The U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team played its way into the Quarterfinals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup after a rousing 5-0 victory against Paraguay in the Round of 16. Here are five things you should know about the U-17s successful run in India.
THE STORY SO FAR
The FIFA U-17 World Cup is contested every two years and represents the first major international competition for top youth players worldwide. It’s the culmination of a 23-month journey for the U.S. U-17s and the squad earned its place in India with a runner-up finish at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship last spring.
Drawn into Group A, the USA opened the tournament vs. host India, which was playing in its first-ever match in a FIFA tournament. Before a packed house of more than 46,000 fans, the USA claimed a 3-0 victory with goals from U-20 World Cup Silver Boot winner Josh Sargent and MLS Homegrown signings Chris Durkin (D.C. United) and Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC).
As has become something of a World Cup tradition, the USA then took on perennial power Ghana. In its second match of the group stage, a tense, toe-to-toe encounter, the Americans broke through in the 75th minute, as Ayo Akinola beat the goalkeeper for the game-winner. The U.S. closed out the group stage against Colombia, falling 3-1 and dropping to third place in Group A.
Group B winner Paraguay awaited the red, white and blue in the knockout round. Los Guaraníes entered the match after three straight victories in pool play, trailing for only 41 minutes, but the U.S. was ready for the challenge. In a tense first half, Tim Weah opened the scoring in the 19th minute. The floodgates opened after halftime, as three of the team’s brightest young stars added four goals – Weah earned a hat trick with two more strikes, one a highlight reel rocket, while Carleton and Sargent also found the back of the net.
The U-17s have already made a mark on the history books through four games at the World Cup. After the U-20s reached the Quarterfinals at last May’s U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic, the U-17s’ qualification made 2017 the third time that the USA has seen both teams make it to the final eight.
Playing in the U-17 World Cup makes Sargent just the second American ever to play in both the U-17 and U-20 World Cup in the same year. Not only has he competed in both, but he has been a key contributor, scoring four goals at the U-20 level and twice already in the U-17 competition. His efforts have put him second all-time in youth World Cup scoring for the USA, just one behind Freddy Adu’s seven goals.
Weah’s hat trick against Paraguay was also historic. He became the first U.S. player at any level to score a hat trick in the knockout stage of a World Cup and the third American to score a hat trick at the U-17 World Cup (Judah Cooks, 1993 and Freddy Adu, 2003).
On the defensive end, goalkeeper Justin Garces is the first U.S. ‘keeper to record three clean sheets at a U-17 World Cup.
THE THREE CABALLEROS
The USA looked to have a dangerous attack heading into India, and the offense has lived up to the hype. The headlining trio of Sargent, Carleton and Weah have scored seven of the team’s 10 goals in the tournament so far, with Carleton also contributing an assist on George Acosta’s strike against Colombia.
Josh Sargent opened the scoring for the U.S. in India with a penalty kick against the hosts. Sargent starred at the U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic, scoring four goals in five games just days after captaining the U-17 squad to second place at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship. After a youth career with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s St. Louis Scott Gallagher, earlier this year, Sargent declared his intent to join German Bundesliga side Werder Bremen when he turns 18 next February.
Andrew Carleton has contributed on half of the team’s 10 World Cup goals. Atlanta United FC’s first-ever MLS Homegrown signing, Carleton helped the Five Stripes’ U-15/16s take home the Development Academy Championship last summer, scoring two goals in the Final.
Tim Weah’s historic hat trick against Paraguay earned him Man of the Match honors. The son of Liberian legend and 1995 Ballon d’Or winner George Weah, Tim has been busy building his own legacy in India. This summer, he signed a professional contract with French giants Paris Saint-Germain after previously playing in New York Red Bulls’s Academy team before crossing the pond.
While the American attack has made a splash, a stalwart back line has also been key to the USA’s success in India. The U.S. has allowed just three goals in four games. Entering the Paraguay match, Los Guaraníes were averaging more than three goals a game, but were held scoreless by the USA.
Anchoring the defense is goalkeeper Justin Garces, who has kept a clean sheet in all three of the U-17s’ World Cup victories. The backstop took home Golden Glove honors at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship as the tournament’s top ‘keeper. Thanks to strong play from the field, Garces has only been forced to make eight saves in his four outings.
James Sands has been a stand-out on defense and has logged more minutes than any other defender in this U-17 cycle. He’s one of four players, and the sole back-liner, to play every minute of the U-17s’ World Cup campaign.
A variety of talented allies have joined Sands in the U.S. defense: New York Red Bulls’ Chris Gloster and recent MLS Homegrown signing Jaylin Lindsey of Sporting Kansas City have seen the most minutes, while Ajax’s Sergino Dest has started the last three matches. Defensive midfielder Chris Durkin also took a spin at center back in the team’s knockout round match vs. Paraguay.
With eight teams remaining, the U.S. will take on England, who eliminated Japan 5-3 on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw in the Round of 16.
🇩🇪 vs. 🇧🇷🇺🇸 vs. 🦁🇲🇱 vs. 🇬🇭🇪🇸 vs. 🇮🇷#FIFAU17WC Quarterfinals are set! The U-17 #USMNT resumes play Saturday. pic.twitter.com/Q1yyw8H00f— U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) October 18, 2017
England is in the midst of an outstanding run for its youth teams. The Three Lions took home the U-20 World Cup title and the U-17 squad reached the Final at the U-17 European Championships in May.
A win against England would match the USA’s best-ever finish at the U-17 World Cup. The U-17s made the semi-finals at the 1999 tournament in New Zealand.