U.S. U-17s, Coach Richie Williams, Make the Wrong Kind of History

Former MLS midfielder Richie Williams and his U.S. U-17 charges lost 3-1 to Honduras in the CONCACAF Championship quarterfinals on Sunday evening in Panama City.

The defeat denied the team a berth in the 2013 U-17 World Cup, and made them the first U.S. U-17 side ever to fail to reach the World Cup, a string of 15 straight appearances dating to 1985.

The Americans came into the match as heavy favorites, but after Honduras broke a 1-1 tie with two goals early in the second half, the U.S. could not recover, and their World Cup dream evaporated.

Highlights here:

This is the third disappointing result for a U.S. youth team in the past three years, following the 2011 U-20 team’s failure to reach their World Cup, and the U-23’s inability to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

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Two Yoots: Pair of 19-Year-Old Americans Help Galaxy, Sounders Reach CCL Semifinals

For the first time in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League, there are two clubs from Major League Soccer in the final four. Seattle and Los Angeles both advanced to the semis this week, eliminating Tigres of Mexico and Herediano of Costa Rica, respectively, and both got key goals from 19-year-olds who came up through the clubs’ academies. That’s called living right.

Here’s the Galaxy’s Jose Villareal, who was born in Inglewood, Calif., in 1993. You probably remember 1993 like it was yesterday. Villareal is fresh from a standout performance with the U.S. U-20s at the CONCACAF Championships, where he bagged three goals in four games. Last night versus Herediano, he kept his personal momentum going, scoring the second goal to spark LA to a 4-1 win:

Go ahead, watch it again. See the stepover, the spin-o-rama, and the deadly left-footed finish to the far post. Pure class in a glass, as Ray Hudson would say.

The previous night in Seattle, the Sounders fell behind Tigres’s B squad and looked to be on their way out of the CCL. Their 19-year-old right back, DeAndre Yedlin, was beaten—some say fouled—on the play that led to Tigres’s goal and put Seattle in a 2-0 aggregate hole.

The young Seattle native—in his CCL debut and just his second appearance for the Sounders—quickly made amends, scoring a sweet equalizer and turning in an excellent, assured second-half performance.

Check out his goal:

Yedlin was not part of the U.S. U-2o team that qualified for this summer’s World Cup in Turkey, but if he keeps up his current form—he was named to the MLS Team of the Week last week, becoming the first rookie ever to earn the honor in his professional debut—you can bet that coach Tab Ramos will call him in for the tournament.

Bonus Yoot

Another player who was not part of that U-20 qualifying team, but could play his way onto it, is Villareal’s teammate in LA, 18-year-old Jack McBean of Newport Beach, Calif. A big kid with skill and a nose for goal, McBean is the youngest signing in Galaxy history, having put pen to paper with the team in April 2011 at age 16.

Here he is late in last night’s game against Herediano, taking a quick restart and curling a shot into the far side netting to make it 4-1 LA:

The MLS academy system, founded in 2006 and streamlined in ’08, is starting to bear fruit. The 2011 U.S. U-20 team featured just one academy product; this year’s edition featured four—as well as two (Benji Joya and Daniel Cuevas) who split their youth development between US academy sides and the Santos Laguna (Mexico) youth system.

Did U.S. Soccer and MLS Turn the Tide in CONCACAF this Week?

JVillareal

 

The United States U-20 team shook off a slow start in the 2013 CONCACAF Championships and went on to produce solid wins over Canada and Cuba to advance to the final against Mexico in Estadio Cuauhtemoc in Puebla, Mexico, last Sunday.

In that game, with only 12 fit outfield players (several guys had departed for their club teams once World Cup qualification was secure with the win over Canada), and with more than 40,000 hostile fans looking on, the young Americans went toe-to-toe with the home side, giving just as good as they got, if not better. They gave up an early goal (after starting the game as the aggressors), but responded quickly with one of their own.

From there, both sides created chances in a wide-open free-flowing game. (Highlights here.) The U.S. ran out of gas late—hobbled striker Jose Villareal (above right) had to stay on the field because they had no subs—and gave up a pair of goals in extra time, but they made a statement in the game nonetheless.

Here’s coach Tab Ramos after the game:

“This shows the character of the players that we have coming up in the U.S. Not only are we playing in a difficult environment, but we take a goal early when we’re attacking and the players responded.”

He acknowledged that the main goal was to clinch a World Cup berth, and once that was done, the secondary aim was to try to win the tournament on Mexican soil. They came closer than just about anyone would’ve expected beforehand, and Ramos suggested the tournament was a valuable learning experience for his group:

“There’s no doubt that these are the games where you see the players and how they respond. I have to give the players a lot of credit because it was their first time playing in a situation like this and I think they respond incredibly. They played a great game and I’m very proud of that. I’m happy with my team. I’m satisfied that [the final] was a game in which either one of the teams could’ve won and I think the team did a great job.”

