31515_isi_zendejasalejandro_usmntu17jd113014100 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
U-17 World Cup Qualifying

U.S. Defeats Jamaica in Penalties, Makes World Cup

The United States U-17 men's national team couldn't score a goal in two matches against Jamaica but qualified for the under-17 World Cup after winning a penalty shootout Sunday night.
BY John Godfrey Posted
March 15, 2015
9:36 PM
ON PAPER, it never should have come down to this.

Based on reputation and pedigree, the United States under-17 men's national team—featuring Christian Pulisic, Haji Wright, Joe Gallardo, and others—should have breezed its way to the top of Group A of the CONCACAF Championship Tournament, securing passage to the 2015 U-17 World Cup in the process.

But a bad bounce here and a few missed shots there during group play forced Richie Williams' team of talented teens into a winner-take-all contest against Jamaica Sunday night in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The Yanks couldn't muster much of an attack in this contest either.

In fact, neither team managed to score in regulation but the U.S. prevailed in penalties, 5-4, and will advance to the October tournament in Chile.

The tension was palpable throughout the evening, and both teams played like they were afraid of losing.

During the opening half-hour the vast majority of play occurred in the middle third and featured numerous poor first touches and tentative play.

The United States began to impose its will on the game around the half-hour mark, as Borussia Dortmund reserve Christian Pulisic opened up a few opportunities and both wingers edged forward. The Americans' best chance of the first half came in the 37th minute when fullback John Nelson pushed forward and played Haji Wright into the area down the left flank. Wright delivered a dangerous left-footed cross but Jamaica goalkeeper Jahmali Waite flew out to parry the ball away.

The rebound fell to Alejandro Zendejas, who unleashed a right-footed blast that was stopped by a Jamaican defender (and appeared to be off target). The subsequent ricochet landed in front of American attacker Josh Perez, but he was stopped before he could get off a clean shot.

The two sides retreated to their locker rooms with the score tied at zero. Much like Wednesday's game, the U.S. controlled the run of play but could not get out in front.

After the break Jamaica showed more initiative, pushing forward and maintaining some possession in the attacking half. But the U.S. defense enveloped the Jamaicans before they could come close to threatening Will Pulisic's goal. In fact, by stretching the field Jamaica opened up some intriguing chances for the U.S. on the counter.

In the 75th minute, after the Americans weathered a Jamaican attack, Christian Pulisic lofted a beautifully weighted pass to Perez, who was sprinting down the right channel behind the defense. Waite charged out of goal and Perez tried to chip him, but the Jamaican keeper leapt and caught Perez' right-footed shot.

But neither team challenged the other's keeper during regulation, and it all came down to penalties.

After five rounds, both teams managed to push four shots past the opposing goalkeeper, so the competition advanced to sudden-death penalties. With everything at stake, U.S. defender Alexis Velela beat Waite easily, which meant that Jamaica's Alec Marshall needed to score on U.S. goalkeeper William Pusilic to keep his team's World Cup dreams alive.

Marshall struck the ball with his left foot and pushed it just wide of the left upright. He grabbed his head with both hands and fell to the ground in despair as the Americans raced toward their goalkeeper to celebrate their narrow victory.

What did you think of the U-17s' performance in Honduras? Relieved that the team survived? Disappointed in how it performed? Share your take in the Comments below.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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