U-17 Review: Good Plan, But Not Enough Horses

TSG has largely been focused on the USMNT, EPL and Americans Abroad.

Only recently did we dabble in the up-and-coming talent stateside, surveying the Rongen Disaster that was the U-20 tournament a few weeks ago


Sarabia: Criminal in attack for Spain

in Germany.

So you can imagine our surprise when we fired up the 360 today, took in the first 10 minutes from Nigeria and were greeted with a Jack McInerney run-on, a foul from Spain, a red card, and the US a man up for the remainder of the game.

Less than 3 minutes after that opening minute salvo, McInerney challenged the Spanish keeper on a free kick, collided with him Conor Casey-style, the ball dropped and McInerney tapped in for the score. 1-0 States.

Despite solid play the rest of the match that included quite a bit of managed possession, the final score told an inverse tale, 2-1 Spain.

The US U-17 team, in our rookie estimation, played a fairly decent team game but succumbed to a team that just had too much talent. Despite some individual mistakes, the only negative behavior I found the overall team culpable for was dropping man marking in the back against an extremely adept technical offense for the Spaniards. (see note on this at the bottom)

Other than that, I think Wilmer Cabrera’s team can be commended even though they failed to capitalize on being a man-up. They consistently took what Spain gave them (the flanks) and tried to move the ball from right to left after winning possession to avoid what can only be described as the

nasty triumvirate of Athletic Bilboa’s Iker Muniain (the youngest goal scorer already in La Liga history), Pablo Sarabia (at Real Madrid, but apparently an Arsenal target), and Borja (Atletico Madrid) who continually came barreling down and through the right central defense.

In what should not have been overlooked as a major development, it didn’t help that Zachary Herold picked up a yellow card for the States less than 5 minutes and was often then caught flatfooted in transition on that right flank. Such was the damage on the right that captain and right back Perry Kitchen was substituted just after the half.

Alas, despite what I thought was an excellent strategy, Spain’s cream of youth soccer just overwhelmed the Americans. After a giveaway by Tyler Polak in the back left, (Polak generally partnered well with going forward with Alex Shinsky on the left, but had several miscues of execution in the back) Borja got behind the defense and laced a true cross field pass to directly to the foot of an onrushing Sarabia who one touched ahead to get the ball on his striking foot and then drilled a gorgeous shot just below the right corner roof deck. ESPN worthy for sure; a professional strike.

What were we impressed with on the US side?

• The possession maintenance of this junior team and understanding what they needed accomplish to earn a victory. I thought the team


Jack McI: Thrilling in defeat

discipline and adherence to a game plan was excellent. Credit Wilmer Cabrera.

• Credit Cabrera again for an aggressive attacking style that mixed up play over the top, to a post-up offender and overlaps and through balls. Through fruitless, the play of Alex Shinsky and Tyler Polak going on the attack on the left showed soccer worthy of European, not American roots.

One specific pass by Shinsky somewhere in the 30th-40th minute sticks out. The left half curled a right footed pass between the central and wing defender to Polak making a run in space. The right foot and the curl were the only pass that would have made it through and Shinsky nailed it.

• Well, TSG wanted to see Jack McInerney toil up top and we weren’t disappointed. Showing a great melting pot of technical work, recognition of when to be aggressive and when to be patient, some strength and just whole range of attack-ability. He may not be the biggest or the fastest, but watching McInerney operate with his offsides-tempting runs and deliberate moves harkens the pitch movements of Aston Villa’s Gabi Agbonlahor.

• Earl Edwards, goalkeeper, will be anointed next in the Stars & Stripes lineage.

The game, despite the US loss, was entertaining. With the sour taste of the U-20 tournament not yet dissipated, the U-17 team, even in their loss, showed a little bit of what good coaching, attention to the game plan, and creative offense can do to instill fan fervor.

Be disappointed at the result, not the effort.

On U.S defending: As a former player at a high level in some sports, the US U-17 and U-20 negligence in defense looks like the work of players who are used to being the best at their respective positions on the pitch and not used to the precise execution of their opponents. In essence a statement along the lines of “There is no way he’s going to complete or make that pass or that play.”

Too often good players, who have been playing inferior competition, give up on a play because they’ve sized up their opponents as not being able to make it. I saw Ike Opara take on this behavior in the U-20.

