BRADENTON, Fla. (Dec. 21, 2016) – With assistant coach Marcelo Serrano filling in for head coach for John Hackworth (who was completing U.S. Soccer's first Pro License course), the U-17 Men’s National Team finished in third place of the IMG Academy Cup - Boys Invitational Super Group. The tournament, held in the backyard of the team’s Residency program at IMG Academy, proved to be a great test for the team following a successful sweep at the Nike International Friendlies earlier this December.
In the first game of group play, the U.S. found themselves down 1-0 early to Baltimore Armour U-18. In the 30th minute, Akil Watts crossed the ball into the box and connected with the head of Tonny Temple, who redirected the ball straight into the net on his first touch. In the 53rd minute, Temple found himself on the front end of a scoring play, assisting Isaac Angking who’s goal put the U.S. up for good. Outshooting Baltimore 12-4, the USA pressure was enough to keep the ball on the opposite side of the field and secure the come-from-behind win.
The second opponent for the U.S. hailed from Edinburg, Texas. Rio Grande Valley FC U-19 proved to be up to the task, until the 22nd minute. Carlo Rittaccio found Ayo Akinola for the first goal of the game. Fifteen minutes later, the duo would combine again for another goal and Akinola’s final points for the day. The USA continued to test Rio Grande Valley for the remainder of the match, recording 18 shots (12 on target). Of those 12, three would find the back of the net via strikes from George Acosta (67’), Andrew Carleton (70’) and Zyen Jones (77’).
After defeating Baltimore Armour and Rio Grande Valley FC, the U.S. looked to carry its momentum with a top finish in the group against a fast and physical Tottenham FC lineup, and punch a ticket to the Super Group Championship. Despite a valiant effort, the team was unable to get around the size and speed of Tottenham, falling 3-1.
“With Tottenham, we got to experience a mixture of ages as they had a lot of 1998’s (birth year) on the field,” Serrano said. “That was the challenge that we had. We needed to find a way to compete with a team that was not only an excellent team, but also more physical than us. But I thought we did a good job. We competed with them the whole game. In the second half, down 2-1, our objective was to tie the game, at least, and in their counter attack they made it 3-1. We had some chances to put in a second goal, but in the end, Tottenham played a good game. So it was a great experience for us to play against a highly skilled and older team.”
With the loss, the U-17’s placed second in their bracket and were positioned against FC Florida Prep Academy, which finished second in the other bracket of the Super Group, in a placement game for third place. The U.S. closed out the tournament with a victory, defeating FC Florida 3-1. Akinola got the team off to a quick start with a goal in the 12th minute, assisted by Chandler Vaughn. In the 43rd minute, Ritaccio found Josh Sargent to put the USA up 2-0. Twenty-seven minutes later, Akinola would put the game out of reach, tallying his second goal of the game via a great assist from Chris Goslin.
“This tournament was a great chance for us to manage the Residency roster, especially after doing so well at the Nike International Friendlies,” Serrano concluded. “We had a chance to evaluate a lot of players in a high-level competition.”
The U-17 Men’s National Team will rest through the holiday season and return to Residency in January, where they will continue to train and prepare for the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship (April 21-May 7), which serves as the qualifying tournament for the U-17 FIFA World Cup to be played from Oct. 6-28 in India.