PANAMA CITY, Panama (Wednesday, January 17, 2007) -- Striker Andre Akpan scored three times, leading the United States to a 4-1 victory over Haiti in the CONCACAF Under-20 Men's Qualifying Tournament before 6,000 at Rommel Fernandez Stadium.
The U.S. (1-0, three points) can clinch advancement to the Under-20 World Cup this summer in Canada with a victory Friday over Guatemala, a 6:30 p.m. (ET) match to be televised by GolTV. The Americans close qualifying Sunday against Panama, a 6 p.m. start which will be broadcast by GolTV on a one-hour delay.
The U.S. is attempting to qualify for the world championships for a sixth straight and 11th overall time.
The top two teams from Group A advance to Canada 2007, which runs from June 30 to July 22. In today's other Group A match Panama (0-0-1) and Guatemala (0-0-1) drew 1-1, leaving each team with one point.
"Right now we're in the driver's seat because Panama and Guatemala just tied, so we're the only team with three points," U.S. defender Quavas Kirk said.
Two more teams advance from CONCACAF Group B, which will be competed from February 21-25 between host Mexico, Costa Rica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Jamaica.
Playing in his first international match with the under-20, Akpan scored twice in the first half and midway through the second.
Attempting to qualify outside of the U.S. for the first time since 2001, the Americans seemed right at home, jumping all over Haiti from the opening whistle and dominating possession throughout the match. The U.S. continually pressured Haiti's back-line with goalkeeper Chris Seitz not tested until the 56th minute.
Akpan made his presence felt in the seventh minute when he took a cross from Kirk, the right back and nailed a header toward the left post, only to be stopped by goalkeeper Peterson Occenat's sprawling save.
Akpan couldn't be denied on his next opportunity. Midfielder Robbie Rogers, who assisted the final two U.S. tallies, threw the ball in from the left sideline to midfielder Anthony Wallace near the top of the penalty area. Wallace curled a left-footed cross into the box for Akpan, who sent a glancing header past Occenat into the right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.
"Wally (Wallace) looked up and the keeper was in that area where it's a little tricky for him," Akpan said. "I got to the ball before he did and just got a little touch on it, and it was enough to get it over him and it went in."
A few minutes later, Akpan nearly scored again when he was the recipient of service from Rogers, but the Harvard student hit the left post.
In the 39th minute, U.S. midfielder Danny Szetala floated a left-side corner kick to the far post. Akpan knocked it off the right post with the ball then caroming off Occenat and into the net for a 2-0 advantage.
"Well actually, Jules (Valentin) tried to claim it, so he's trying to take my assist away," Szetala said. "But in all seriousness, it's not even about the assist. It's just about getting goals. It's difficult hitting corner kicks from that side because we have very little space, but I tried my best and I guess that ball got in behind the goalie and Andre just put it away."
Akpan was also involved in the USA's third goal, part of a buildup on the left flank. Midfielder Tim Ward started the attack and pushed it ahead for Rogers, who drove the ball into the penalty area. Akpan ran over the ball, the dummy allowing the ball to go through to Wallace, who darted in front of his marker at the six-yard box and hammered his shot past it past Occenat.
"It was just a run from midfield into the box and I was just there at the right time for Andre to dummy it and I just placed it in," Wallace said. "I think we just need to keep this in our head that to keep progressing as a team we need to build on tonight and play our best for a full 90 minutes."
Akpan completed his hat trick in the 61st minute to make it 4-0. Rogers collected the ball on the left flank, darted past his defender and curled in a ball to the back post, Akpan, unmarked, volleyed the ball with his first touch, sending the ball across the goal, hitting the inside of the left post and bouncing into the net.
"With it being my first cap with the under-20 national team, it's one of the best experiences I've had in soccer," said Akpan, who previously played in scrimmages against Canada, but had not worn the Red, White and Blue in an official match. "I can't think of another game I've had that will stand out like this one. I've had hat tricks before, but not in a game this important."
Haiti narrowed it deficit to 4-1 in the 73rd minute when striker Etienne Yveson put away a penalty kick. The PK was called when Haiti midfielder Sony Norde had his jersey tugged in the box by Kirk, who earned a yellow card.
