Wilmer Cabrera's young side shows a fine mix of flowing attacking and organized defense as the US opens a 3-game exhibition series in Argentina with a win over Bolivia.By Tim Sturtridge
BUENOS AIRES—The US Under-17 team kicked off their trip to Argentina in fine style on Monday afternoon with a 2-1 win over Bolivia.
The mini-tour of the Argentine capital is the squad’s final preparation before the all-important World Cup qualifiers in Mexico next month.
A goal in each half was enough to secure victory for the boys from Bradenton, Florida.
Head coach Wilmer Cabrera had given the team instructions to put on a good show and feel free to express themselves.
“The performance was definitely more important than the result today,” he said after the match. “This is the last stage of preparing for the World Cup qualification in April. The idea with these three international games is to perform well and continue fixing and adjusting any problems we have.”
The US hustled and hurried the opposition into a number of mistakes early on and deservedly took the lead after only 10 minutes. Carlos Martinez nodded the ball on in the middle of the park and Stefan Jerome went toe-to-toe with a defender as they battled for the ball.
“I found a little bit of space and tried to pop it over the kid’s head,” Jerome explained. “He gave me a little tug and pushed me back so I thought I’d do the same thing back to him. The defender fell I guess and I passed it by the goalie, saw a little bit of open space and slipped it right through.”
With the U.S. looking extremely well organised at the back and demonstrating fluid movement up front, it looked like the game could turn out a touch one-sided. However, they say that you are never more vulnerable to conceding than when you have scored yourself and so it proved for the U.S. just four minutes later.
An innocuous enough looking flick on from Bolivia captain Samuel Suheiro was not dealt with by the Americans and bounced on the edge of the penalty area. Bolivia’s industrious winger Ramiro Ballivian bundled through the defense’s challenges and poked the ball into the right hand top corner to level proceedings.
The equalizer disrupted the Americans’ rhythm and their high-tempo pressing game became harder to maintain in the afternoon sun. Meanwhile, Bolivia came more and more into the contest as the game bogged down in midfield.
Occasionally a spark would create a chance at either end but the defenses stayed on top until the half-time whistle.
Cabrera claims not to have said too much at halftime. “The players were ready so I told them to go on the field and keep moving,” the Colombian said.
His calm faith proved fruitful in the second stanza. The US got things moving quickly and a promising move on the edge of the Bolivian box was broken up with a foul.
Marlon Duran lined up the resulting freekick to perfection. His shot sailed over the wall and into the net, leaving goalkeeper Pedro Leaños no chance. While the Bolivian keeper was left to pick the ball out of his net for the second time Duran peeled away to celebrate with his bench.
“I’ve been practicing a lot,” the goalscorer said after the game. “I picked the spot. It’s good to get a victory here, Bolivia were a good test.”
The goal was the least Duran’s performance deserved. The Duncanville, Texas-native acted as the fulcrum of the U.S. side all afternoon. The midfielder linked the side’s play and created space with an impressive range of passing.
The superior fitness of the U.S. team shone through as the game progressed, and the introduction of fresh legs added another dimension to their attack. One outstanding counterattack, started by youngster Charles Renken with a smart dragback in his own half, could have increased the lead for the US. Once Renken had the ball under his spell, he fed substitute Sebastian Lletget, who in turn found fellow substitute George Malki. Malki then twisted up a defender before crossing for Renken who had continued his run. Unfortunately the finish could not match the build up play.
“Everybody has to be ready to play,” Cabrera said of his second-half turn to the bench. “We need to see who is able and what adjustments that allows us to make. We can see what combinations of players we can use.”
Although the U.S. were on top for the majority of the game, Bolivia always carried a threat. The Americans have captain Perry Kitchen to thank for some brave defending and leading the unit by example for 90 minutes. The two other Americans to go the distance, defender Jared Watts and goalkeeper Earl Edwards, also played a big part in the win.
The U.S. team now look forward to their next match, on Wednesday against Argentina.
“For sure it’s going to be a tougher test,” Cabrera said. “Argentina are one of the top teams in all age groups anywhere in the world. We are going to continue to encourage our team, get them to relax and play.”
Tim Sturtridge is a sports correspondent from Devon, England, who is based in Buenos Aires and reports on soccer in Latin America.