Beaten 2-1 by Italy, the U-17 USMNT now come home wondering what could have been.
While the USA had the majority of the possession through the match, the same problem from most of the tournament plagued them - an inability to capitalize on clear goal-scoring opportunities.
The Azzurrinni were fortunate on many occasions thanks to the tremendous play of their keeper, Bardi. He was spelling starter Martia Perin, who missed the game due to injury. A penalty kick save in the first half, and a finger-tip save in the second kept the U.S. from taking full control of the match.
The game started off strong as U.S. midfielder Stefan Jerome took on his man down the right-side off the opening kick. His cross found an open Alex Shinsky on the far post, but his header was easily saved by Bardi.
In the sixth minute, the Italians had their first good opportunity on goal when Federico Carraro saw his turning shot go just wide of the far post.
Italian center back Federico Maninni was booked moments later for a rash challenge on U.S. midfielder Marlon Duran. The caution meant that he will be suspended for the quarterfinal match.
The Americans then enjoyed a lengthy sequence that saw them build up from the back. The ball finally found striker Jack McInerney’s feet 25 yards from goal, but his effort was well saved by Bardi.
Moments later, a throw-in in the Italian defensive third took an awkward bounce and caught center back Maninni off-guard. His attempt to trap the the ball with his forearm was caught by the assistant referee and a penalty kick was awarded to the Americans.
McInerney stepped up to take the penalty kick for the USA, but his attempt was tremendously saved by Bardi. The Italian keeper guessed correctly and knocked the ball away. U.S. coach Wilmer Cabrera looked over the field in disbelief at the chain of the events that had just occurred.
To the Americans' credit, they seemed to have kept their emotions in balance following the penalty kick save. That composure unraveled when Italian Pietro Iemmello flicked on a long goal kick to his strike partner Giacomo Beretta. Beretta was behind the two American center backs, but kept onside by the right back, Zachary Herold. His bouncing finish past goalie Earl Edwards put the Italians up in the 29th minute.
After the goal, the Italians seemed to be oozing with confidence and were lining up opportunities on Edwards’ goal to double their lead. The Americans seemed to have weathered the storm when Luis Gil picked out Jerome on the right side in space, but Jerome’s cross was poorly hit. The occasion proved to just be a speed bump in a steady stream of Italian chances to finish the first half.
Beretta looked to have netted a brace in the 40th minute with a first-class finish, but the assistant referee adjudged him to be offside. Replays indicated that he may have been onside.
The Americans should have equalized the game at the start of the second half when Jerome dribbled through the Italian defense and touched a pass to McInerney. But again McInerney was stonewalled by a finger tip save of Bardi from eight yards out.
The Stars and Stripes would not wait long before finding the back of the net. A excellent corner taken by Luis Gil found the head of the tall center midfielder Nick Palodichuk to level the score.
Following the goal, coach Cabrera encouraged his boys to grab another as the U.S. seemed to control all of the play to this point in the second half. And his side almost did just that when a ball in the air into the box was headed by McInerney away from Bardi. Gil’s magnificent bicycle kick attempt was just inches over the bar. The predominantly pro-Italian crowd began cheering on their adversaries
However, the Italians were the next to find the back of the net. Against the run of play, Iemmello received the ball twenty yards from goal with the center backs for the U.S. giving him space, he turned and placed a lovely shot to stretch the nylon and give the Azzurini the lead.
Moments later, it looked like Beretta was going to double the Italian lead after he pounced on an error by Jared Watts. Edwards was up to the task this time and kept the Americans in the game with a fine save.
The Italians turned to their bench to kill off the game. They brought on two midfielders, Alessandro Scialpi and Leonardo Bianchi, to replace Iemmello and Lorenzo Crisetig. The Americans also turned to their bench replacing Jerome with Dominick Sarle.
In typical Italian fashion, the defensive structure of the team following their first two substitutions put the clamps on any attempt the U.S. had going forward over the last thirty minutes. The game continued with the Italians easily able to disrupt the play in the midfield for the Americans.
Cabrera used his second substitution to bring on a second striker, Victor Chavez, and replace Alex Shinsky. Italian coach Pasquale Salerno countered with his final substitution replacing talisman Carraro with a center back in Simone Bendetti. The final sub of the game saw Herold replaced by Juan Agudelo.
With only minutes left in the game, Chavez’s first opportunity was served to him on a silver platter with a perfect through ball leaving him one on one with the keeper, but his attempt went wide of the net.
Gil’s skill was still on display in the waning seconds as he started a build-up that saw him free on the near post, but his toe-poke chance was saved by Bardi.
With everyone in the stadium looking at their watches, Cabrera urged his team to go forward, but a poorly hit pass from Tyler Polak left the defense exposed. U.S. center back Eriq Zavaleta came crashing in on the challenge on the counter-attacking Italians and saw a red card for his effort.
And with that, the final whistle blew and coach Salerno and staff erupted in a joyous cry to see his side into the quarterfinals and send the Americans home.
J.R. Eskilson, Goal.com
If you follow the U.S. Men's National Team, you'll love their dedicated page on Goal.com!