The US Under-17 men's national team are through to the Round of 16 at the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, despite finishing in third place in Group A after dropping their group-stage finale at the hands of Colombia. They will face Paraguay on Monday in a knockout match (10:20 am ET | FS2 in US).
And while the loss to Colombia dampened the feeling of optimism from the first two group games – both victories – the players in India have shown flashes of the potential that have many believing this team can still go far.
The US return to New Delhi, the site of their first two group games, for the clash against Paraguay, and the pressure is arguably ratcheted slightly higher after the senior men’s national team failed to secure a berth to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
How they got here
Heading into the U-17 World Cup, the US attack garnered the most headlines, generating high expectations. But after three group matches, the team’s defense has stood out even more.
With New York City FC midfielder James Sands anchoring the central defense, the US only conceded three goals from three games – all coming against Colombia. Chris Durkin, the D.C. United Homegrown player, has been equally excellent, starting next to Sands against host nation India (a 3-0 win) and moving into a defensive midfield role for the following two games.
While the win over India was perhaps a bit more straightforward, the team’s defense was in bend-but-not-break mode against Ghana, requiring a couple of last-ditch defensive interventions to keep a clean sheet. That set the table for Toronto FC academy forward Ayo Akinola to score a winner in a 1-0 victory.
The chance was there to claim first place in the Group A finale, though two goals conceded in the second half led to a 3-1 defeat against Colombia.
Head coach John Hackworth has used 16 players through the three group matches, rotating his lineup in each match. Sporting KC's Jaylin Lindsey – typically a right back, who started in that position in the first group match – moved centrally and partnered with Sands for the second two group games. That allowed Durkin to move into a midfield role, while Josh Sargent and Atlanta United's Andrew Carleton have started in the front three every match.
Getting the front three going, whether it’s Sargent, Carleton, Akinola or Timothy Weah, is critical for this team to progress deeper in the tournament.
If the USA's strength has been at the back, their Round of 16 opponents, Group B winners Paraguay, have scored in bunches, and this will likely go a long way toward deciding the match.
With 10 goals from their first three group games, seven different players have scored for the South American side in wins over Mali, New Zealand and Turkey. Another stout defensive effort from the USA will be required to keep the match close.
At the other end of the pitch, Paraguay’s defensive record should provide hope that the US U-17s can find openings in front of goal. Their five goals conceded, including two to Mali and New Zealand, bodes well for the USA.
Projected US starting XI
Hackworth hasn’t rotated heavily to this point in the tournament, though there should be a pair of changes in the lineup – at minimum – from the loss to Colombia.
Timothy Weah and Blaine Ferri are likely to be restored to the starting XI, considering both came in as substitutes in the final group game. Linking play between the midfield and attack will be critical, especially if Ferri or Goslin is favored over George Acosta, the best passer on the team.
The starting XI could look something like this:
Getting a result against the South American side isn’t far-fetched, although it will require a better outing than the one produced against Colombia.
Not a lot changes from a US perspective: They need to win in transition moments, whether that’s winning the ball and going forward, or defending after losing the ball. That, and getting a more dominant effort from Sargent and Carleton will be key in what could be a high-scoring affair.