GK-Duran Ferree, 15-Christian Diaz, 8-Pedro Soma, 17-Keyrol Figueroa, 4-Taha Habroune, 4-Tyler Hall; 13-Aiden Harangi, 3-Sawyer Jura, 7-Brian Romero, 10-Cruz Medina, 11-David Vazquez.
Coach Gonzalo Segares' U.S. U-17s delivered some delightfully successful soccer when they faced host Guatemala in the quarterfinals of the Concacaf U-17 Championship.
The 5-3 victory earned the USA a spot at the 2023 U-17 World Cup while the performance indicated this generation of young American players could be especially intriguing to follow into the future.
Peru hosts the U-17 World Cup Nov. 10-Dec. 2, and during the months in between the U.S. boys will continue their quests to forge pro careers — all are in pro club youth programs and four have already signed pro contracts. But first they'll aim to win the regional U-17 crown.
On Friday, the USA will play either Canada or Puerto Rico in the semifinals. Reaching Sunday's final from the other side of the bracket will be the winner of Mexico vs. Panama or Honduras.
The USA last lifted the Concacaf U-17 title in 2011.
Against Guatemala on Tuesday, the USA in the 7th minute patiently combined for nine passes — including a back pass to goalkeeper Duran Ferree — before David Vazquez's under-hit pass was intercepted in the Guatemalan half. But Vazquez reacted fast and stole the ball from defender Jeffrey Lopez — one of six U.S. products on Guatemala's roster — and delivered a pass for Brian Romero to stroke home from six yards.
"The feeling was amazing," Romero, a Charlotte FC Homegrown signing, said about coming out on the Estadio Doroteo Guamuch "Mateo" Flores field. (Guatemala's national stadium is infamous for the horrific 1996 incident.) "All that energy. All that anger from the fans I think hyped the whole team up. Everybody was fired up. ...
"When David lost the ball he did a really good recovery getting the ball. He lifted his head up. I think it was me and Figgy [Keyrol Figueroa] in there. And when the ball got to my feet I was so excited. I was really happy to break the game like that. To score against the home country. The whole crowd was against us. They were all booing us. We used that as motivation."
In the 28th minute, Figueroa made it 2-0 after Vazquez, fed by Cruz Medina, managed to hit a low ball from the deep right wing to the edge of the goal area. That's where Figueroa finished on the turn, as a good center forward should. The sequence began with Ferree's chip to left back Sawyer Jura.
The reason for penalty kick call, which led to Guatemala going to halftime just 2-1 down, was hard to spot. But it may have been a good thing that for the USA that Olger Escober, a New England Revs academy player, scored. Because it set up a dramatic second half that demanded more creativity from a U.S. team that had hardly been tested in wins over Barbados (5-0), Trinidad & Tobago (3-1), Canada (1-0) and Dominican Republic (7-0).
"[At halftime], Coach was saying everything was fine and we need to come out strong in the second half," Aiden Harangi said. "But actually we didn't. We had a tough start to the second half but we still managed to get through the game."
It was Harangi who ended the tough second-half start after only six minutes with a skimming low shot from 28 yards into the low corner of the net, assisted by Medina after he beat Guatemala's right back. That made it three goals by the USA from balls driven in low from the wing, as opposed to hopeful high balls into the "mixer."
But the game stayed intense, thanks to a finish by Gabino Vasquez a minute later to make it 3-2 after defender Christian Diaz missed heading away a high bouncing ball while getting a nudge from Vasquez.
The Guatemalan goal failed to dent U.S. composure and a combination of individual skill and slick teamwork put the USA up 4-2.
Romero cut back so swiftly he left a Guatemalan sprawled on the grass. Romero somehow realized Medina was streaking through on his left — when the predictable pass would have been to Taha Habroune on the right — and with a no-look pass Romero sent Medina into the penalty area. Medina tapped the ball to Figueroa, who finished off the rebound of his first shot.
After Carlos Aguilar's header made it 4-3, it took the USA nine minutes to silence the revved up home crowd.
"One of the toughest atmosphere that I've been in," said Segares. "Our players had the personality and the guts to pull this through even with all the adversity. They never put their heads down in some very difficult conditions. I'm super proud of how they boys stayed composed.
"[At halftime] we said to stay calm. We knew we were going to play against 11 guys and the 12th, the crowd. The crowd was feeding them a lot of energy every time the ball was around our box or whenever we were committing fouls. I think we gave them a little bit of a lifeline that way, but we were able to manage to pull through."
Diaz intercepted the ball and boldly passed through the middle, where center back Tyler Hall one-touched it to Jura, whose first touch sent the ball to Vazquez near the center line.
Vazquez's first touch moved him away from the first foe and he evaded the second with a Maradona spin move. Adrian Gill and Micah Burton synchronized in the middle and after Paulo Rudisill received the ball on the right wing his low delivery made for an easy close-range finish by Habroune, who had timed his run perfectly.
"It was a great experience," said Vazquez. "A lot of trash talking from he Guatemalans in the stands. They brought an amazing atmosphere. I couldn't be happier to come out with the win."
Feb. 21 in Guatemala City
Guatemala 3 USA 5. Goals: Escobar (pen.) 45, Vasquez 52, Aguilar 74; Romero 7, Figueroa 28, 53, Harangi 51, Habroune 83.
Guatemala — Bolanos; Prillwitz (Salama, 75), Lopez, Merida, Elington (Aguilar, 11); Recinos (De Leon, 75), Sagastume (Guerra, 56), Illescas, Garzaro; Vasquez, Escober.
USA — Ferree; Harangi, Diaz, Hall, Jura; Soma, Habroune (Hawkins, 87), Medina (Gill, 70); Romero (Rudisill, 71), Figueroa (Burton, 56), Vazquez (Soto, 86).
Yellow cards: Guatemala — Illescas 38; USA — Diaz 73, Ferree 88, Burton 90. Red cards: none.
Referee: Victor Caceres (Mexico). ARs: Michel Espinoza (Mexico), Leonardo Castillo (Mexico). Fourth Official: Jefferson Escobar (Honduras)
U.S. scorers (5 games)
Keyrol Figueroa (Liverpool academy), 6 goals
Cruz Medina (San Jose Earthquakes), 3 goals
Taha Habroune (Columbus Crew academy), 3 goals
Christopher Aquino (Tacoma Defiance), 2 goals
Micah Burton (Austin FC academy), 2 goals
Ezekiel Soto (Houston Dynamo academy), 2 goals
Paulo Rudisill (LA Galaxy academy), 1 goal
Brian Romero (Charlotte FC), 1 goal
Aiden Harangi (Eintracht Frankfurt academy) 1 goal