By RYAN TOLMICH
For much of the build-up to the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, the focus was on the attacking talent wielded by the U.S Under-17 Men’s National Team. With highly touted prospects Haji Wright, Christian Pulisic and Joe Gallardo, the U.S. has an attacking force that was tabbed to lead the way for the team in Honduras.
While the players atop the field did contribute a pair of goals via Gallardo and Wright, it was the defense that really asserted their dominance in Monday night’s 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago.
Led by captain Huge Arellano, left back John Nelson, right back Matthew Olosunde and center back Tanner Dieterich, the backline prevented T&T from emerging with many bonafide opportunities, save for a 35th-minute Arellano clearance following a deflection from goalkeeper William Pulisic.
“It started off pretty slow for us,” Arellano said, via U.S. Soccer. “We had to pick up the pace and obviously compete against them. That really brought up the tempo of the game and it pushed us. We came out with the shutout and that’s what we try to play for, defensively.
“Communication is a big factor, especially in backline. Me and Tanner (Dieterich) were able to do our part in the center, and Johnny (Nelson) and Matt (Olosunde) covered us out wide. And having Will (Pulisic) back there, we knew we were supported.”
That support proved crucial in a game that head coach Richie Williams determined was far from the team’s best.
Despite scoring a goal in either half, Williams didn’t see the attacking sharpness he expected, and responded by pointing to the play of his defense, who proved to be an anchor at the back in a game where the coach thought his team wasn’t up to their best.
“We got a goal in the first half and a goal in the second half. I thought it was a competitive game,” Williams said. “I don’t think we were maybe at our sharpest for the 90 minutes. But again we were able to play very well defensively, get a shutout, and get the goals that were necessary. And again good teams are able to win games when maybe it’s not their best night.”
Williams will be hoping his team as a whole brings their best in the next contest: a matchup with Guatemala on Thursday. The head coach has constantly reiterated his belief that no team is to be taken lightly while pushing his group to focus on taking the games one step at a time.
“I thought Trinidad competed well, put us under pressure,” Williams said. “Again it’s a qualifying game and we’ve said from the beginning that you can’t take anybody lightly because everybody can compete and have a good game.
“I’m just concentrating on Guatemala and winning the game. We enter every game to win against that opponent. Our focus is on Guatemala and we take one step at a time.”