With improved effort, key plays, U.S. beats Belgium for U-17 World Cup spot.
By Robert Wagman
(Monday, August 27, 2007) -- The United States played its best match so far at the Under-17 World Cup in defeating Belgium 2-0 yesterday to close Group E. In the process, the Americans sneaked into the Round of 16 despite a 1-2 record.
At Cheonan Sports Complex in South Korea, Reserve forward Kirk Urso's goal put the U.S. ahead of Belgium in the 63rd minute, but it was U.S. captain Mykell Bates' strike eight minutes later and a pair of sterling stops by goalkeeper Josh Lambo in the final 10 minutes that provided the winning margin needed to advance in this world tournament.
When Tunisia (3-0), which had already advanced, scored late to defeat Tajikistan 1-0, it left the Tajiks, Americans and Belgium at 1-2 with three points. The U.S. and Tajikistan each had a minus-1 goal differential, the first tiebreaker, to minus-3 for Belgium.
The U.S. was organized, stayed compact and was methodical over the entire 90 minutes. Its back-line was particularly effective giving Belgium few quality chances. When the Belgians managed two great chances at the end, Lambo came up big.
U.S. coach John Hackworth made three changes in his starting lineup, two of which worked well. Midfielder Gregory Garza again started, as he did in the opening 4-2 setback to Tajikistan, while Lambo received his first start and played well. Defender Brandon Zimmerman, also was inserted in the starting 11 for the first time, but was less effective.
As has been the story so far in this tournament, Brazilian referee Salvio Fagundes Filho was quite stern in his calls and very liberal in dishing out cards. In the 36th minute, Christian Benteke, one of Belgium's best players, slid cleats high into American Sheanon Williams. While the tackle was not malicious, it was reckless, earning a red card and leaving his side shorthanded and without one of its best attackers for the remaining time.
The U.S. was able to take advantage of the manpower edge and pressured throughout the second half. It ended up recording 21 shots, including 12 on goal, its most during group play.
However, the U.S. finishing was once again lacking with strikers Ellis McLoughlin and Billy Schuler unable to take advantage of quality chances. It took Urso, coming off the bench, to drill a hard shot at a sharp angle off the hands of Belgium keeper Jo Coppens and into the net for a 1-0 lead in the 63rd minute.
Eight minutes later, Bates, a central defender, found net with header off a nice cross by midfielder Gregory Garza off a short corner and the Americans had the goals they needed to remain in contention for the world championship.
Lambo did the rest, deftly tipping Dmitri Daeseleire's angled tester from the left side over the crossbar in the 78th minute, then quickly dropped to his right to deny Eden Hazard's shot from just above the box three minutes into stoppage time. Had either shot gone in, the U.S. visit to South Korea would have been over.
The U.S. reward was a Round-of-16 meeting in Cheonan with Germany (2-0-1), the Group F winner which scored 11 goals, while conceding five.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Josh Lambo - 6.5: Considered the equal of Zac MacMath in goal, Lambo was given his first start in the tournament and responded well. He was not put under pressure often, but made two key saves near the end, including one in stoppage time. If Belgium had scored on one of them, the U.S. would have headed home.
Defender Sheanon Williams - 6.5: In the first half ,he was very effective in the midfield and then did equally well on the back-line after intermission.
Defender Mykell Bates - 6.5: Anchored the defense, ranging from side to side in a three-man back-line the second half. Scored a lovely goal by outleaping a much taller defender to head home Jared Jeffrey's well-placed cross.
Defender Tommy Meyer - 5.5: Was effective covering both in the center and to the outside when Williams pushed forward. A fine match.
Defender Brandon Zimmerman - 5: Was the least effective of the backs, but was decent until seemingly tire before coming out on the hour.
Midfielder Jared Jeffrey - 5.5: Was solid for the second match in a row. Won most of the battles in the midfield, especially early and helped keep Belgium from creating many quality chances. Also provided a key assist on the first U.S. goal.
Midfielder Danny Wenzel - 5: Did not do much over the first half and was replaced at the interval.
Midfielder Greg Garza - 5.5: Worked hard in the midfield and his well-delivered cross resulted in the second goal, the one that sent the U.S. forward. His best match of the tournament.
Midfielder Alex Nimo - 6: Returned to the fine form he showed in the opening match. Was a handful for the Belgium defense all day with quite a bit of the U.S. offense moving through him.
Forward Ellis McLoughlin - 4.5: For the second match since coming back from illness he was ineffective. He worked hard, but accomplished little.
Forward Billy Schuler - 4.5: Was off target all afternoon. Had several very good chances that should have been converted, but were not.
Midfielder Kirk Urso (46th minute for Wenzel) 6.0: A key substitution, who stepped up the pressure in the midfield against shorthanded Belgium. He scored the first goal with a well taken shot when the opportunity presented itself.
Forward Abdusalam Ibrahim (60th minute for Zimmerman) - 5.5: Came on and played a solid two-way game, pushing forward down the wing, but also getting back to help out on defense. Showed good range and attitude.
Midfielder Bryan Dominguez (93nd minute for Nimo) - no rating. Was inserted as a time-wasting move.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Mykell Bates.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.
©Copyright 2007 SoccerTimes.com. All Rights Reserved.