The U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team has already qualified for the quarterfinals of the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship here in Finland, but it still has one first round match-up left against European-power Spain on Wednesday, August 20. As the U.S. gets prepared for its final game in Group D, check out two players perspectives on the team's first two victories over the Korea Republic (6-1) and Sierra Leone (2-1).
Defender Brandon Owens Looks Back on the Korea Republic...
Before the game, fellow captain Corey Ashe and I met with the team and made sure everyone had the same goal in mind. We brought up the point that we had heard Korea was happy to get drawn into Group D with us. They probably figured that they would be able to beat us again, just like they had done in May when we lost to them 3-0 at the Busan International Youth Tournament. We knew the same thing wasn’t going to happen and going into the game we were confident we would get a different result – one with us on the winning end.
In the first 10 minutes we dominated the game and they never really had the ball in our end. Then, the first time they really threatened, I got a bit unlucky. Their midfielder played the ball in from the right side and there was a guy at the back post. I was able to read the flight of the ball and our ‘keeper Phil Marfuggi said to knock it away, so I was confident I would be able to clear it from danger. But, due to the wet field, when I tried to chest the ball it took a weird hop on me and hit my shoulder instead and slid into the goal.
As it when in I thought this was the worst thing that could ever happen to me at a World Championship. I was disappointed, but I didn’t want to show the team I was down, so I just tried to let it go by telling myself it was a long game and if I just kept patient things would work out.
After the own goal, I felt I started to play better. I wanted to get the goal back and luckily not too long later I was given the chance. John DiRaimondo crossed in corner and I stayed around the penalty spot instead of crashing all the way in on goal because this time I felt the ball was going to be knocked out. All of a sudden the ball was headed out right to me. It hit my right thigh, bounced and then I hit it pretty solid. The funny thing is the guy that crossed the ball on the own goal was actually the same guy who provided me with the opportunity. It felt pretty good. After the goal, I ran to the corner and did a little dance. Freddy Adu has this little drum beat that he does and we came up with some dances for it. So, it was something I told the guys I was going to do if I scored before the game. It was kind of an emotional moment for me.
The rest of the game, I never expected to get six goals. I wasn’t too surprised though, either. We went into halftime with just a 2-1 lead and it was a really tight game. Going into the second half we came out more focused and things just started opening up for us. After Jamie Watson got his goal we started to really stretch Korea and our defensive line was playing really well. The goals just kept coming as Curfman put a incredible goal in off a corner and then Freddy did his thing late to add to more to the mix.
Forward Jamie Watson Looks Back on Sierra Leone...
We were in the same situation before this game as we were in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying in Guatemala this past March. Just like here at the World Championship, we had won our first game against Jamaica at qualifying and already had three points going into our second game against El Salvador. When we went up against El Salvador though, we went in overconfident and tied 1-1 – not the result we wanted or should have gotten. We knew this time we weren’t going to be able to take Sierra Leone for granted.
Before the game, we had a team meeting the day before the game. We’ve been having these team meetings regularly now and the one before the Sierra Leone game I think was really helpful. We talked about not getting over confidant, but we also just talked about a number of other personal things. We talked a little bit about our faith in each other and how we need to rely on each other during the tournament. It got pretty emotional at times as we talked about our beliefs and concerns, both on the field and off. Corey Ashe and I both talked about losing a grandparent recently and how that affected us personally. I think how close we are as a team pushed us over the edge toward the end of the Sierra Leone game because we believed we would stick it out.
Early in the match, we knew it was going to be a tough match. When Sierra Leone got the first goal, we weren’t too down on ourselves though because we knew if we stuck together we’d get it back. We had numerous chances after their goal and then finally Eddie Gaven got pulled down and we got the penalty kick. Memo Gonzalez put it past the keeper and going into the half 1-1 let us know that we would be able to stay in the game no matter what. It was definitely a better situation than being down 1-0.
The second half was hard to imagine for us. We just kept giving up chance after chance after chance. That is normally not like us because we are so sound defensively, but Sierra Leone was playing really well. I’d say we were lucky to not let another goal in as they put us under a lot of pressure, but that wouldn’t be giving our ‘keeper Phil Marfuggi the credit he deserves. He kept us in the game and created luck for us.
There were a lot of situations where players – mainly Freddy Adu – were taken down and there weren’t any calls. It’s frustrating when you feel you’ve earned one and don’t get the call. I remember I put Freddy in on a breakaway and the defender pulled him down from behind. The thing we tried to do was not get so frustrated that it would get us out of our game. I think Freddy did that really well and didn’t let it deter him from continuing to play hard.
Our composure helped us get the winning goal in the 89th minute. It was a split-second goal off a goal kick. Somehow Eddie Gaven and two defenders mistimed their jumps to win the ball and it just bounced right in front of me. I was running on sideways and Freddy had made a diagonal run on the left. The timing couldn’t have been any better because right as I got to the ball, the defender had committed to me and not even seen Freddy. All I was trying to do was put the ball in front of him so he didn’t have to stop to get it. He brought it down well and was able to beat the keeper, which wasn’t easy because he had been solid all game. It was great. In the last minute of the game we knew we were going to the second round.