Mexico trip reveals U.S. U-17 attack promising, defense needs shoring up

By Mike Woitalla & Paul Kennedy

The U.S. U-17 boys national team scored eight goals in three games at the 2016 Torneo de Naciones in Mexico and took a 1-0 lead within two minutes against the host in the deciding game.

The bad news: Mexico came back for a 6-3 win against the USA to win the title.

Coach John Hackworth’s team opened with a 3-3 tie with Portugal and a 2-1 win over Qatar. Mexico beat Portugal, 2-1, and Qatar, 4-1.

“Overall, it was a good experience, especially playing in Mexico City at altitude, that level of competition in a short amount of time – three games in four days,” said Hackworth.

Two-time U-17 World Cup champion Mexico finished fourth, runner-up and first at the last three U-17 World Cups. Like the USA, Mexico is preparing for the U-17 Concacaf Championship hosted by Panama April 21-May 7 to determine the region’s qualifiers for the 2017 U-17 World Cup.

Hackworth started his second stint at the helm of the U.S. U-17 program after the USA fell in the first round of the 2015 U-17 World Cup under coach Richie Williams.

“[The final] was probably one of our poorer performances of the last six months,” said Hackworth, whose team was tied, 2-2, at halftime against Mexico. “For sure, it had to do a lot with the quality that Mexico brought, playing them at their national training center, but I know we can play much better than that and clearly giving up that many goals is not acceptable for our group and something we have to sort out.”

Earlier U.S. U-17 results in 2016 included two 3-1 wins over Canada, a 3-2 win over France, a 4-0 win over Russia and a 2-2 tie with England. Despite the disappointing finale to the Mexico trip, Hackworth says he'd rather be faced with shoring up a defense than solving attacking problems seven months ahead of qualifiers.

“Our attack is dangerous,” he says. “We have some really good quality there. Across the board with a lot of our national teams our emphasis is to try and build on our attacking play. I think there is definitely a priority on the attacking side of it, and that’s great, because now we’ve played against some really quality international opponents and doing that quite well.

“But if you don’t defend well it doesn’t matter how good your attack is sometimes.”

Ayo Akinola, who was born in Michigan and grew up in Ontario, Canada, scored in each game for the USA at the Torneo de Naciones. Andrew Carleton, who signed a pro contract with MLS expansion team Atlanta United, scored twice, the first two goals against Portugal.

The team included four players not part the Bradenton Residency Program: Timothy Weah (Paris St. Germain), Rayshaun McGann (Philadelphia Union) and the LA Galaxy’s Jake Arteaga and Kelee Cornfield-Saunders.

Aug. 28 in Mexico City
Mexico 6 USA 3. Goals: de la Rosa 35; Huerta 36; Olivas 54, de la Rosa 72, Torres 78, Gutierrez 91+; Akinola 2, Vazquez 46, Acosta 87.
Mexico -- Alcaraz; Robles; Olivas; Sandoval; Ruiz; Torres; Gutierrez; de la Rosa; Perez; Villarreal, Huerta.
USA -- Garces; Vazquez; Gloster; Durkin; Weah; Ferri; Sargent; Acosta; Carleton; Cornfield-Saunders, Akinola.
(Full game video)

Aug. 26 in Mexico City
USA 2 Qatar 1. Goals: Jones (Weah) 9, Akinola (Watts) 44; Nasser Al-Enazi 64.
USA -- Budnik; Asensio, Cornfield-Saunders, Arteaga, Watts; Sands, Durkin (Goslin, 46), Villegas (Acosta, 72); Jones, Akinola (Carleton, 72), Weah (Sargent, 60).
Qatar -- Abunada; Saleh Binhalabi (Abdulaziz Al- Kathiri, 46), Abdulla Abuderiba, Adam Hamdi, Mohamed Mohamed (Talal Faraj, 62); Khaled Saleh, Nasser Al-Yazidi (Nasser Al-Sulatti, 68), Ahmed Alganehi (Tamim Alkarbi, 68); Mohammed Abudebira (Nasser Al- Enazi, 46), Hashim Abdulatif (Ibrahim Al-Abdulla, 82), Mohammad Bahramen.
(Full game video)

Back row (LtoR): Christopher Durkin, Timothy Weah, Rayshaun McGann, Joshua Sargent, Christopher Gloster, Justin Garces.
Front row: Arturo Vasquez, Blaine Ferri, Ayomide Akinola, George Acosta, Andrew Carleton.

