Tuesday, June 21, 2011

U-17 World Cup Preview: U.S. v Czech Republic

After a 3-0 victory over Czech Republic, regarded as co-favorites of the group, the American youngsters were understandably pleased with their performance. However, the confidence got a quick dash of icy-reality from coach Wilmer Cabrera in the post-game press conference.
“The ideal situation is to improve on every game throughout the tournament and that is what we expect as coaches,” the coach said. “Let’s see how they’re going to respond on the field.” So the back patting ended pretty quickly after a fairly comprehensive performance against a decent European side.
On paper, Uzbekistan does not look like much of a threat to the Americans' quest to finish first in the group. The Asian qualifiers were readily dismantled by New Zealand, 4-1, on the first day of group play. The Kiwis, although unremarkable on the day, showed the defaults in the Uzbekistan defense that left Stephen Carmichael open all game on his way to the lone hat trick of the competition so far.
If Uzbekistan is able to rectify its deficiencies [namely employing a holding midfielder], it could offer some trouble to Cabrera’s side. The forward partnership – albeit rather quiet in the opening clash – still has a decent amount of skill and speed that could offer some trouble to the American defense . . . if Mobi Fehr and Zach Carroll both slip.
In all honesty, U.S. is in a position to cruise through this game and clinch a place in the next round. The main question for Cabrera will be how he uses his depth. Qualifying regulars like Alfred Koroma, Nathan Smith, Jack McBean, and Andrew Sounders either saw very little time on the field on Sunday or did not make it off the bench.
The options are there for the coaching staff, but don’t expect Cabrera to make too many changes – at least not yet. In previous tournaments, he has been rather consistent with his lineup and rotations of players.
Plus, this game plan will be very similar to the one implemented against Czech Republic. Both teams want to control the game with possession, although the Asian qualifier is more ambitious on the attacking front.

Despite the lofty opening defeat, Uzbekistan actually had more of the possession against the Kiwis [52-48] and a hefty advantage in shots [24-12]. Granted, only a third of those shots were on frame, but the point is Uzbekistan likes to attack and they tend to do it in numbers.  The side is very suspect to any team that can run at them with speed.
The Yanks will again rely on high-pressure early*, the talents of the forward Paul Arriola**, and the brilliance of Alejandro Guido to pick apart another defense. However, the Americans did have one area where they want to improve – chasing the ball.
“We were running all 90 minutes with the Czech Republic,” Cabrera said in the post-game press conference. “And yes, we need to work on that.”
With two players picking up cramps at the end of the game over the weekend, the young Americans realized that it is easier to grab hold of the ball early and let the opposition do the running.
With a mid-afternoon game on the slate for Wednesday, hydration, fitness, and conserving energy will be the focal point for the young Yanks. Grabbing another early goal will certainly help, but if they can just duplicate the second half performance from their opening clash, they should have little trouble with securing a berth to the Round of 16.

Game info:
U.S. v Uzbekistan, June 22, 1:00 p.m. (PT), Live on ESPN3 and Galavision
* Guido pushed the line forward for the first five minutes of the game so the U.S. played a 4-3-3. Once he found the back of net, he dropped back into a more traditional 4-4-2. His high-point attack position was in the scouting report for the Americans.
** Arriola made everyone temporarily forget about Andrew Oliver with a rather inspiring U-17 World Cup debut. However, the mark of a great player is consistency and the 16 year old needs to string some performances together to really make Oliver seem like a distant memory.