SAN LUIS, Argentina (Sept. 22, 2017) – The U.S. Paralympic National Team claimed fifth-place at the 2017 IFCPF CP Football World Championships after a last-minute 3-2 comeback victory against Ireland. The USA finished as the tournament’s top team from North or South America and earned its best finish at a major world competition since the 1996 Paralympic Games at which the PNT finished fourth. Stalwart defender David Garza knotted things up in the 60th minute and high school wunderkind Cameron DeLillo scored the game-winning goal in injury time.
The USA got on the board early in a back-and-forth first half. Garza halted a shot from Ireland and in the ensuing build-up, Kevin Hensley hit DeLillo in stride near the half line. DeLillo evaded two Irish defenders and launched a rocket from the top right corner of the box to open the scoring in the seventh minute.
The teams continued to spar, and while the USA parried a series of dangerous attempts from Ireland, the Boys in Green finally broke through in the 22nd minute. After goalkeeper Sean Boyle charged to take on an Irish attacker and stop an attempt, Ireland intercepted the clearance and a lengthy build-up found Irish captain Gary Messett on the left side of the field. He got past two defenders and chipped a long shot to the far post to knot things up 1-1.
A remarkable individual effort gave Ireland the lead just after the half. Dillon Sheridan, one of the tournament’s leading scorers, made a run down the left side of the field, spinning and evading two U.S. defenders. He slotted one inside the far post to put the Irish up 3-2 in the 31st minute.
The USA came painstakingly close to an equalizer as the half wore on. Irish goalkeeper James Gerard Naughton made an athletic save from his knees in the 32nd minute, the green-clad defense cleared a dangerous ball in the air in the 43rd and captain Hensley hit the left post with a shot in the 45th. Two Irish players received yellow cards as they tried to hasten the final whistle.
Salvation came for the PNT in the 60th and final minute. Garza has anchored the U.S. back line for its entire tournament run, but he found himself pressing in the final third at the game’s end closed in. Defender Ben Lindau was the last man back near the half line, and he launched a through ball towards the net that found Garza making a run across the box. Naughton never had a chance at Garza’s diving header that tied the game 2-2.
DeLillo provided the rest of the late-match heroics. Lindau launched another long ball into the box and a one-timed header from Hensley missed, but Tyler Bennett kept the ball alive, and it trickled out to DeLillo near the penalty spot. He rocketed a shot to the near post, clinching the 3-2 USA victory third minute of extra time.
DeLillo finishes the tournament as the team’s leading scorer with five goals.