With qualification to the U17 World Cup in Nigeria later this year sewn up, the U.S. can next try to claim the CONCACAF title, but winless Canada has an uphill climb to avoid elimination.After the U.S. defeated Canada 4-2 in U17 World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF region, the respective coaches were a study in contrasting outlooks
"It's going to take some goals for us to move forward, " Canada's U17 coach Sean Flemming admitted.
Canada is still in contention, but only just, because Honduras is racked up a six-goal differential versus Cuba, who played a man down for most of the game. Canada now needs to win big against a Cuban team that is already eliminated but looking to salvage some pride out of this tournament.
Meanwhile, U.S. head coach Wilmer Cabrera has the luxury of clinching World Cup qualifying even before the final game of group play.
“We are very glad that we qualified," said the Colombian coach. "That was our objective from the very beginning. Qualifying is something we had to do."
Cabrera pointed out that he certainly didn't want his group to be the first U.S. U17 team in history to fail in World Cup qualification. Cabrera gave credit to the residency program in Bradenton for building a strong roster.
"Our Under-17 program has been developing young players in the United States," Cabrera pointed out.
Yet Cabrera wasn't satisfied. "We are the first qualified team, but we have a new dream - to get to the final."
To that end, Cabrera may run out some new faces in the team's next match.
"It's important for us, knowing that we've qualified already, to try to give chances to the whole roster," Cabrera said. "But we don't want to change the performance and mentality for the whole team."
The U.S. players seemed to share Cabrera's focus on the next key objective for the team.
"The mission is accomplished after the tournament, after we win it," explained midfielder Sebastian Lletget. "This is just the first step. That's how we look at it."
The U.S. dominated the first two matches of group play in long stretches, but against Canada, the Americans suffered a brief let down that Cabrera chalked up as a learning experience.
"That’s really important for our players because that cost us two goals," said the former defender. "They learned they cannot just relax. In the semifinal and in the final, it's even more important to keep that focus and not give anything to the opponent.”
Lletget assured that the lesson had left an impression.
“It's always been a problem for us, but these games are going to keep getting harder and the pressure is going to keep getting higher. We really have to keep our mind on the whole 90 minutes, but I'm sure we can do it.”
Striker Jack McInerney has stayed focused on his goal - which is to score a lot of them. With four to his credit, he leads the tournament at present.
"I couldn't do it without my teammates," said the forward, who electrified the crowd with his second shot versus Canada, a swooping shot that left the goalkeeper with air and the ball into the net.
McInerney shrugged when describing the opportunity he took advantage of. '
"Everyone tells me I have a powerful shot, but I usually play with my back towards goal and in close. This time I was able to turn towards the goal and just gave it a try - I surprised myself."
Canada's goalkeeper, Richard Causton, did deny McInerney the chance to improve on his total more than once in the second half.
"I had those two headers - their goalkeeper made great saves," explained McInerney.
According to McInerney, Cabrera may give him a run-out in all the matches for the U.S., riding the striker's hot streak.
"He hinted I was going to play all five games, to keep the goals coming," McInerney said.
Lurking down the line is the U.S. team's eternal rival in CONCACAF, Mexico. With El Tri looking dominant in a tournament debut 7-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, many are already anticipating a U.S./Mexico final.
Cabrera is one.
"I saw Mexico yesterday and it was a spectacle. We'll be well prepared and do our best to make it a great game."
"We can't wait," he said of possibly facing off against Mexico. "It's going to be really exciting."
Andrea Canales, Goal.com
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