41213_bairdcorey_isi_isida120212421 John Dorton//isiphotos.com
U-17 CONCACAF Championship

For the U-17s, One More Win for World Cup

For Richie Williams and the United States under-17 team, the opening round is over and the hard part is now. Josh Deaver with what we learned and what the team needs to do to reach the World Cup.
BY Josh Deaver Posted
April 12, 2013
3:00 PM
A goal from Corey Baird was all the U.S. under-17 men’s national team needed on Thursday night against Guatemala. With the 1-0 victory, the Americans emerged victorious in Group C and will face Group D runner-up Honduras on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; Fox Soccer) in the quarterfinals of the U-17 CONCACAF Championship. Up for grabs: a spot in this fall’s World Cup.
Flores returns with mixed performance
The mercurial Dortmund-bound teenager made his return to the U.S. lineup on Thursday, starting on the left wing for Williams’ squad. Flores was anonymous for a good portion of the match—especially in the first half—but his skill was evident when he was able to move into the midfield and get more touches on the ball. The attacker's efforts led to some good opportunities for the U.S. attack, and he nearly scored himself on a far post run in the second half, only to scuff his opportunity. For Flores to truly show his panache as a playmaker, however, he needs the ball at his feet with a greater frequency than he is afforded playing out wide.

Rubin and Sonora impress again
The 2012 U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year lived up to his lengthy moniker against Los Chapines. Rubin started slow, but picked up the tempo as the game progressed. As defenders legs got heavy, his intuitive movement and skillful dribbling created several chances, including an end line run and cross that was buried on the volley by Corey Baird early in the second half. Even for those who follow the U.S. youth teams, this tournament is likely the first time most have seen Joel Sonora in action. Quite simply, the Boca Juniors standout is every bit as good as advertised. Playing 90 minutes in central midfield, Sonora displayed a composure and thoughtfulness on the ball that is not often seen in the U.S. system. His skill was undeniable in the second half, when his close-quarters slalom dribbling through three defenders resulted in one of the six shots on goal by the Americans.

The first 25 minutes
One concerning aspect of the U-17’s performance so far has been the tendency to wilt under early pressure. As was the case against Haiti, the first 25 minutes against Guatemala saw a U.S. squad on the back heel and bereft of attacking movement. The five-man midfield of Guatemala attempted to overwhelm the U.S. with its numerical advantage, which led to several early (although not entirely dangerous) opportunities. It wasn’t until the U.S. started creating width, using the individual brilliance of Rubin and the interplay between Baird and Flores on the wing, that they were able to neutralizes the advantage. At the onset of the second half, the constant danger from Rubin forced the Guatemalans to dial back their midfield pressure to contend with the threat. After the goal, the Americans sustained possession for extended periods. The opponent’s rhythm was disrupted and the back four ushered the contest to completion.

Looking ahead
With the group stage out of the way, the Americans will now turn their attention to Honduras. The U.S. must win. The Hondurans lost to Mexico, but stifled El Tri, who struggled to create for much of the match. Unfortunately, the Central American side has little offense. Midfielder Devron Garcia, who leads active players in goals for the tournament, is dangerous. But the Americans are a better team and should come out with a positive result against Los Catrachos on Sunday night. In the 14 previous World Cups, the U.S. has never failed to qualify. But, then again, this is CONCACAF.

Josh Deaver is a former academic turned soccer obsessive. Follow him on on Twitter.

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