Gifted a man advantage after 63 seconds and a goal after four minutes, the U.S. could not have asked for a better start to its opening Group E game at the Under-17 World Cup in Kano, Nigeria. But some suspect defending allowed the Spaniards to rally for a pair of first-half goals and hold on for a 2-1 win.
Luis Gil's penetrating passes were a constant threat all evening, beginning with the ball that sprung Jack McInerney, who was taken down by Sergi Gomez on the edge of the penalty area. The Spanish defender was immediately shown a red card.
Minutes later, McInerney put the U.S. ahead with the simplest of tap-ins after goalie Edgar failed to hold on to Marlon Duran's looping ball into the box. But the Spaniards exposed the U.S. back line and got first-half goals from Atletico Madrid's Borja and Real Madrid's Pablo Sarabia to go ahead 2-1.
The Americans had a huge edge in possession and outshot Spain 17-11, but they couldn't get the equalizer. Stefan Jerome and Victor Chavez both missed breakaways after being fed through balls by Gill.
Jerome rounded Edgar but ran out of space without getting a shot off. Chavez, who came on for Jerome in the second half, shot straight at Edgar with Alex Shinsky open to his left.
While the first half was played at a frantic pace, the game, played in 98-degree temperatures, slowed down in the second half.
Putting eight players behind the ball after Sergi Gomez's expulsion, the Spaniards let the Americans come at them, but the U.S. created few concrete chances late in the game. Twice the lights went off at the Sani Abacha Stadium, forcing the addition of 14 minutes of stoppage time in the second half.
"I think it was a very good match," U.S. coach Wilmer Cabrera said. "We had to play against one of the favorite teams, and we started off with some positive things, we scored quickly. They reacted very well, they had a brilliant 10 minutes and they put themselves in a good position.
After that, obviously, our kids started to react, to put pressure on Spain and start to come back, but they did a very good job defending. We tried to play and we created options but we didn't score. When they had the opportunities, they were clinical with their finishing. That's why they are at that level right now."
In the other Group E opener, UAE beat Malawi 2-0.