United States U-17 team ralies from 0-2 deficit, downs Canada 3-2

The United States U-17 open up its World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-2 win over Canada. ASN's Brian Sciaretta gives his thoughts on the game
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 02, 2019
9:00 PM
THE UNITED STATES U-17 opened up World Cup qualifying with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Canada in a game where the U.S. team fell behind 0-2 but rallied for the win with three second half goals from Gianluca Busio, Axel Alejandre, and Gio Reyna.

Overall the United States team controlled the game throughout but fell asleep when Canada scored two quick goals in the 21st and 22nd minute for a 2-0 lead it would take into halftime.

But the U.S. didn’t panic and instead wore Canada down and got its way back into the game. After the equalizer, it seemed like only a matter of time when U.S. team would pull ahead which it did.

With the win, the United States moved into first place of Group F as Barbados and Guatemala played to a 1-1 draw thanks to a Barbados equalizer in the third minute of second-half stoppage time.

The United States will play Barbados on Saturday at 4pm ET and a win along with draw between Canada and Guatemala could clinch the group for the U.S. team.

Here are a few brief thoughts on the game

A lot of positives

It wasn’t the route that American fans were hoping for, and perhaps got used to while watching the U.S. U-20 team in CONCACAF last November, but there were an awful lot of positives from this game.

For one, head coach Raphael Wicky only took control of this team in March. U.S. Soccer did not have a head coach in place until very, very late in this cycle. Wicky only had a minicamp in April and three to four days training ahead of the Canada game to prepare. To expect a cohesive unit under Wicky was unrealistic. This was always going to be an uphill climb.

Still the team played very well outside of a two-minute span in the first half. The team wasn’t focused for a brief time and it nearly cost them a result. But that is the nature of youth soccer. It is unpredictable because players will make mistakes – many of them mental.

Even more impressive from the U.S. team was the total absence of panic. It fell behind but stayed calm and stuck with its plan. In the end they wore Canada down and were the deserved winner.

Players raising their games

Gio Reyna found the winner off a free kick and the son of former U.S. national team captain Claudio Reyna has been a lynchpin for the team the entire cycle. But handling Reyna will be difficult for Wicky because Reyna has not played a lot of minutes of club soccer this year since his pending move from New York City to Borussia Dortmund.

Reyna likely won’t be fit enough to go a full 90 for a little bit of time – perhaps by the end of the tournament. Aside from the free kick, it was clear he was a little rusty. But the U.S. team will possibly have a few games ahead where he doesn’t have to be at his best and he can sharpen up for the knockout stages.

Daniel Leyva did well to settle the game and control the midfield and as the kinks get worked out while implementing Wicky’s system, it is very easy to see him doing well.

Ricardo Pepi did not score but his workrate was impressive and he was effective wearing down the Canadian defenders. The goals will likely come soon enough for the talented Texan.

Finally, Damian Las is one of the better U-17 goalkeeper in recent cycles. He is very calm, athletic, and will help the U.S. remain in games against talented teams. He had a big save in stoppage time to preserve the big win.

The 4-3-3?

All the U.S. teams at the moment from the full team through all the youth levels seem to be married to the 4-3-3 or the similar 4-1-4-1. At this point, the U.S. U-17 team can probably achieve the results against mid-level CONACAF teams using the 4-3-3.

Watching the team this and looking at the skillset of the various players, the 4-3-3 might not be the best. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Wicky revert to a 4-4-2 against the better teams.

Why? Well the U.S. team has two in-form center forwards in Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Ricardo Pepi who are very different and could complement each other. Also, the U.S. roster is light on wingers and Wicky tried to shoehorn talented central-based players like Gianluca Busio and Giovanni Reyna onto the wings. But a variation of the 4-4-2 would accommodate more central midfielders and allow for two good forwards to coexist.

The trick of a tournament like this is that the games are in quick succession during the group stages. Coaches therefore have to rotate squads heavily and maybe it is impracticable to start an first choice starting XI before the knockouts. Wicky is also still learning about this team – even at this critical juncture. But Wicky is an accomplished coach and he might not want to show his best hand until the knockouts – he also might learn more about his players before then.

But it wouldn’t be surprising if the team takes a different approach as the tournament progresses.

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