There were some nervy moments in the first half of the United States Under-17 national team’s CONCACAF Championship opener, but that was before New York Red Bulls Academy product Chris Lema had his say.
Columbus Crew academy player Ahinga Selemani claimed the third goal to ice the match in the 86th minute.
The US will next face the third team in the group, Guatemala, on Thursday. The Guatemalans open their group play against Haiti on Tuesday.
On a hot and humid evening in Panama City, Haiti started out as the more aggressive side. Jonel Desire found space behind the defense twice in the first 10 minutes, but he pulled his shot wide both times. His teammate Wisner Derival then should’ve put Haiti in the lead in the 16th minute when after exploited some miscommunication in the US backline. He sped past the defense and rounded the keeper, but somehow he missed an open net.
Eventually, the US’s quality shone through. Playmaker Corey Baird skipped around a defender on the right side of the Haitian area and was dragged down. Lema, a left-sided midfielder from Ridgefield, New Jersey, calmly finish the 26th-minute penalty to put the US in the lead.
Baird was again involved in the Lema’s second goal in the 74th minute. The San Diego native sliced into space down the right side and delivered a cross to the far post. Rubio Rubin knocked down the high ball, and Lema slammed his one-time left-footed volley into the lower corner.
Selemani put the game away, chasing a hopeful long ball, stripping a defender of possession in the Haitian area, and slotting his shot under goalkeeper Cleef Cadet.
USA – Lema (PK) 26’, 74', Selemani 86'
Haiti: Cadet; Guerson, Carlens, Clebert (Similien 66’), Etienne, Alexis (Stivenson 34’), Wilmont, Erickson, Jean-Marie (Therson 39’); Desire, Derival
Manager: Rafael Novaes
USA: Jeff Caldwell; 2 Shaquell Moore (c), 4 Tommy Redding, 5 Conor Donovan, 3 John Requejo Jr.; 8 Chris Lema, 16 Elijah Martin (Tyler Turner 93’); 7 Rubio Rubin, 10 Corey Baird, 11 Alan Winn (Joel Sonora 61’); 9 Ahinga Selemani (Sebastian Elney 87’)
Manager: Richie Williams