A strong case can be made that the USA’s qualifying campaign for the 2017 U-17 World Cup was its most impressive appearance ever of the 18 Concacaf U-17 Championships it's played in. The only blemish for Coach John Hackworth’s team, after five straight wins, was the penalty-kick shootout loss to Mexico in the final after a 1-1 tie.
Only three times has the USA won all of its games in U-17 World Cup qualifying. The Wilmer Cabrera-coached USA went 5-0-0 while winning the 2011 U-17 Concacaf. But Mexico, as host of the 2011 U-17 World Cup that it ended up winning, didn’t compete in that tournament. Cabrera's 2009 team qualified by beating Honduras, Cuba and Canada, after which the knockout stage of the tournament was canceled because of the swine flu outbreak in Mexico. In 2001, Coach John Ellinger's team qualified with wins over Jamaica, Canada and El Salvador and there was no knockout stage.
In this year’s championship, in first-round group play, the USA beat Mexico for the first time ever in qualifying, a 4-3 win. Mexico’s U-17 program is one of the best in the world. Two-time U-17 World Cup champions, the Mexicans have reached the semifinals of the last three U-17 World Cups.
The 2017 U-17 World Cup takes place Oct. 6-28 India, which is where we’ll get a true sense of how strong this generation of American U-17 players is. In fact, their goal is quite clear. Not since Ellinger's 1999 fourth-place team, which included future senior World Cup players Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Bobby Convey and Kyle Beckerman, has the USA won a knockout stage game at the U-17 World Cup. In 2015, under Coach Richie Williams, the USA failed to get out of the first round.
The ultimate manner of measuring the talent of the current U-17s will come years down the road, when we see how many of them succeed at the pro level and break into the full national team.
The heart-breaking final loss
The USA qualified for the 2017 U-17 World Cup on Friday with a 6-2 win over Cuba, but on Sunday Mexico denied the Americans the icing on the cake, beating the USA in Concacaf U-17 Championship final in a penalty-kick shootout after a 1-1 tie in Panama City.
The USA took the lead in the final in the 62nd minute when Andrew Carleton hit a volley on the turn from 18 yards that bounced past Cesar Lopez at the far post.
The Americans had two good chances to extend their lead. Lopez blocked a close-range Josh Sargent shot from a tight angle in the 81st minute and Chris Goslin hit the post from 18 yards in the 90th minute.
Halfway into the four minutes of stoppage time added by referee Hector Martinez, Daniel Lopez chipped in a cross that Carlos Robles headed low into the right corner of the U.S. goal.
With overtime not used at this competition, the teams headed straight into the shootout. Every player converted except the USA’s fourth shooter, Akil Watts, an 86th-minute sub, who shot high.
”It stings,” said Hackworth. “There’s no way to take that kind of result … That said, I’m proud of these young men. I’m proud of my staff. I’m proud of the way we performed in the tournament. So we need to walk out of here with our heads held high and understand that we have some more work to do in order to win championships in the future."
The win gave Mexico’s its third straight U-17 Concacaf title and a record seventh overall.
May 7 in Panama City
Mexico 1 USA 1 (PKs: 5-4)
Goals: Robles (Lopez) 92+; Carleton (Weah) 62.
USA — Sargent (goal), Weah (goal), Goslin (goal), Watts (missed), Sands (goal).
Mexico — Lopez (goal), Robles (goal), Torres (goal), Gutierrez (goal), De La Rosa (goal).
Mexico — Lopez; Vazquez, Robles, Olivas, Sandoval (Catalan, 7); Torres, Ruiz (Huerta, 23), Gutierrez, Perez (Alvarado, 53); De La Rosa, Lopez.
USA — Garces; Lindsey, Sands, Vasquez, Gloster; Ferri (Reynolds, 80), Durkin, Goslin, Akinola (Weah, 56), Sargent, Carleton (Watts, 86).
Referee: Hector Martinez (Honduras).
Shots on target: 4/4
Corner Kicks: 8/1
Yellow card: USA - Tim Weah (83)
2017 CONCACAF U-17 CHAMPIONSHIP HONORS
Goalkeeper: Justin Garces (USA).
Right back: Jaylin Lindsey (USA)
Central defenders: James Sands (USA), Luis Olivas (Mexico)
Left back: Walter Cortes (Costa Rica)
Right midfielder: Jairo Torres (Mexico)
Central midfielders: Chris Durkin (USA), Alexis Gutierrez (Mexico)
Left midfielder: Carlos Mejia (Honduras)
Forwards: Daniel Lopez (Mexico), Josh Sargent (USA)
GOLDEN BALL (MVP)
Jairo Torres (Mexico)
GOLDEN BOOT (leading scorer)
Carlos Mejia (Honduras), 7 goals
GOLDEN GLOVE (top goalkeeper)
Justin Garces (USA)
FAIR PLAY AWARD
2017 U-17 WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS
Asia: India (host), Iran, Iraq, Japan, North Korea.
Concacaf: Mexico, USA, Honduras, Costa Rica.
Oceania: New Zealand, New Caledonia.
South America: Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia.
Africa: 4 to be determined May 14-28
Europe: 5 to be determined May 3-19
• India hosted the U-17 World Cup Oct. 6-28.
• The draw takes place July 7 in Mumbai.