Aug. 25 in Mexico City
USA 3 Portugal 3. Goals: Carleton (Goslin) 22, Carleton 40, Akinola 78; Sousa (Baro) 24, Embalo 26, Rodrigues (Bras)    87.
USA -- Garces; Gloster, McGann, Durkin Vasquez; Goslin (Sands, 58), Ferri, Acosta (Watts, 84); Carleton (Jones, 69), Weah (Akinola, 58), Sargent (Villegas, 84).
Portugal -- Semedo; Oliveira (Costa, 46’), Dialo, 16- Loureiro, Kone (Ferreira, 62); Paulo Morreira, Baro (Correia, 77), Sousa (Sousa, 46); Embalo (Bras, 69), Simoes (Rodrigues, 46), Conceicao (Gomes, 62).
(Full game video)

USA U-17 Torneo de Naciones Roster

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McKennie leaves FC Dallas for Schalke 04

FC Dallas, regarded as having MLS's best youth development program, lost out on Weston McKennie, the 2015-16 Player of the Year in the Development Academy's U-17/18 Central Conference. He became the latest U.S. youth star to head to Europe when he signed with Schalke 04 on Tuesday, two days after turning 18 and being eligible to sign.

"I'm really looking forward to Germany and Schalke 04," says McKennie, who previously lived in Germany when his father was stationed there in the military. "I really want to establish as a professional in Europe. For that, I'll give everything every day. "

McKennie, who was named the top player when the U.S. U-19s won the Slovakia Cup in April, joins former U.S. U-17 star Haji Wright at Schalke's U-19s.

From the Class of 2016, Americans Kevin Coleman  (Kaiserslautern), McKinze Gaines (Wolfsburg)  and Christian Pulisic  (Borussia Dortmund) have signed with Bundesliga clubs in addition to McKennie and Wright at Schalke. Pulisic is a member of Dortmund's first team. The others are playing for their U-19s.

Former U.S. U-17 keeper Will Pulisic, Christian Pulisic's cousin, signed an amateur contract with Borussia Dortmund, maintaining his college eligibility to attend Duke next year.

"He convinced us as robust and play smart player," said Schalke 04 academy director Oliver Ruhnert. "In his home country, he is one of the top players in his age group. He is also a youth international and was also captain of his team. He brings with him a lot, even in terms of mentality. We are convinced that Weston is able to play professional football. Therefore, this transfer is useful."

Danny Barbir, West Bromwich (England)
Kevin Coleman, Kaiserslautern (Germany)
*Luca de la Torre, Fulham (England)
McKinze Gaines, Wolfsburg (Germany)
Brooks Lennon, Liverpool (England)
Ethan Lotenero, Belenenses (Portugal)
Weston McKennie (Schalke 04, Germany)
*James Murphy, Sheffield Wednesday (England)
Matthew Olosunde, Man. United (England)
Joshua Perez, Fiorentina (Italy)
*Christian Pulisic, Bor. Dortmund (Germany)
Emmanuel Sabbi, Las Palmas (Spain)
Haji Wright, Schalke 04 (Germany)
*Made first-team debut in official competition.
Note: Will Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) has an amateur contract.

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U.S. U-19s in Serbia for three-game tournament

Eight current pros are in the U.S. U-19 men’s national team that is in Subotica, Serbia for the 2016 Stevan-Vilotic Cele tournament. Brad Friedel's 20-player roster also includes three college players.

The USA kicks off its group with a matchup against Serbia Thursday in Subotica and plays France Friday in Senta. The U-19s will then take part in a placement match on Sept. 5.

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Brady Scott (De Anza Force), Colin Shutler (Loudoun SC)
DEFENDERS (6): Danny Barbir (West Bromwich Albion/ENG), Tanner Dieterich (Clemson Univ.), Sam Golan (Loudoun SC), Jake Morris (Seattle Sounders FC academy), Eddie Munjoma (SMU), John Nelson (Internationals SC).
MIDFIELDERS (6): Habib Barry (Seattle Sounders FC academy.), Eric Calvillo (New York Cosmos), Pierre Da Silva (Orlando City B), Felipe Hernandez (Sporting KC academy), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire academy), Adam Ozeri (Banfield/ARG).
FORWARDS (6): Joe Gallardo (Unattached), Josh Perez (Fiorentina/ITA), Elijah Rice (Univ. of Washington), Brandon Vazquez (Tijuana/MEX), Haji Wright (Schalke 04/GER), Ethan Zubak (LA Galaxy II).

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