In its four games, so far, in U-17 World Cup qualifying, the USA trailed only once, after giving up a sixth-minute goal against Mexico. Twenty minutes later, U.S. captain Josh Sargent scored the most impressive, and perhaps the most important, of his five goals.
Josh Sargent (Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer)
Blaine Ferri’s long, high pass from inside the U.S. half flew diagonally toward the corner as Sargent chased it down with defender Carlos Robles on his shoulder when he reached it the corner of the penalty area.
Normally, one would have expected the forward keep going with the direction of the ball and try to swing in a cross. Certainly, Robles was well positioned to prevent Sargent from getting a shot off.
But with his first touch, Sargent tapped the ball up, behind his own body and toward the middle. The second touch came off his head, and Robles slid to the ground in vain as Sargent’s third touch, with his left foot, set him up for a right-footed shot that nutmegged goalkeeper Cesar Lopez.
Sargent scored again in the 40th minute and assisted Ayo Akinola for what would be the winning goal of a 4-3 victory. (Mexico's third goal came on a last-second own goal.)
In the 5-0 opening win over Jamaica, Sargent scored and assisted. With the USA already assured the group win going into its final first-round game over El Salvador, Sargent stayed on the bench. In Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Honduras that put the USA on the brink of a World Cup berth, Sargent scored twice.
That’s five goals and two assists for the Missouri product in three games, making him the second leading scorer of the tournament. Sargent has a good chance to win the Golden Shoe because Carlos Mejia, who has seven goals, is done. Honduras having already played both its classification stage games -- it beat Cuba 7-1 with Mejia scoring a hat trick – while the USA faces Cuba on Friday and has a good chance of a sixth game, the final.
Leading Scorers Concacaf U-17 Championship
Goals Name (Team)
7 Carlos Mejia (Honduras)
5 Josh Sargent (USA)
4 Eduardo Guerrero (Panama)
4 Ayo Akinola (USA)
4 Daniel Lopez (Mexico)
Sargent, who grew up in the St. Louis neighborhood of O’Fallon, started kicking the ball around when he was 3.
"He told everyone who would listen that he was going to be a professional soccer player," his mother, Liane, told St. Louis Today’s Steve Overbey.
"I was real little and people would just smile and say, 'That's nice,'" Josh said. "I'm not sure anyone took me seriously."
They are now, for sure. Even before his feats at the qualifying tournament in Panama, Sargent trained at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, Germany’s Schalke 04 and Sporting Kansas City, which holds his MLS rights thanks to St. Louis Scott Gallagher-Missouri being in Sporting Kansas City’s homegrown territory.
“Not only is he an extraordinary talent, but more importantly, he is a fantastic teammate and person that represents the values of the club,” said Kevin Kalish, the technical director at Scott Gallagher, which has spawned players such as current USA defender Tim Ream, former USA striker Taylor Twellman, and former MLS star Pat Noonan, currently a U.S. national team assistant coach to Bruce Arena. “Josh has a very bright future in the game. His work rate and dedication to be a professional player is as good as it gets.”
Both Sargent mother and father, Jeff, played college soccer -- something he shares in common with the star of the previous U.S. U-17 team, Christian Pulisic.
Josh also starred in basketball, starting as a point guard his freshman year on the St. Dominic high school basketball team before joining U-17 Residency Program.
He captains the USA, because, says Coach John Hackworth, “Josh is a player who both on and off the field looks to do the right thing.”
How the USA beat Honduras
In the USA's fourth win in four games at the Concacaf U-17 Championship, it broke down a defense-minded Honduras, 3-0, thanks to Sargent's two goals and a strike by Akinola. Unless the USA gets routed in its final game, on Friday against Cuba (6:30 p.m. ET, Univision Deportes, Concacaf YouTube), it will qualify for the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India.
Honduras, coming off a 7-1 win over Cuba, played so defensively while trailing the USA, 2-0, that in the 75th minute the Americans strung together 90 passes in midfield. The USA did break through for a third goal, George Acosta delivering a pinpoint chip for Sargent to run onto as it rolled into the penalty area and finishing low inside the far post in the 82nd minute.
In the first half, it had been Sargent and fellow forward Andrew Carleton who tormented the Catrachos. Sargent was fouled by Honduras goalkeeper Carlos Banegas, who had left the penalty area and tried in vain to win the ball off Sargent. On the ensuing free kick near the corner, Carleton delivered a ball that Sargent side-footed into the net from five yards in the 26th minute.
“Honduras made it tough on us,” said U.S. coach John Hackworth. “I didn’t think we were at our best early, but I thought we were patient and obviously over the course of the game obviously we broke them down. The first goal off a free kick is huge because that opens them up a little bit.”
Carleton, in the 39th minute, juked and zig-zagged through five Honduran defenders before his shot was deflected wide. A minute earlier, Carleton had beaten two Hondurans with a spin move before his shot was blocked after a one-two with Chris Gloster. The deflection fell to Chris Goslin, whose shot was saved by Banegas.
The USA, which had 63 percent of the possession at halftime, took a 2-0 lead in the 69th minute. Chris Durkin’s midfield header found Sargent, who laid the ball off for Ferri, who lobbed the ball into Akinola’s path. Akinola fended off defender Cristian Moreira to finish from close-range.
After conceding the second goal, the entire Honduran team retreated, perhaps to protect its goal difference, and the U.S. players patiently passed the ball around just inside the Honduran half.
According to Concacaf’s stats, the USA connected 452 of its 503 passes while 111 of Honduras’ 143 passes reached a teammate.
The USA had qualified for the classification stage by winning its first-round group with wins over Jamaica (5-0), Mexico (4-3) and El Salvador (1-0). It will clinch a spot at the 2017 U-17 World Cup by beating, tying or losing by four goals or less against Cuba on Friday.
Winning the group would send the USA into the final on Sunday with a chance to lift the Concacaf U-17 crown for the first time since 2011. In 2013, the USA fell 3-1 to Honduras in the Concacaf quarterfinals, marking the only time the USA failed to qualify for the biennial U-17 World Cup that was launched in 1985.
May 3 in Panama City
USA 3 Honduras 0. Goals: Sargent (Carleton) 26, Akinola (Ferri) 69, Sargent (Acosta) 82.
USA — Garces; Lindsey, Sands, Vasquez, Gloster; Durkin (Booth, 87), Goslin (Acosta, 69), Ferri; Akinola, Sargent, Carleton (Weah, 83).
Honduras — Banegas; Gomez, Moreira, Bahr, Campos; Cardona, Chavez, Palma, Madrid; Palacios (Martinez, 90), Mejia.
Referee: Luis Enrique Santander (Mexico)
Shots on target: 7/4
Corner Kicks: 3/0
Yellow cards: USA — Goslin 6; Honduras — Banegas 24, Palacios 84.
U.S. starters, back row, L-R: Ayo Akinola, A.J. Vasquez, Chris Durkin, James
Sands, Josh Sargent, Justin Garces.
Front row: Blaine Ferri, Chris Goslin, Chris Gloster, Jaylin Lindsey, Andrew Carleton.