The behavior happened again today on both of the goals against the States in my estimation. The first, casual man marking as the backline pleaded for an offsides call that wouldn’t have been valid. The second, a failure to stick to a man as the opponent was working deep in the right flank. Against a lesser team, especially on the 2nd goal, that cross is knocked away or rolls out the sideline harmlessly, today Sarabia, the left winger for Spain, executed on it, much to the astonishment of the defender caught in no man’s land.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matt B on 2009/10/26 at 4:47 PM

    The finishing also left something to be desired. Stefan Jerome was in alone with just the keeper to beat and didn’t even get a shot off. In the second half, one of the strikers (I can’t remember who) shot one right into the keeper’s hand when he was in alone. But all in all most of the game was encouraging, especially the dominance of possession and quick ball movement.


  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/26 at 4:48 PM

    Agreed — after watching Bobby Convey, DaMarcus Beasley and now Conor Casey all these years, I’ve grown numb to US finishing.

    That Jerome play was amazing huh?


  3. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/10/26 at 7:08 PM

    Any stand outs beside McInerney? I didnt get to see the game yet but I hae it on tivo.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/26 at 9:30 PM

      *Disclaimer — I have not watched many of these players before.

      I though Shinsky showed flashes of real creativity with the ball. He’s kind of a little bit like a Clint Dempsey in that manner, though he got dispossessed often and was a little too aggressive in 1:on:1 situations.

      Luis Gil showed flashes, but I wasn’t wholly impressed.

      Cabrera made the right move in removing Stefan Jerome (all athlete but no feel) and Perry Kitchen at the half. Kitchen was getting beat…like..a…rug.


  4. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/26 at 11:17 PM

    By the way, I can emphasize enough how good a job Wilmer Cabrera did in changing tactics as the play changed during the game. An exceptional job with such a young squad despite the loss–seriously.


  5. […] ♦ Next up for the American U-17 squad in group play is Malawi, who succumbed to the United Arab Emirates 2-0 on Monday. We know absolutely zero about the U-17 Malawi squad and we’re okay about this. See our review of the Spain match here. […]


  6. Posted by Jake on 2009/10/27 at 1:12 AM

    Well I have to totally agree with the game review. i kept yelling at my computer as I watched the US backs raise their hands and slow down wanting the offsides. The marking was poor in the back and i often saw our outside backs concentrating on the far side play and not watching the free striker behind them.

    I would also add that the distribution into the box was fairly poor. Lots of bad balls, too low, too hard and way over to nobody. In the midfield we were just outclassed on the dribble. Watching Muniain twist and turn so fast was just a pleasure. The Spanish simply have the technique we lack.

    Overall we played a good game, winning lots of second balls and pushing forward down the flanks instead of our senior teams usual long ball MO. Score the two one-on-ones with the keeper and we win.


  7. I too was yelling at the computer for the lack of finishing, but unfortunately the feed I had was horrible so I couldn’t see the intricacies of everything, I’ll have to watch the DVR later tonight. From what I could see I was encouraged by our composure and lack of panic when we found ourselves down 2-1, though we have plenty of room to grow.

    As for the comments about the US not respecting the quality of their opponents, I wonder how much of that is down to the non-professional environments that most of these kids develop in. I haven’t fact checked any of these statements, but it seems like the Bradenton-bound US youth teams take part in the US Development Academy League thingy, which is the best competition in the country, and assorted Nike friendlies. However, in other countries the players develop in their club environment where they’re expected to produce results, since they’re getting paid, or they will be on their ass looking for work. Then the best in the country convene to participate in these tournaments and their mentality is the same as it is with their clubs: “I must perform and produce or someone else will take my spot.”

    I’m not insinuating that there isn’t competition between the 23 young men on the US Squad, but it seems that they haven’t been exposed to that mindset that other nations youth players have, and therefore they can’t bring it to the national team, partly because they’re always with the national team. I think we have some of the best athletes in the world in this country (see LaMarr Woodley’s acceleration to pick up the 4th quarter fumble in the Pittsburgh-Vikings NFL game on Sunday; how does 6’2″ 265lbs. move that fast?), and some of them are now choosing the beautiful game instead of the “Big 4″; now all we need is the soccer establishment in this country to catch up and provide better environments for them to develop into truly good youth players capable of developing into great professionals for any and every league in the world.


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