American U-20s Bounce Back to Defeat Haiti 4-1
February 21, 2017
AFTER A DISAPPOINTING loss to Panama to open the tournament, the United States U-20 national team overcame a sluggish start and an early deficit to defeat Haiti 4-1 and get back on track in World Cup qualifying.
Few would say that the U.S. team was stellar and it is obvious this talent-rich team can play much better, but the three points will almost certainly be enough to put the Americans into the next stage. On Friday the U.S. will face St. Kitts & Nevis and should defeat the island nation easily.
The young Yanks controlled possession early and enjoyed the majority of opportunities. Once again however, final passing was lacking and the U.S. quickly became frustrated. This spilled over onto the defensive end and Haiti equalized with its only real half-chance of the game—on a soft goal that snuck past U.S. goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann.
Speed and aggressiveness quickly brought the U.S. back into the game and Jonathan Lewis drew a penalty on the left edge of the area, and teammate Brooks Lennon converted to tie things up.
In the second half, the U.S. sprang to life. Luca de la Torre has not had the best two games of his career but he put the U.S. on top 2-1 when he took advantage of a botched clearance off a corner. Lennon then scored two more goals in quick succession to complete his hat trick and produce the final scoreline: the United States 4, Haiti 1.
The U.S. will win Group B on Friday if it defeats St. Kitts & Nevis and Haiti upsets Panama (and the U.S. scores enough to prevail on goal differential). But Panama will win the group if it wins or draws against Haiti—a very likely outcome.
Needed confidence booster
With youth soccer, confidence is crucial. Against Panama on Saturday—and for the first half against Haiti—the U.S. looked flustered and frustrated. The team was not confident in its own abilities and the result was a performance that was far below the sum of its parts.
In the second half, and especially once the Americans took the lead, glimpses of its potential were on display. Of course Lennon was the star but all of the players looked like they were having fun. They appeared to have a healthy anger in their performance and that led to some fire in their play.
While probably not needed against St. Kitts & Nevis, U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos should consider really building the gameplan around Lennon. If he is hot, let the offense flow through him. In addition to scoring, he is showing that he can create for others too.
In 2015, the United States U-20 team got off to a rocky start by drawing Guatemala and then losing to Panama. But a lopsided win over Aruba gave the Americans much-needed confidence to turn the qualifying campaign around.
That U-20 team was probably more talented than this year’s version but this squad should still have what it takes to advance. Will this win help be that confidence booster to turn the tide in its favor? We will see.
Lewis, Williamson, and Fossey
Lennon was the Man of the Match and the experienced defensive triangle of Justen Glad, Tommy Redding, and Erik Palmer-Brown were clearly a cut above the competition.
But New York City’s Jonathan Lewis, Fulham’s Marlon Fossey, and the University of Maryland’s Eryk Williamson all played well too. Lewis and Williamson, neither of whom starting against Panama, showed well and both should start when the games become critical next week in the second group stage.
Lewis' speed is a lethal weapon and Williamson looked very comfortable in the attack. Fossey is quick and aggressive at the right back position. His speed and athleticism is an asset at this level and he really can open the game for the wingers.
Group C shakeup could help U.S.
Lots can change quickly in a tournament featuring such young players. That being said, the United States actually stands in much better position than originally thought after the loss to Panama.
Tournament hosts Costa Rica suffered a 1-0 loss to El Salvador in the Group C opener. That will make it tough for Costa Rica to win its group and that would have a big effect on who is in the next group with the United States.
Right now, Group D is shaping up to have the United States (as second in Group B) and Mexico (as winners of Group A). The third team will be the winner of Group C and while it was assumed that Costa Rica as hosts would cruise, that is not looking like the case. If El Salvador wins that group, it would enter into Group D and provide a potential easier path, with the top two of three teams advancing to the World Cup in South Korea.
Should Panama falter on Friday and the United States find a way to win Group B, it might actually make for a harder second stage, putting the U.S. into Group E with potentially Honduras and Costa Rica.
Avoiding Group D with Mexico and Costa Rica still seems like the best outcome for the United States and tomorrow will help determine if El Salvador can maintain its Group C lead when it takes on Bermuda and Costa Rica hosts Trinidad & Tobago.