Get Recruited Faster with a Player Profile on

National Teams Oct 17, 2015

U.S. U-17s sluggish, unsettled in World Cup-opening loss to Nigeria

Strikers Logo

The day before the U.S. was to take the field against reigning U-17 World Cup champions Nigeria, head coach Richie Williams brought up the penultimate qualification match against Jamaica.

“We should have beaten Jamaica and created seven or eight clear chances and didn’t take them and ended up giving up a penalty kick in the second half and losing the game because we didn’t take our opportunities,” Williams said.

“They have to understand that when they have opportunities at this level that they have to put them away.”

It was a fitting anecdote.

Against Nigeria on Saturday, the U.S. U-17s could hardly muster an attacking opportunity, but the team squandered two excellent chances in the 11th and 13th minutes and hardly got a sniff at goal afterwards. When the statistics flashed onscreen at the end of the match, the U.S. had been outshot 19 to five, with none of those five shots on goal.

The U.S. played on the back foot from the opening whistle as the Nigerians circulated the ball with ease and used their individual skill and strength to stretch the U.S. with both long balls over the top and through cutting play from the wings. At almost no time did the U.S. look at ease on or off the ball.

However, each of Nigeria’s two goals could be laid directly at the feet of central defender Auston Trusty.

Nigeria nearly got on the board in the 20th minute when Trusty was caught ball-watching and allowed his man to slip in undefended at the far post. Fortunately for Trusty, the Nigerian attacker was unable to get on the end of the pass.

But Trusty was again exposed in the 50th minute, as he kept a Nigerian attacker in an onside position and then failed to clear the resulting cross. Nigerian attacker Chukwudi Agor pounced on the loose ball and blasted it past U.S. goalkeeper William Pulisic.

Trusty’s awful day only got worse in the 61st minute, as both he and central defensive partner Hugo Arellano failed to close down talented Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen. Osimhen blew past the defenders as they went to ground and calmly slid the ball past Pulisic for Nigeria’s second goal of the match.

Trusty was later sent off by German referee Deniz Aytekin for an alleged stomp on Osimhen.

However, rather than direct the blame at Trusty, head coach Richie Williams should scrutinize his own decision to insert a player clearly unprepared for such a critical match.

Williams slotted Trusty, a Philadelphia Union Academy product, into the starting lineup ahead of normal starter Danny Barbir, a head-scratching decision ahead of the most important U-17 match in years.

But the blame doesn’t all belong with the defenders.

Once again, the U.S. had technically skilled players capable of moments of individual brilliance, but possessed very little in the way of quality team attacking play.

Borussia Dortmund player Christian Pulisic was responsible for both of the U.S.’s best chances of the match and later turned a seemingly harmless throw-in into a shot that whizzed just wide of Nigeria’s goal.

“He’s a super-talented player,” Williams said of Pulisic on Friday. “We expect him to lead us in the attack, score goals for us, set up goals for us.”

However, other than Pulisic, the U.S. attacking players never seemed in synch and link-up play was lacking. Against a composed Nigerian squad, the U.S. was never able to control the tempo and take the game to its opponents.

Williams has stressed patience with his squad, explaining that this group of players is taking it one game at a time. However, after losing the opener to a clearly superior Nigerian squad, the pressure is now on the U-17s to get results against both Croatia on Tuesday and hosts Chile next Friday.

Perhaps the pressure ought to be on Williams, who has failed to take one group of U-17s to the World Cup and has had two years to work with this particular group of players.

There’s no question that there’s legitimate talent within this U.S. roster and while results shouldn’t take precedence over player growth, the kind of play the U.S. demonstrated against Nigeria on Saturday hardly represents a step forward for a program that’s come under increasing scrutiny over the last few cycles.

Still, it’s one game against a team that has historically dominated the youth World Cups. Tuesday’s match against Croatia will now be a true test of this team’s mettle.