TIJUANA, Mexico -- The United States did well to avoid a let down in its second game at the U-17 CONCACAF Championship, coming out strong against Canada. A 4-2 victory sees the young Americans through to the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria later this year, and qualifies the team for a semifinal berth with a Group B opponent.
The team was blessed with some good luck right at the start. The squad's first attack resulted in a corner kick and then off that play, a Canadian player's tug on a U.S. jersey resulted in a penalty kick being awarded.
Jack McInerney converted well, putting the U.S. up 1-0 in the fifth minute. That seemed to take the air out of Canada early, and the Americans did well to keep the pressure on from that point.
Canada did manage a few attacks, and U.S. captain Perry Kitchen was shown the game's first yellow with a late tackle to break up one of them. Despite that, the U.S backline held well, reducing Canada to long-distance shots.
Jonathan Lao cracked one from outside in the 26th, but it was considerably high. In general, though, the Americans bossed the midfield, leaving Canada only occasional counterattack possibilities.
Yet by dropping back to cover the U.S. forwards, Canada prevented a second goal for some time. In the 32nd minute, however, McInerney collected a pass from Shinsky and dribbled toward the goal as Sebastian Lleget and Stefan Jerome ran into the passing lanes to aid the advance. As Canada's defenders pulled back, McInerney picked up his head, picked his target and fired a shot into the upper corner of the goal from 30 yards out.
Perhaps aware that a 2-0 lead is considered dangerous in soccer, the U.S. continued to press. In the 36th minute, Jerome had a fine attempt on goal denied by an excellent Richard Causton stop.
It was a true team effort that created the third goal. In the 41st minute, the U.S. attack had a number of players in the box, and as the ball came in to the area, Jerome headed a pass to McInerney, who flicked another headed pass to Lleget, who then headed the ball into the goal. It was a play that seemed like a game of soccer tennis come to life.
The 3-0 lead held up until the break.
After the interval, the U.S. looked lively early on, but a determined Canada fought back to control more of the possession. Even as the U.S. clogged up the midfield to protect the lead, they no longer looked as dominant.
In the 66th minute, U.S. coach Wilmet Cabrera subbed out a clearly tiring Jerome for Juan Sebastian Agudelo.
Kevin Cobby cracked another high shot in the 69th minute, as Canada tried their luck.
On the 71th minute, Canada's Lao was subbed off for Brennan McNicoll and immediately afterwards, Canada found their consolation goal.
Off a throw-in, Jaineil Hoilett snuck behind the U.S. defense, cut in quickly and unleashed a low shot to the back corner that beat goalkeeper Ear Edwards.
Lletget was subbed off in the 78th minute for Carlos Martinez, as the U.S., perhaps gathering a bit of a second wind, cracked a couple of shots on goal that Causton did well to deny.
The Americans fell back into their own half most of the time, leaving Agudelo as the forward with fresh legs up top
That led to a U.S. counter in the 79th minute, where an Agudelo pass led out McInerney, but perhaps due to weariness, he didn't have the speed to maintain the advantage and lost the ball to a chasing Canadian defender.
It became a question of whether the tiring Americans could hold out against their resurgent northern neighbors.
The momentum shifted again when a U.S. counter found McInerney in front of goal, but Causton made the point-blank save, keeping Cnada's hopes up.
Cabera made his final substitution in the 86th minute, taking out Gil, who also had started to look weary, for Joseph Gyau. Gyau scored almost immediately, knocking in the ball from a Tyler Polak free kick and allowing the U.S. to breathe easier.
However, the goal may have filled Canada with new resolve, as they struck back almost immediately. A poor header by Jared Watts was picked off by Jackson, who let loose with a low shot to the side netting that Edwards was not able to get down quickly enough to keep out.
However, that was the end of Canada's rally, and the U.S. safely clinched qualification to Nigeria.