U.S. Advances To U-17 World Cup After Win On Penalty Kicks
Former San Diego Surf SC players help to advance past Jamaica on penalty kicks. San Diego’s Alexis Velela, Joe Gallardo, Luca de la Torre and Brandon Vazquez are currently on the U-17 U.S. MNT and are now heading to the U17 World Cup. Velela and Gallardo stepped up to the pressure and each scored penalty kicks to secure the win against Jamaica.
The U.S. is into the FIFA U-17 World Cup, but only after advancing past Jamaica 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in Sunday’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship playoff match at the Estadio Francisco Morazan.
Alexis Velela drove in the USA’s sixth spot kick, before Jamaica’s Alex Marshall sent his penalty wide of the top left corner, putting the Americans back in the U-17 World Cup after missing the tournament for the first time two years ago.
Surf SC recognizes the potential of Velela; “Alexis is a special player. He he plays with no fear and with a freedom and confidence seldom seen in one so young.”
The Jamaicans also hadn’t qualified since 2011, but nearly pulled off a feat of heroic proportions after shutting out the Americans for 180 minutes. The Reggae Boyz beat the Young Yanks 1-0 on Wednesday thanks to Nicholas Nelson’s penalty in the teams’ final game of Group A play.
Much like that encounter, the Jamaicans defended expertly and countered quickly.
The U.S. would not be denied this time, however, even after Jamaica goalkeeper Jahmali Waite dove to his left to save Christian Pulisic’s opening spot kick in the shootout. In addition to Velela, Joe Gallardo, Daniel Barbir, Alejandro Zendejas and John Nelson each converted their penalties, while Jahwani Hinds also missed for Jamaica.
After an uneventful opening 30 minutes, the United States began to gain the majority of possession and chances, but found it difficult to break the deadlock.
Its best first-half opportunities came in quick succession, when Josh Perez saw his goal-bound header nodded away by Jamaican back Shandel Senior in the 36th minute. Then, another attack down the left a minute later resulted in a blocked Gallardo effort.
Perez, who scored four goals in the tournament, continued to be the Americans’ most dangerous player after halftime, generating a string of chances on the left before nearly chipping Waite from the edge of the penalty area in the 80th minute.
So why did it come down to a shootout? The U.S. started off well — with wins over Cuba (5-0), Trinidad & Tobago (2-0) and Guatemala (4-1) — yet qualifying turned out to be a struggle. This is arguably the most experienced group of youngsters the USA has ever brought to a U-17 CONCACAF Championship, so excuses for this unimpressive tournament performance — winless in its final three games — will be hard to come by.
Coach Richie Williams has had the core of this team together since 2013. Several players have already signed with or have been courted to foreign clubs. It played seven games in the previous three months to prepare, traveled to tournaments in Mexico, Turkey and Bosnia in 2014, and got daily training in Bradenton.
Hoping this highly touted collection of young American talent can showcase themselves at the World Cup in Chile in October.
U-17 MNT head coach RICHIE WILLIAMS said:
On qualifying for the World Cup after the penalty kick shootout:
“My thoughts are, ‘We qualified for the World Cup.’ That’s what we came here to do. I thought it was a great tournament. I thought we did very well, and I’m extremely proud of our players. They work extremely hard, they’re a good team. We had a couple setbacks, but they didn’t give up. I thought they played extremely well this evening. Obviously we couldn’t get the goal, but they did a great job in the penalty shootout and we’re going to Chile.”
On if it would have been a disaster had the U.S. not qualified for the World Cup:
“It wouldn’t be a disaster. But our goal was to qualify, so we had faith that we were going to qualify. People do not understand how difficult it is. Again, we were close in the Honduras game, and then the last Jamaica game and then this game reached our goal and got into the tournament, the World Cup. Again I’m extremely proud of the team, extremely proud of the whole group – our staff, everybody that has worked incredibly hard over the year-and-a-half with this group of players. We accomplished what we set out to do, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup. We’re just extremely happy.”
On what Jamaica was able to do to hold the USA scoreless for two matches:
“I think in the first game, in the first half we created six clear chances. We just didn’t take our chances. Probably, overall in the game, we had eight to 10 chances and were not able to finalize. And then, when they got their penalty, they sat back and made it very difficult on us. So the first game, we had chances but we couldn’t score. And in the second game, I thought we created chances also. I thought they sat back and tried to catch us on the counter attack. They have some big, athletic defenders and their goalkeeper who made it difficult. Overall they have a good team that fights hard and works extremely hard. They should be very proud of that. They kept us off the scoreboard tonight, but again, we were able to win on the penalties.”
On what it means to get the U.S. team back to the World Cup after an absence last time around:
“We’re extremely excited. Unfortunately, Honduras beat us last time around, and this time we’re able to go. That was our goal, to qualify for the World Cup. Now we go with all intentions to go and try to win the World Cup.”
