S. fell behind then mounted a spectacular comeback to pull even -- a result that would have yielded the title -- but ultimately gave up a late goal to fall 4-3 in what amounted to the championship match.

But the Nike Friendlies trophy counts for nothing in the end. With meaningful games now approaching for Williams' group, let's take a look at the key takeaways from a long weekend of U-17 action in Florida.

Williams' newfound squad flexibility is a good thing

Brent Latham is a soccer commentator who covers the youth national teams for ESPN.com. Based in Guatemala, he has attended youth World Cups from Peru to Egypt, and places in between.