The coach can also take heart in the fact that this wasn’t even his top group of players. There were several first-choice players out injured, and as we said, several others left the team in mid-tournament to rejoin their clubs. The Yanks should be interesting to watch in the U-20 World Cup this summer, and they’ve clearly narrowed the gap between themselves and their neighbors to the South.

If results pan out the way the three MLS clubs involved in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals would like, much the same could be said of the U.S. domestic league and its more longstanding regional rivals.

The Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, and LA Galaxy all produced decent results in CCL play this week, and all have a fighting chance to advance to the semifinals.

Houston edged last year’s finalist Santos Laguna 1-0 in a hard-fought game at BBVA Compass Stadium, getting an 89th-minute goal from Brad Davis. They’ll be hard-pressed to hold on to that advantage in the second leg at the foreboding Estadio Corona, Santos Laguna’s home stadium, but we wouldn’t put it past Dominic Kinnear and his men in orange.

Seattle lost 1-0 on the road to Tigres, but they’ll come home to the rowdy confines of CenturyLink Field looking to overturn that margin in next week’s second leg.

The Galaxy have the best chance of all, having locked down a 0-0 first-leg draw away to Costa Rican side Herediano. Each team hit the crossbar, and LA had a goal (by the in-form Mike Magee) called back after a dubious offside ruling. A win at the Home Depot Center in the second leg and they’re through.

MLS has never had more than one semifinalist in the history of the CCL. If things go their way next week, they could lock up three of the final four spots.

That would send a message to the region, if not the world, and put the league in a pretty good position to lift its first CCL trophy in the tournament’s current incarnation. (D.C. United won an earlier version of the CCL, in 1998, when the event featured eight teams instead of the current 24.)

Depending on how things play out in the CCL this spring, and the U-20 World Cup this summer, this week in early March could go down as a pivotal one.

U.S. U-20s Rally Against Canada, Clinch World Cup Berth

Two years after their predecessors fell short of qualifying for the 2011 U-20 World Cup and one year after the American U-23 side failed to qualify for the London Olympics, the current U.S. U-20 side made some amends on Friday, knocking off Canada 4-2 to advance to the CONCACAF Championship semifinals and secure a berth in this summer’s U-20 World Cup in Turkey (June 21-July 13).

With former U.S. youth and senior international star Tab Ramos holding the coaching reins, the young Yanks rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the do-or-die game, reeling off three goals in 17 minutes to take a 3-1 lead into the break. A fourth came just after the intermission to all but wrap up the game. Canada pulled one back in the 63rd, and then the teams traded chances the rest of the way.

To the highlights:

U.S. fans can take satisfaction on several levels from this result. The team got the job done without midfield star Marc Pelosi (who broke his leg playing for Liverpool’s U-21s) and center backs Walker Zimmerman and Will Packwood. The U.S. was also missing defender John Anthony Brooks, a German-American who has played for both nations’ U-20 teams.

The side performed in pressure-packed circumstances (WC qualifying, with the above-mentioned previous failures hanging over their heads) and in a hostile environment (Puebla, Mexico, where the locals jeered just about every U.S. touch).

Additionally, a few players stood out as potential candidates for the USMNT a few years down the line, including stocky, speedy striker Daniel Cuevas, goal-poacher Jose Villareal, and Real Salt Lake playmaker Luis Gil.

One other notable element was that Ramos did not hesitate to shift his team out of the Klinsmann-mandated 4-3-3 formation when game situations warranted it. The team looked much more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 (with two holding midfielders), and they controlled games in that setup, whereas in the 4-3-3 they were overrun in midfield. Something to consider going forward (and something U-23 coach Caleb Porter did not do in his team’s failed Olympic bid).

Here’s some postmatch reaction from Ramos and his players:

The U.S. will meet Cuba in the (much-less-meaningful) semifinals on Friday (6:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer), but with qualification already assured, a number of players, including Cuevas and Gil, will be heading back to their club sides.

U.S. U-20s Get Off to Shaky Start at CONCACAF Championships, Narrowly Edging Haiti, 2-1

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They took an early lead, and they got significant contributions from their two biggest guns, Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil and Santos Laguna striker Daniel Cuevas, but the U.S. U-20s raised more questions than they answered in their CONCACAF Championship opener yesterday in Puebla, Mexico.

After Gil and Cuevas gave the team a 2-0 lead within the first half hour, the Americans started to come unglued. They gave up a goal five minutes after the break and spent the remainder of the game on their heels trying to keep Haiti at bay.

They ultimately succeeded in doing that, but it was quite a ways away from convincing.

Click here for the highlights

The U.S. backline, which had several players playing out of position due to the absences of Walker Zimmerman, Will Packwood (both injured), and John Anthony Brooks (club commitment), was at sea for most of the second half. Not helping matters in that department was the midfield’s inability to keep the ball in the second session.

