Ultimately, the USA's quest to qualify for the 2015 Under-17 World Cup hinged on shots from the penalty spot in its sixth game of the Concacaf U-17 Championship after a scoreless tie with Jamaica.
Two Jamaicans missed high and wide. The Americans hit the net on each of their shots after their first by Christian Pulisic was saved by Jamaican keeper Jahmali Waite.
So, mission accomplished. A debacle avoided for U.S. Soccer.
It stuck with Coach Richie Williams when in 2013 he became the first U-17 coach to fail after the USA had been the only nation to qualify for all previous 14 U-17 World Cups since the tournament’s inception in 1985.
It has kept its U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., going for 16 years although the USA hasn’t won a knockout-round U-17 World Cup game since 1999.
Of course, it shouldn’t have come down to a shootout. This was a highly touted collection of young American talent.
They 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.
They could have clinched with a win over Honduras but tied, 2-2. A respectable result against the home team, one thought. But Mexico, in the final, cruised past the Catrachos, 3-0.
The Americans could have clinched with tie or win over Jamaica in their final group game, but fell, 1-0, setting up the Sunday’s playoff. When again, Williams’ team played without rhythm and failed to cope with the Jamaica’s crude, defensive soccer.
For sure, the USA deserved a spot at the World Cup more than Jamaica. But the Americans finished the tournament getting shut out in their last two games -- plus the last 58 minutes against Honduras.
The stats on Sunday -- eight U.S. shots on goal to one from Jamaica and a 9-1 corner-kick count – favored the USA, but it didn’t manage much of a highlight reel or really test Waite. Instead of improving as the tournament progressed and becoming a more cohesive squad, Williams' team regressed.
This was 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. Williams has had the core of this team together since 2013. Several players have already signed with or have been courted 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.
One thing Williams won’t have to worry about: high expectations at the World Cup in Chile in October.
March 15 in San Pedro Sula
USA 0 Jamaica 0. (USA wins on PKs, 5-4: Pulisic (saved), Gallardo (goal), Barbir (goal), Zendejas (goal), Nelson (goal), Velela (goal); Nelson (goal), Hinds (missed), Hammond (goal), Senior (goal), Talbott (goal), Marshall (missed).
USA -- M.Pulisic, Olosunde, Velela, Barbir, Nelson; Adams, Zendejas, C.Pulisic, Wright Gallardo, Perez (de la Torre, 83).
Jamaica -- Waite, Brown (Hammond, 88), Senior, Hinds, Grant, Vassell (Dawkins, 59), Brown, Nelson, Bartley, Talbott, Adamolekun.
Concacaf 2015 U-17 World Cup Qualifiers