Alex Shinsky's goal on a volley that slipped through the hands and legs of Malawi goalie Cuthbert Seengwa and trickled across the line was all the U.S. could muster, but it was enough to beat a weak Malawi team 1-0 Thursday at the Under-17 World Cup in Kano, Nigeria.
The play that led to the goal began when Luis Gil stabbed at the ball in the air with the back of his foot, laying it off for Marlon Duran, who hit a hard shot from a tight angle that Seengwa saved well. The rebound came to Shinsky in the middle of the penalty area. Shinsky's volley went straight to Seengwa, who couldn't hold on to the ball.
U.S. coach Wilmer Cabrera made two changes to his starting lineup. Eriq Zavaleta replaced captain Perry Kitchen on defense, while forward Stefan Jerome was replaced up top by Victor Chavez, as they did to start the second half of the 2-1 loss to Spain. Both new starters were second-half substitutes in the first game against Spain.
The Americans had a huge edge in possession, especially in the second half when they effectively slowed the game down in the afternoon heat of Kano, but they couldn't add a second goal.
Playing in their first U-17 World Cup, Malawi's Young Flames were shut out for the second game in a row. They were called for offside 18 times against the U.S.
"Today was a tough game," said Cabrera. "We were both motivated teams on the field. The United States' record against African teams isn't so good, but today we moved the ball and worked hard and we got the goal we needed. Now, we have a chance to move to the next stage, and we have to focus on UAE because that is a very important game."
The U.S. travels to Ijebu Ode for its final group game against the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. The UAE beat Malawi 2-0, but fell to Spain 3-1 in Thursday's second game in Kano.
A win will assure the U.S. of a berth in the second round. A tie will only give the U.S. third place in the group (the UAE has the edge in goals scored).
A tie, though, would probably be enough to ensure the U.S. advancement to the second round as one of the four third-place teams, but that would depend on the results of the other group games. The Americans will know before they kick off on Sunday what they need to do to advance.