The US U-17 national team started on their quest to qualify for the World Cup with a 3-1 victory over Cuba at Catherine Hall Stadium in Montego Bay Jamaica on Monday.
Alfred Koroma opened the scoring in the 27th minute, while Andrew Oliver and Esteban Rodriguez tallied moments after halftime to put the match out of reach. Second-half substitute Frank Lopez pulled one back for Cuba, but they couldn't find any more goals.
With the win, the US sit atop Group B after a single game played. They next play Panama on Feb. 18. The top two teams from the group advance to the quarterfinals, and the semifinalists will advance to the World Cup.
Cuba, especially Javier Aguilar, managed to put pressure on the US in the early stages, but Israel Blake's side failed to pose any serious threats to the cage of Houston Dynamo Academy goalkeeper Fernando Piña (pictured above).
[inline_node:328504]Three minutes before the half hour mark, right midfielder Esteban Rodriguez provided the spark that ignited the American's first goal. He played a ball forward to Andrew Oliver. Sandy Sanchez saved the forward's shot, but Koroma - who returned to the American camp in January after a yearlong absence - tapped in the rebound.
The Stars and Stripes started strong immediately after the halftime whistle. Matt Dunn - the only player on the roster who isn't a member of the Residency Program - sent a ball over the top to Oliver, who beat his man and didn't miss from close range.
Cuba, back their heels, conceded another just seconds later with Rodriguez doing the damage on an assist from Dillon Serna.
Blake attempted to inject life into his squad at the hour mark, replacing Sayay Herrera with Lopez. The plan worked, as the teenager tallied in the 68th minute.
After the goal, Cabrera took off Mario Rodriguez and Serna for Los Angeles Galaxy Home Grown signee Jack McBean and Jordan Allen, while their opponent countered by adding Osmani Capote at the expense of Dairon Perez.
With 14 minutes remaining, the American coach opted for a more defensive strategy by removing Koroma in favor of midfielder Tarik Salkicic.
US starting lineup
Piña; Smith, Fehr, Souders, Acosta, E Rodriguez, Dunn, Serna, Koroma, M Rodriguez, Oliver
Cuba starting lineup
Sanchez; Labrada, Diaz, Rosales, Froese, Collado, Herrera, Pierda, Perez, Aguilar, Mezquila
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.