The US U-17 team advanced to the round of 16 with a scoreless draw vs. new Zealand this weekend. The result left the US and New Zealand tied in points and all tie breakers. The scoreless finish guaranteed both teams would advance to the round of 16. Lots were drawn and the US were chosen as the 2nd place finisher in their group. They will face the winner of group E on Thursday, June 30th at 3 PM CST in Queretaro, Mexico. Follow me after the break to find out the bad news...
The winner of group E is the U-17 powerhouse that is Germany. In group play, they have outscored opponents 11-1. Needless to say, it will be a tall task for the Americans to advance. I think we have the talent to win, but we will have to be on top our our A game to be close. Perfection free soccer is something we didn't have against New Zealand. It almost resembled a Fire game in ways. We had opportunities to score, but couldn't put away any chances. The US dominated in almost every category, controlling shots, possession, and run of play in general.
US defender Marc Pelosi will miss the match vs. Germany due to accumulating two yellow cards in the showdown vs. New Zealand. We need every starter to be playing and playing at a high level vs. Germany. Losing Pelosi definitely hurts heading into Thursday's match. If the US can somehow knock off the German giants, I think they will have a great shot at going deeper in the tournament and even challenging for the title. Check back here Thursday night for a recap of all the action.
In USMNT news, due to a wedding out of town that I was in, I couldn't catch the game live and didn't have time to post up a full recap, in case some of you were wondering where my recap was. Since it's a bit of old news now, I figured I would include a couple of paragraphs about the match.
First, Bob Bradley really showed some cajones starting Freddy Adu. As I mentioned previously, unless the US was playing in a blowout, I didn't expect to see Freddy play at all. Instead, he started, and continued his fine form from the Panama game. Freddy set up both goals, and was one of the few bright spots for the match. Although the US jumped out to such a quick 2-0 lead, Mexico looked dangerous from the opening to the final whistle. The true blow was Steve Cherundolo getting injured early in the game. Had he stayed in the match there's no guarantee we hold on to the lead, but I like our chances much better with him in there. Instead, Bob Bradley decides to move Eric Lichaj from left back to right back, and insert Jonathan Bornstein. I have never been a Bornstein fan, and Saturday showed why. He got absolutely TORCHED time and again by Mexico's speedy wingers. It was like a Jaws movie, after he was beat badly the first time, blood was in the water. And Mexico attacked it time and time again.
You have to give credit to Mexico, as much as it pains me to say it. They were down 2-0 early, in front of a large, shell shocked Mexican contingent. Yet the players all said post match they didn't worry or panic. When they put away the third goal, to me it felt like there was little chance the game would be won by the US. We were the team that seemed to be in a panic mode. I will give credit to the US, they kept trying to score and nearly leveled the game at 3 when Clint Dempsey put a shot off the crossbar. We had a few other chances, but it wasn't to be. The 4th goal was a tough one to swallow. Tim Howard was on the ground, crawling around and trying to poke the ball away from Dos Santos. The defense, for their part, were just standing there watching, including Jermaine Jones who gave a feeble toe kick in an attempt to dispossess Dos Santos. A split second later, he lofted a volley that found the far upper left corner of the net. it couldn't have been placed any better. Eric Lichaj was on the post and jumped as high as he could, but the ball found the small space above his head and below the crossbar to put a dagger in the US. That's how good the shot was. It is one he might make 1 time in 100 chances, if not 200 chances. There's not much to do other than tip your hat in that situation. Had Tim Howard been on his feet, he would have had no problem punching it over the crossbar.
In the end, there are 2 main issues that are lingering with me, even now. Losing always sucks, especially to Mexico with a trophy and Confederations Cup on the line. But the fact that we lost in a heartbreaking way, with a long time until the next meaningful USMNT comes along, is the first hard thing to deal with for me. One good thing about long seasons and many games in sports is that, no matter how bad the loss is or how much it hurts, most players relish the chance to get back on the field and wash away the bad memories. Truly bad losses hang with you, but as you put more and more games between that loss, it fades away and allows you to refocus on what matters. The US does not have that luxury now. Sure, there will be friendlies, and World Cup qualifying will be starting sooner rather than later. The problem is when the next big game will come for the US. When will be the next time something really meaningful is on the line? When will we have the chance to come out and do something important, to show US fans that the Gold Cup loss is finally behind us? It will be just as important for the players to get that confidence back, get a win, and feel like they have truly put this loss in the rear view mirror. Problem is, it could be a long time until we have the chance to do that. The Gold Cup will happen again in 2 years, giving us a chance for revenge. That's a long time to let something stew and fester and create pain and doubt. Let's hope the players and coaches are able to successfully navigate through and conquer these trying times.
The second thought is the seemingly widening gap between the Mexico and US, and to some extent, other teams in the world. Let's face it, we have some young and upcoming players, but I think we are in a difficult spot. Landon, Clint, and Tim are getting older. While we seemed to completely close the gap in respect to Mexico the past handful of years, Saturday showed a gap that was very wide. Mexico's is young, dynamic, and hungry. While we will probably get another World Cup cycle out of Landon, Clint, and Tim, I don't see anyone to replace them right now. Obviously, players will emerge over the next few years, but the reality is that all the progress we made is starting to receded because the aging stars don't have shining replacements behind them yet. The next few years, especially after the next World Cup, will be a transitional period, and I am just afraid that we may regress and reverse so much of the progress we have made the past 8-10 years. It truly is a period of uncertainty for US soccer. We need to continue to build and improve, rather than regress. Continual improvement will continue to foster soccer growth in the US. If we fail at that, all the problems with youth development will be in the spotlight, and maybe the US soccer federation will finally decide to do something about those issues. Time truly will tell.
And, finally, for those interested in the US Women's World Cup, the United States will play it's first group match tomorrow vs. Korea DPR. You can catch the action on ESPN, with the pre game showing beginning at 10:45 AM CST. I probably won't have lengthy recaps up for these games, but I will post up shorter recaps for the readers here that will be following the USWNT. Let's wish our women the best, I am sure they will make us proud!