On the character of the players and how good it feels to see them so happy:
“I love these guys. They’re great players, they’re great people. We’ve worked together now for a year-and-a-half. I’ve coached some of them even when they were at the U-14s and U-15s and I’ve seen them grow as players and as individuals. They’re not just great players, they’re great people also. They work extremely hard and are talented, and they’ve been very, very successful. We want to continue that over the next six months or so until the World Cup. My message to them is that one day we’ll be seeing them on the U-20s and our senior team, and that they have great careers ahead of them.”
U-17 MNT forward JOSH PEREZ
On qualifying for the World Cup:
“It feels great, it’s so exciting. I think we’ve earned this opportunity to go to Chile, and I think we’ll do really, really well in the World Cup. I think we deserved this spot in the World Cup.”
On the game in general and the team’s mindset:
“From the very first minute, we were very confident, feeling that we were going to win the game. Unfortunately, the goals didn’t come; we were just unlucky. But, we got it to PKs and we knew to trust ourselves and have confidence in all of us. We executed and were able to win and qualify for the World Cup.”
U-17 MNT defender ALEXIS VELELA
On the team’s mindset throughout the match:
“We were just waiting for that goal to come. We did everything from the back to the front to try to get a goal, but it just wouldn’t come. And then going to PKs, we were confident that each one of us was going to do good because we’re good players and we believe in each other.”
On what was going through his mind as he stepped up to take the sixth and final penalty kick:
“There was a lot going through my mind. I was walking up and was like, ‘I gotta make this PK.’ I wanted to forget about everything and just focus on the PK, and score. And I did. It was such a good feeling.”
“And then we got together and we were just confident that Will was going to come up with a big save. When the Jamaican player hit it wide, we just went running up to Will and celebrating because we had made it.”
U-17 MNT forward JOE GALLARDO
On accomplishing the team’s goal in the tournament:
“We’re just really happy that we were able to qualify for the World Cup. So thankful to God, and so happy that we worked as a team, and in the end, it all paid off.”
On his thoughts about the game:
“It was unfortunate that we couldn’t get a goal in the game, but we were working really hard and never gave up. Thankfully we won in PKs.”
On overcoming the injury and coming back to be part of the team that qualified for the World Cup:
“It’s honestly the best feeling in my life, honestly the best moment.”
U-17 MNT midfielder ERIC CALVILLO
On accomplishing the goal of qualifying for the World Cup:
“We knew we had a great team, a very talented team. Most of us have been together for a long time, so that chemistry really helped. We’ve been preparing for this day – to qualify – for a long time. We wanted to feel this feeling that we’re feeling right now, which is the best feeling in our lives so far. This is what we wanted. This is why we did what we did so that we could qualify for the World Cup.”
USA: 1-Will Pulisic, 2-Matthew Olosunde, 4-Alexis Velela, 15-Danny Barbir, 3-John Nelson; 18-Tyler Adams, Alejandro Zendejas (Capt.), 10-Christian Pulisic, 7-Haji Wright, 9-Joe Gallardo, 11-Josh Perez (8-Luca de la Torre, 81) Substitutions Not Used: 12-Kevin Silva, 6-Eric Calvillo, 13-McKinze Gaines, 14-Tanner Dieterich, 16-Tommy McCabe, 17-Pierre Da Silva, 19-Brandon Vazquez, Head Coach: Richie Williams
JAM: 13-Jahmali Waite, 2-Javian Brown, 4-Shandel Senior (Capt.), 5-Jahwani Hinds, 6-Fabian Grant, 7-Peter Vassell (3-Donovan Dawkins, 59), 8-Tajea Brown (16-Jahlanie Hammond, 88), 9-Nicholas Nelson, 11-Zaire Bartley (10-Alex Marshall, 46), 17-Ajeanie Talbott, 19-Nathaniel Adamolekun Substitutions Not Used: 1-Akeem Chambers, 12-Antoniel Mullings, 14-Hakim Williams, 15-Deshane Beckford, 18-Chris-Andrew Dixon, 20-Demar James, Head Coach: Andrew Edwards
USA / JAM
Shots: 17/4, Shots on Goal: 8/1, Saves: 1/8, Corner Kicks: 9/1, Fouls: 10 9, Offside: 1/0
USA: Christian Pulisic (saved), Joe Gallardo (goal), Danny Barbir (goal), Alejandro Zendejas (goal), John Nelson (goal), Alexis Velela (goal)
JAM: Nicholas Nelson (goal), Jahwani Hinds (missed), Jahlanie Hammond (goal), Shandel Senior (goal), Ajeanie Talbott (goal), Alex Marshall (missed)
USA: Haji Wright (caution) 70th minute, Alexis Velela (caution) 83
JAM: Tajea Brown (caution) 88
Photo Credit: Mexsport
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