Tuesday, October 27, 2009

ATH: US Junior World Cup

U-17 World Cup: USA 1 - Spain 2

Spain scored two short-handed goals to come back and win in Group E on Monday. With just over a minute played, Spain defender Sergi Gomez was sent off. The United States responded with Jack McInerney's goal in the fourth-minute, but that would be it for the US offense. Borja equalized for Spain in the 22nd and Pablo Sarabia scored what would be the winner in the 30th-minute.

Though the United States had periods of sustained pressure in the second-half, they couldn't beat Spain keeper Edgar. The US put nine of their 14 shots on goal to Spain's five from nine and led six to three on corners.

"I think it was a very good match," US coach Wilmer Cabrera said. "We had to play against one of the favorite teams, and we started off with some positive things, we scored quickly. They reacted very well, they had a brilliant 10 minutes and they put themselves in a good position. After that obviously our kids started to react, to put pressure on Spain and start to come back, but they did a very good job defending. We tried to play and we created options but we didn’t score. When they had the opportunities, they were clinical with their finishing. That’s why they are at that level right now."

In the second-half, the game had to be suspended for several minutes to fix lighting problems. On two occasions, one of the four lighting towers at the Sani Abacha Stadium went out.

Tough Luck

By J Hutcherson, US National Team Players Association

-- Yesterday, the United States opened group play in the Under-17 World Cup. They also opened themselves up to the expected criticism that comes with giving up two short-handed goals and losing the game. It's hard to come around on a 2-1 loss. At the same time, you don't have to be an apologist to opt against putting this squarely on the team.

I'm not all that enthusiastic about running through the issues with an Under-17 team to begin with, but... a man up and a goal up within four minutes? The United States pushed forward, but they had no in-game concept of how to break down Spain's defense. Clogging the box, forcing tough positions, and basically making it too difficult for the United States.

Had the US gotten a break on positioning, they should've scored at least one more goal and forced Spain to open up. There's only so many balls into the box any team should expect not to fall correctly. The US saw very little hitting the shooting foot with enough time to put the shot in a tough position. That's about as basic as it gets. The defender always being in the way.

Look, you can gesture in the direction of coaching and halftime adjustments all you want. The response was the correct one. The US tried to play wide, they tried center, and they tried from distance. With Spain only pushing up on the counter - and even then not in numbers - there was never going to be the space to get through balls working. This wasn't a testament to Spain's game plan if they happened to fall down a man and a goal within five minutes.

Where Spain outplayed the US was in maximizing limited opportunities. The US gave up two quick goals in the 22nd and 30th minutes. Probably at least a little shocked they were ahead at the half hour mark, Spain did the smart thing and bunkered.

That put the US in an odd position. Bunker themselves in the hope that Spain began to lose shape or try to test Spain's defense locked up in the final third. The US went with controlling possession and trying to disrupt what Spain was doing in and around the box.

At some point, the Spanish defenders (all nine of them), had to be wondering how long their luck would hold. 85 minutes plus stoppage time, as it turned out. But it was hardly an indictment of what the US was trying to do.

This is a competitive team that should get results against the rest of the group. Another shot at a good team in the knockout stage, and it's hard to believe anything resembling the opener plays out.

Monday night in Nigeria doesn't speak to lack of experience. No U-17 team, even one with as many games together as the United States, should be expected to always respond. The game doesn't work that way at any level. At best, they should play themselves into a position where they're doing enough to expect to score.

Even a man up, there's just not much any team is going to do when that last touch isn't working. The United States got a tournament's worth of bad luck in one game. Hopefully, they have the confidence not to make that the story.

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