The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team advanced to the Round of 16 of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup with a 2-0 win over Belgium in their third and final Group E match at the Cheonan Sports Complex in Cheonan, South Korea.
Second-half substitute Kirk Urso opened the scoring in the 63rd minute and Mykell Bates added an insurance goal seven minutes later.
Combined with Tunisia’s victory over Tajikistan in the night’s other Group E matchup, the U.S. leapfrogged from fourth to second place in the group and will play Germany, who finished first in Group F with their 4-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago this evening in Ulsan. The U.S. will stay in Cheonan to face Germany on Thursday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) and fans can follow the match live on ESPNU and ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker.
This is the third straight time the U.S. has advanced to the second round at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“We’re very happy, and we’ve accomplished our first goal, which was to get out of our group,” said U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team head coach John Hackworth. “We had moments in our two previous games that were pretty good, but we didn’t do well for 90 minutes in those games. Today we stuck to our game plan throughout and didn’t get rattled by anything.”
Hackworth made three changes from the last match, with midfielder Gregory Garza returning to the starting line-up and goalkeeper Josh Lambo and defender Brandon Zimmerman earning their first starts of the tournament. Urso, who scored the game-winner, made his tournament debut when he came on at halftime. The slight chances seemed to be the right mix as the U.S. created 21 shots, including 12 on goal, their most during group play.
The Americans pressed early and often in the first half and created a chance in the first minute from a free kick. The ball was sent in from the right sideline and fell to Bates, but he couldn’t get off a good shot and the ball ended up in Belgium goalkeeper Jo Coppens’ hands.
In the 22nd minute one of the USA’s best chances came from the unlikely foot of goalkeeper Josh Lambo. Hitting a free kick from 10 yards in front of his own penalty area, Lambo’s long service carried over Belgium’s backline and took a skipping bounce on the wet turf in front of Coppens, who was off his line, forcing the Belgium keeper to recover just in time to stretch just enough to allow him to push the ball over the crossbar.
Three minutes later, Billy Schuler collected the ball at the top of the area and slipped his way past two defenders before pushing the ball past the goalkeeper, but just going inches wide of the right post. Regaining possession in the midfield seconds later, Jared Jeffrey ripped a shot from 20 yards out that went wide of the near post.
Belgium created chances on the other end as well, but the U.S. defense did not allow many chances on Lambo’s goal. In the 32nd minute, Eden Hazard, Belgium’s most dangerous player on the night, combined with Christian Benteke in the U.S. defensive end, but Bates stood him up and won the ball cleanly.
With the U.S. dominating the majority of play, Belgium’s chances of turning the tide weakened in the 36th minute when Benteke was sent off after receiving a straight red card for a high sliding tackle on Sheanon Williams.
Near the end of the first half, Jeffrey and winger Alex Nimo combined to find Schuler in the box, but Schuler’s shot was blocked out of bounds. On the ensuing throw in, Jeffrey found Ellis McLoughlin alone in the box, but his shot was knocked down by Coppens.
The two teams exchanged chances early in the second half as Williams took a dangerous shot from the wing that forced Coppens to fully extend to tip the ball over the endline. Later, Hazard penetrated the U.S. defense and fired a hard, low shot from 20 yards out that went wide of Lambo’s goal. In the 52nd minute, Nimo received the ball on the wing and carried it into the box beating a pair of defenders, but his shot went just wide.
The U.S. finally broke through when Gregory Garza took a shot at the top of the box that deflected off of a defender and bounced high into the box where Urso was waiting onside. Urso, who had come in at halftime for his first minutes of the tournament, took a touch to bring the ball down and then hit a hard shot that Coppens got a piece of, but couldn’t keep out of the goal.
A little more than a minute after taking the lead, the U.S. almost tallied again, this time from a nice combination play through the middle of Belgium’s defense that slipped Nimo into the box. He pushed it around the charging Coppens, where Garza was able to run onto it, but a sliding tackle cleared the ball from his feet while bringing him down, although no foul was called.
In what seemed like a repeat of the opening goal against Tajikistan, a Garza corner kick in the 71st minute found the head of Bates, who jumped over his defender and gave the goalkeeper no chance. With the insurance goal, Bates now leads the team in scoring for the tournament with two goals.
“The team right now is relieved to have played well tonight, but we know we still have work to do in this tournament,” said Bates. “We’re going to relax and enjoy this win tonight, and then it’s back to work.”
The final effort from Belgium came in the 78th minute when Dmitri Daeseleire played in a ball from the flank that looked like a cross, but ended up on target, forcing Lambo to tip it over the endline at the last second.
Lambo earned the USA’s first shutout in a FIFA U-17 World Cup since 1999, when the U.S. defeated Uruguay, 1-0, in group play.