U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team head coach John Hackworth is currently in Carson, Calif., with the U-17s for a training camp at The Home Depot Center. Although stuck in a hotel room to watch the matches, Hack provided ussoccer.com with his comments on the USA’s draw with Italy.
Yesterday was definitely one of the most exciting days of soccer this country has ever known. The excitement and anticipation of the match itself was incredible. It was almost like we knew something special was about to happen. Then it did!
The coaching staff and I have been watching all the WC matches from my hotel room (room #136) and yesterday was no exception. We were already pretty juiced for the U.S. match, but then (at around our fifth cup of coffee), Ghana scores early in their match vs. the Czechs. As the Ghana-Czech match went on, it just seemed like the 'beautiful game' was giving Bruce and the boys an opportunity to shine. After the Ghana-Czech match, we knew we had a chance and the excitement for the next hour was electric. Still, Mais made another coffee run, but even Mulqueen didn't need any more caffeine.
During the walk out and national anthems, it was simply amazing to watch and hear the crowd in the stadium. I have been blessed to hear our national anthem many times in stadiums before soccer matches, but to hear the Americans singing the Star Spangled Banner as passionately as any soccer supporters in the world, live on ABC, was something I will never forget.
The match itself was even better than the build-up. The team looked good from the opening whistle. We all commented on the renewed "energy" the players were playing with. We were pressuring the Azzuri and making them look like the underdogs. At about the twenty minute mark, the possession was 59% to 41% in our favor and I immediately thought of the famous line from Good Will Hunting, "how 'bout them apples".
Then the emotional roller-coaster began. First, we give up a goal on a poorly executed defensive free kick. Next, we score (and I guarantee the other rooms in the Torrance Hilton heard the eruption from within our four walls). Then, the game sees ‘red’, and we have a man advantage. That should have been a spark for the team, but it actually seemed to take away our momentum. Then Pablo gets sent off (and I know that I am not supposed to comment on the officiating, but that was a total ‘make-up’ call. We have seen those types of tackles consistently throughout the first round. A yellow card, yes, but not a straight red).
At halftime we all wondered what Bruce was saying to the team. We talked about the fact that he probably would tell Pope to be ‘careful’. I don’t know what Bruce said, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered either way. The referee was having a bad day and unfortunately for us, it meant that we were the team that was going to have to play 9v10 for more than 45 minutes.
Now, from here until the final whistle, I am not sure that I have ever been prouder of our team. The effort they gave throughout the second half was super human. When it looked like Beasley put us in front, room #136 again went into complete bedlam. However, it was short lived. A passive off-sides call ruined our celebration (by the way, the referees assistant got it “right” under pretty tough circumstances). In any case, we did what we needed to do and fought valiantly until the final whistle. Thus, earning a well deserved result and an opportunity to advance with one match to play.
No matter what happens the remainder of the tournament, Bruce and the team can look back on this game as a truly amazing achievement. Congratulations!