Tab Ramos’s boys have plenty of room for improvement, and if they do advance to this summer’s U-20 World Cup (June-July, in Turkey), they can only hope that players like Zimmerman and Packwood are back and ready to go, along with midfielder Mark Pelosi, a very talented player who had his leg broken in a Liverpool U-21 match this past Sunday.

As for Brooks, an athletic, six-foot-six defender who plays for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga2, he has appeared for the U.S. U-20s four times, but he holds citizenship in both the U.S. and Germany, and could commit to either side. He has participated in U-20 camps for Germany and appeared in one game for them in 2012.

The U.S. returns to action on Friday against Costa Rica (6:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

Haiti faces the Ticos tomorrow in a tough turn of the schedule for the island nation. If Haiti loses to Costa Rica in that match, they’ll be out and the U.S. will advance to the CONCACAF quarterfinals.

Klinsmann Calls Chandler, Gatt, and Gyau for Russia Friendly, U.S. Future Suddenly Looks Half Decent

In naming his 20-man roster for Wednesday’s friendly against Russia (ESPN2, 10:00 a.m.), U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has, finally, opened up the ‘potential future stars’ wing of his national team program.

His side has qualified for the CONCACAF Hexagonal, and now, with many of his roster mainstays heading toward their mid-30s, Klinsmann is looking at younger players who can possibly take their places come Brazil 2014. He’s got some interesting options.

Here’s the complete group:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (6): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)

FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna)

Five thoughts on the roster:

• He may have snubbed the U.S. for the last few friendlies, but defender Timmy Chandler now says he’s ready to commit to the team, and that’s good news for American fans.

Steve Cherundolo is a fantastic right back, but he’ll be 34 in February, and none of his understudies is as qualified as Chandler, 22. With Chandler on the right, Fabian Johnson on the left and Geoff Cameron in the middle, the U.S. has three-fourths of a very solid backline.

Notice Maurice Edu is listed as a defender on this roster. We’d take him over Goodson for that fourth spot.

In every World Cup cycle since 2002, the U.S. has had players emerge from relative obscurity (or simply the youth ranks) to become bona fide contributors to the USMNT. Speedy wingers Josh Gatt (above) and Joe Gyau could be those guys this time around.

Gatt, 21, is fresh from winning the Norwegian title with Molde (where he is coached by former Man U legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer). He’s extremely athletic and fast, with a growing soccer brain that will get tested in Europa League play this season.

Gyau, 20, is a quick and technical winger with an impressive genealogy: his father, Philip, earned six caps for the U.S. national team, and his grandfather, Joseph, played for Ghana. The youngest Gyau is currently on loan from Hoffenheim to German second-division side St. Pauli.

Here’s hoping Klinsmann gives them both a shot to show what they can do on Wednesday.

Klinsmann’s motivational gambit with Jozy Altidore should bear fruit against Russia. Altidore, fresh from doing this in the Dutch top flight on Sunday…:

…comes into the U.S. camp with something to prove and probably a chip on his shoulder after Klinsmann left him out of last month’s crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. Altidore has nine goals in 12 games this season; time for him to start transferring that form to the national team.

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan seems poised to move up the depth chart. He had a game-winning assist for Anderlecht against Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League last week, and he looked confident and skilled in his U.S. cameos last month. Look for him to start at attacking midfielder on Wednesday.

It’s good to see Juan Agudelo back in a USMNT camp. After being traded from New York to Chivas USA, the 19-year-old striker ran into some injury woes, but he recovered and finished the season well for the otherwise pitiful Goats. This call-up should help him keep his head up despite being marooned at the club level in the dead-end side of the Home Depot Center.

Vancouver 2, Los Angeles 2: Galaxy’s 18-Year-Old American Jose Villareal Rips Dramatic Late Equalizer

The Whitecaps and the Galaxy staged a thriller last night in front of a sold-out crowd at BC Place in Vancouver. Galaxy Homegrown Player Jose Villareal struck a sweet goal in the 87th minute to lift his side into a 2-2 draw after they’d trailed 2-0 for 80 minutes.

David Beckham started the comeback in the 81st minute, taking a layoff from Landon Donovan and punching a shot that deflected past Vancouver keeper Joe Cannon to make it 2-1.

Vancouver’s 20-year-old Ghanian midfielder Gershon Koffie opened the scoring in the 18th minute, on a play that began with a Beckham turnover. Koffie finished the counterattack by sidestepping a defender and rolling a left-footer past Josh Saunders from 18 yards.

Scottish international Barry Robson made it 2-0 in the 27th minute, heading in Y.P. Lee’s cross for the first goal of his MLS career. He would come very close to scoring again on two other occasions as the teams went full tilt down the stretch.

Highlights right here:

The rally kept fifth-place LA within four points of fourth-place Vancouver in the Western Conference standings.