The US Under-17 national team defeated Canada 3-2 in the first game of their World Cup qualifying tournament on Thursday evening. Canada seized a surprising 2-0 lead in the first half, before the US scored three goals in the opening 20 minutes of the second half to salvage the win.
U.S. U17 MNT starting lineup vs. Canada: Las; Scally, Alejandre, Hernandez-Foster, Armour; Leyva, Kayo, Busio; Yow, Pepi, Reyna— Travis Clark (@travismclark) May 2, 2019
The US played 14 players who have spent time in MLS academies, including six who are signed to first-team contracts. Canada played 12 players from MLS academies.
A thing that impressed me: Canada scored two gorgeous goals in a 60-second span. The first came on a long possession that ended with a perfect pass to the back post by the Montreal Impact’s Matt Catavolo and nice header down under the goalkeeper by his Montreal teammate Jeremie Omeonga.
The second came on a transition moment and ridiculous curler by Toronto FC’s Jacen Russell-Rowe. Canada maintained excellent defensive shape throughout the game; they allowed the United States to have the majority of the ball, but rarely looked outplayed. They played in a 4-3-3 with tight lines and moved as a group. All three US goals came on set pieces; they rarely threatened from the run of play.
A thing that surprised me: It was the first game I’ve watch with the new rule change regarding goal kicks. The ball no longer needs to travel out of the penalty box before a field player can touch the ball. It’s a minor change, but it really changes the feel of a goal kick. Both teams had the center back start only five yards from the goalkeeper, so the possessions would begin near the goal rather than out wide.
A player who stood out: Gio Reyna is an alpha. It might be the old man in me, but I like alphas on a soccer field. He wants to be the dominant figure, and he has a knack for finding the game. He tends to take a little too long on the ball and his teammates sometimes work too hard to find him – it’s not that unlike watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic with the LA Galaxy – but it’s clear that Reyna has the most physical tools in the team.
The biggest X-factor for the US will be… D.C. United product Bryang Kayo. Kayo isn’t as polished or consistent as Reyna or Seattle’s Daniel Leyva or the Galaxy’s Adam Saldana, but there’s definitely something there. He has an eye for finding angles and taking openings. If he can refine parts of his game like his body shape when receiving the ball and thinking in advance of taking his first touch, his natural talent has a high ceiling.
Something to keep an eye on in the USA’s next game, against Barbados on Saturday: Sporting Kansas City’s Gianluca Busio clearly has all the skill he needs to be a top player (he scored the US’s first goal with a great volley back across goal); sometimes he disappears from games. He’s so good that you want to see him involved as much as possible. The more he can get on the ball, the better his team will be.
A potential adjustment for Canada against Guatemala on Saturday: Canada opted to start the match with a few of their more explosive players on the bench. TFC’s Jayden Nelson entered the game in the 70th minute and almost found an equalizer in the closing seconds.
Disappointed, but some positives to take away from 🍁 Canada's first international match as a group. Our #canm17 coach Andrew Olivieri looks ahead to game 2️⃣ against Guatemala. pic.twitter.com/ksI9QmN4QN— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) May 3, 2019
Vancouver’s Kamron Habibullah and Simon Colyn also didn’t make the starting XI (though Colyn did sustain an injury at the Generation adidas Cup last month, so he might still be working his way back). If Canada want to take a more attacking approach against Guatemala, they have the options.