The U-17 team resides in Brandenton, Fl. at the IMG Training Academy. The system used at IMG is similar to the youth academies of Europe, where students receive an education at the local school while intensively practicing soccer. It was founded in 1999, and out of the 300 players who have attended, about 100 have gone professionally into MLS or Europe. Union youth product Zach Pfeffer has spent a semester in residence, as well as Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, various other players on the Union and coach John Hackworth. (This was originally written for The Brotherly Game)
Currently, Fox Soccer Channel is showing a series of friendly matches known as the Nike U-17 International Friendlies. This is the US's ninth game in the series against France. It is their second time facing this French youth side, having lost 3-0 in the initial match. After the jump, some notes regarding the first half of the USA vs. France game.
At the end of the first half the score was 1-1. For the first 15 minutes, the French looked the dominant team maintaining the majority of possession but created few chances. Meanwhile, the US team looked frantic and created only one decent opportunity. After that point, something changed in the US side as they began to string together better passing sequences and created a number of offensive chances as they began to put more pressure on the French back four.
The US then claimed the opening goal in the 24th minute with a beautiful right-footed curling strike from the right side by #11 DeAndre Robinson. After that, the French side seemed really shocked and began to fall apart. #9 Wesley Wade also took advantage of the French defense backing off and delivered a powerful shot that beat the keeper but shook the crossbar with a loud clang. The game continued like this until about the 40 minute or so, when the US became lackadaisical and slowly lost their shape.
France proceeded to equalize when French striker Michele Araai took advantage of poor US defense on a 3-on-4 counter attack. The first half ended and then I had to depart for jazz rehearsal.
US Players to watch:
Paul Christensen- A Seattle Sounders youth member Paul had an good first half making a few easy saves but more importantly showed good decision making and distribution. A number of times on set pieces or crosses he made the right decision to come out and punch the ball away when it was necessary. He also showed varied distribution at times handing the ball off to the defenders and allowing them to build from the back and others making the long boot to the midfielders and forwards. While he did allow one goal even professional goalies have tough times in one-on-one situations so I'll give him a be on that. According to a coach that joined the broadcasters at half time, he also has been playing very consistently and well for the US youth national teams he has been on in an unprecedented manner.
Herber Mejia-Flores-The playmaker of the team, almost every significant attack began with a dangerous pass. I did not notice him significantly on the defensive side on the ball but he showed great vision, passing, and most importantly understanding. He knew when to play a through ball and when to place the ball at the forwards feet. When to play a high cross and when to play a low one. He knew when to continue an attack and when to make sure his team regained possession. He did get knocked around a bit by the French but the away side were physically larger than the majority of the players on the US side.
The Captain and Sidekick- I cannot recall the captain's name but he and his center back partner were dominant for the US throughout. Breaking up French attacks as well as making up for the mistakes for the weaker fullbacks who were lost by the speed of the French players. Similarly to Christensen he made smart passing decisions when building from the back. He in around the 18th minute he also made a very professional foul. In a French counter attack (thanks to a poor pass from a fullback) the French clearly had the advantage but he fouled a French player and allowed his teammate to clear the ball out of danger. He received a yellow card for his play but considering it would have almost certainly resulted in a goal because of the numbers favoring France I applaud the player for his instinct.