The only earlier dangerous chance for Haiti (0-1, 0) came in the 44th minute when Norde slipped the ball through the U.S. defense to Yveson, but his first touch failed him, allowing Seitz to come off his line and knock the ball off the attacker's foot.
"We didn't start off the match as well as we would have liked, but overall we did well to get two goals in the first half and that really allowed us to control the rest of the game," U.S. coach Thomas Rongen said. "I think we all realize that, in tournament play, the first game is very important and it puts us clearly in a good position. There are still two very important matches to be played and our focus now is on Guatemala. We understand that each game will become tougher and tougher for us, so we're satisfied with the result, but we've got a lot of hard work still ahead of us."
United States 4, Haiti 1
Lineups: Haiti - Peterson Occenat, Vaniel Sirin (Pascal Scifaite 67), Symson Exume, Judelin Aveska (captain), Junior Natoux; Junior Saul, Adelt Maddy, -Sony Norde, Roberts Saintilus, Etienne Yveson, Augustin Walson (Peterson Joseph 63) United States - Chris Seitz, Quavas Kirk, Julian Valentin (Amaechi Igwe 85), Nathan Sturgis, Tim Ward, Anthony Wallace, Danny Szetela (Tony Beltran, 74), Freddy Adu (captain), Sal Zizzo, Robbie Rogers (Johann Smith 67), Andre Akpan.
United States - Akpan (Wallace) 26.
United States - Akpan (Szetela) 39.
United States - Wallace (Rogers) 48.
United States - Akpan (Rogers) 61.
Haiti - Yveson (penalty kick) 74.
Shots: Haiti 5, United States 12.
Shots on goal: Haiti 4, United States 11.
Saves: Haiti 7, United States 3.
Fouls: Haiti 15, United States 9.
Corner kicks: Haiti 1, United States 9.
Offsude: Haiti 4, United States 6.
Yellow card cautions: Haiti - Saintiulus 24, Maddy 34, Joseph 72, Natoux 79, Aveska 82; United States - Valentin 45+, Kirk 73.
Referee: Lee Davis (Trinidad & Tobago).
Assistant referees: Lyndon Burton (Trinidad & Tobago), Roderick Rojer (Trinidad & Tobago).
Fourth official: Douglas McArthur (Guyana).
Attendance: 6,000 at Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City, Panama.
Weather: Warm, 85 degrees.
U.S. roster for the Under-20 World Cup with players' names' followed with team and hometown in parentheses. Teams are identified either by college, or Major League Soccer or foreign affiliation:
Goalkeepers: Brian Perk (UCLA, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake, MLS; San Luis Obispo, Calif.).
Defenders: Ofori Sarkodi (Indiana University; Huber Heights, Ohio), Nathan Sturgis (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS; Redondo Beach, Calif.), Anthony Wallace (FC Dallas, MLS; St. Petersburg, Fla.), Tim Ward (Columbus Crew, MLS; Waukesha, Wisc.)
Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Real Salt Lake, MLS; Potomac, Md.), Brian Arguez (D.C. United, MLS; Miami, Fla.), Tony Beltran (UCLA; Claremont, Calif.), Amaechi Igwe (New England Revolution, MLS; Belmont, Calif.), Robby Rogers (SC Heerenven, Netherlands; Huntington Beach, Calif.), Danny Szetala (Columbus Crew, MLS; Clifton, N.J.), Jonathan Villanueva (University of Virginia; Grand Prairie, Texas)
Forwards: Andre Akpan (Harvard University, Grand Prairie, Texas). Josmer Altidore (New York Red Bulls, Boca Raton, Fla.), Quavas Kirk (Los Angeles Galaxy, Long Beach, Calif.). Johann Smith (Bolton Wanderers, England; Bloomfield, Conn.), Julian Valentin (Wake Forest University; Lancaster, Pa.), Preston Zimmerman (Hamburg SV, Germany; Pasco, Wash.), Sal Zizzo (UCLA; San Diego).
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