After toppling India, 3-0, in their opener, the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team faced their first real test on Monday. The match against Ghana could seal their spot in the knockout round while putting the U.S. in the driver’s seat in Group A play.
The U.S. took care of business in a narrow win over Ghana. It was a match that did prove a significant test for John Hackworth’s side, who cruised, 3-0, in their opener against hosts India.
It was a battle that went all the way into the second half when Ayo Akinola fired the game-winning goal, sealing a perfect start to group play for the U.S. team.
“We have momentum going on,” said goalkeeper Justin Garces, who made several big saves early in the second half. “We continue to feel confident in ourselves. We’ve been strong and smart and I feel like that’s going to carry on to the next game and we’ll perform and get the result we want.”
Largely, Monday’s match went according to plan for the U.S. Ghana is an athletic, fast, talented side, one that had plenty of ways to hurt the U.S. defense. The Black Stars had topped Colombia, 1-0, in their opener, making Monday’s clash a vital one when it came to group supremacy.
The first half was largely played at a U.S. pace. They were calm, patient and composed, maintaining a bulk of the possession while picking spots to generate chances. Blaine Ferri fired a few shots from range, but it was Josh Sargent’s close-range header that was blocked off the line that was the best U.S. chance of the opening half.
In the second half, momentum shifted as Ghana took control. The Ghanaian team took possession themselves and repeatedly threatened the U.S. backline. Chris Durkin broke up several attacks in the midfield while Garces had a few big stops to keep Ghana off the board early in the second half.
It was Durkin that helped spur the game’s game-winning sequence with tackle in midfield. Akinola proceeded to bully his way through the defense, firing a shot far post.
“They were a strong and physical team. They were very fast,” Garces said. “They used that to their advantage going down the line. They caused some moments in the game where we were lacking focus but, overall, I feel like we countered that really well.”
“It’s an exciting moment,” Akinola added, “but knowing that, we have one more game to play. I’m really just focused on that right now. ”
Next up for the U.S. is a match against Colombia, who defeated India in their second group stage match. One would expect a rotated U.S. team, but Akinola says the focus will not change. The U.S. wants to finish top of the group and build momentum for a potential knockout round run to come.
“We want nine points out of this group,” Akinola said. “That’s our main focus.”