U17 MNT scrapes by Portugal, 2-1 | Club Soccer

Micah Burton’s attempt was pretty optimistic. The U17 MNT substitute had just received a pass into the box, almost perpendicular to the net – far from the ideal angle of shot. But his side had only fired four shots all game and when he needed a boost of energy in the second half he swung his right foot after the ball. It wasn’t a sizzling shot, nor was it particularly well placed. But it was awkward for the Portugal keeper, who let it squirm through his arms and into the net – giving the U17 MNT a 1-0 lead.

Burton’s speculative goal extended a lead his side would not give up in a thrilling UEFA Development Cup group stage game. After a sluggish first half, the game came alive in the second as USA scored twice in 10 minutes to defeat Portugal 2-1.

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After a lethargic start, US coach Gonzalo Segares made adjustments, bringing in Burton, who scored the opener in the 55th minute. Just 10 minutes later, Cruz Medina added a second from the penalty spot. And although Portugal found another penalty of their own, they were unable to equalize – largely thanks to a series of clever saves from US keeper Inigo Esmanech.

The victory marked the USA’s second UEFA Development Cup win, drawing 2-1 after three games in Portugal.

It was admittedly difficult for either side to get much out of the first 45 minutes. The ball rocked back and forth. It slid from side to side. And then there were the duels. Well-timed slides, perfectly calculated blocks. A toe stuck in here, a leg there. Such was the pattern of the first half; a game largely played in midfield, active but without offensive clarity.

The two sides scored six shots together, four of which were on target. Both goalies were more likely to control a pass and recycle play than make a dive stop.

The US’s most consistent threat came from Andre Gitau. The left winger was a threat, cutting in on his right but none of his three first-half shots bothered the keeper. And as he searched for a teammate, his attempts seemed constantly blocked by a Portuguese defender.

But things changed with the introduction of Burton at halftime. His creativity and diligence were immediately noticeable. And it was he who made the US start, stormed into the box, dodged his man and fired a shot on goal. It wasn’t the best of goals, but a mistake by the keeper sent the ball spinning into the net for a 1-0 lead.

Less than 10 minutes later, Medina doubled the lead. After a clear foul in the penalty area, he skilfully curled the penalty into the net – a comfortable 2-0 lead for the USA.

But the US couldn’t control the game. In the 65th minute, Nuno Patricio increased the penalty after a US handball in the penalty area. He swiped his penalty into the bottom corner, dodging Esmanech’s outstretched hand.

Shortly thereafter, the goalkeeper did not miss his effect. With Portugal in attack, Esmanech charged off his line and sent a low shot around the post to keep his team ahead. There were also other problems that the US had to deal with. Tyler Hall made a glide clearance. Esmanech was forced into another diving parade. Both US full-backs had to keep the ball away from the 18-yard box with longing tackles.

With the game being more open – and Portugal pushing for chances – there were more chances to counterattack. Accordingly, Segares shuffled his pack and added some pace and creativity to the lineup.

But it didn’t change the result. Although the US had their counterattacks, the last 15 minutes were all about defending their lead. And they did it with aplomb, denying Portugal any clear chance as the clock ticked down.

That determined stand that ended the second half complemented an aggressive first 15 minute that they opened. That combination was enough to cap a successful three-game roster in Portugal, a journey that has seen real promise for the Under-17s against some of the best youth sides in Europe.

And while their performance doesn’t count towards qualifying for major tournaments, showing that quality against some of the best could be crucial to the development of this group of fascinating talent.

US line-up: Inigo Esmanech; Oscar Verhoeven, Tyler Hall, Stuart Hawkins, Paulo Rudisill; Jude Wellings, Aiden Harangi, Cruz Medina, Fidel Barajas, Ezekiel Soto, and Andre Gitau

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