MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – Behind the support of the Jamaican home crowd, Canada held USA scoreless for the full 90 minutes in a fast pace match which went back and forth. The game was scoreless after regulation, until the United States pulled away on a spectacular goal at the start of the overtime period for a 3-0 victory.
It was a gallant effort by the Canadian youngsters who earned the respect and support of the Jamaican locals by their performance at the tournament. As a result Canada left "Mobay" with silverware and its highest finish at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship after finishing third on three occasions.
The Championship final was played last Sunday at St Catherine Park in Montego, Jamaica, where Canada came agonizingly close to bringing home the bacon. The game started at a torrid pace with the partisan Jamaican crowd who stayed for the final to cheer on Canada after watching the young Reggae Boyz lost their third place match 1-0 against Panama earlier in the evening.
The Canucks had put on an impressive run at the tournament and reached the final after beating Panama 1-0 in the first match of the semi final two days earlier, while USA had reached the final by beating host Jamaica 2-0 in the second semi final match of that double header.
The final had all the ingredients of a well played match with quick ball movement and detailed defending after loss of possession. In spite of the defensive chess match, both Canada and USA played well enough offensively to create scoring chances.
Canada had the better of the chances in the first half with Canada’s ace striker Aleman exciting the crowd with some dazzling footwork and ball skills while Canada lived up to its billing as a legitimate contender for the 2011 CONCACAF U-17 title.
The Maple Leafs had USA back on their heels several times in the first half where USA goalkeeper had to be quick off his line. Canada showed that it meant business from the get go and was looking for the early score to rely on its perfect defensive record.
The game was scoreless at the half and half time intermission proved only to be a stoppage for the fans to catch a breather as the game resumed with the same intensity and pace as the first half.
By then, Canada was now battle tested while USA was showing signs of improvement. Midway through the second half it was evident that USA began to take control of the match.
Canada offensive players Nanco and Aleman were leaving their positions up front to track down USA players deep into their defense end. This exercise left Canada with a shortage of manpower up front.
From my vantage point the strikers defensive help was the telling sign that penalty kicks was Canada’s only hope of winning the match and the title, although Canada was still getting decent scoring chances at the USA goal but those were few and far in between.
The big mystery was how was USA going to score? Canada defense had not given up a goal in the tournament and had stopped almost every ball towards goal while keeper Maxime Crepeau proved he was up to the task.
But captain Bryce Alderson was hobbling and he was Canada’s stabilizing influence in the mid field through out the tournament. USA finally found a way to score on the only team which had not allowed a goal.
It was on a spectacular 35-meter strike by Nathan Smith with just over a minute gone in the start of the first over time period. It was the best goal of the tournament from what seemed like a harmless play.
With everyone waiting for the play
to develop, Smith unleashed a
thunderous right-footer giving
keeper Maxime Crepeau absolutely no
chance as the ball banged off the
upper inside of the right upright
post and settled in the opposite
side netting of the goal.
It was the goal which broke Canada’s U-17s back and opened the floodgates for a USA onslaught in the following plays. There was nothing anyone could have done to avoid the goal which took its immediate toll on the emotions of Canada U-17 team.
Canada’s defense got caught shallow on the second goal and allowed a break away from a simple throw-in just over the half. The ball sailed over the defender’s heads and Andrew Oliver rounded goalkeeper Crepeau to score into an empty net.
Alfred Koroma added the third goal in extra time as the United States coast to a 3-0 victory. Canada’s coach Sean Fleming took the loss in stride as he met with the media after the match
"We had some chances in the first half that if they would have gone in would have changed things," Fleming said. "It was a great strike for the first goal. The other two I'm not going to worry about."
Fleming also hopes he can further advance Canada's youth players at the FIFA World Cup in Mexico this summer based on his team’s recent qualification and the future development of his team. As Canada U-17 qualified for next June's FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico with a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Trinidad & Tobago, coach Fleming was mindful of the commitment of his players, coaching staff and the Canadian Soccer Association which supported the youth program.
"I think they are all part of our success," said Fleming. "We have a good crop of players in this age group, but it is also no secret that our players are in good soccer environments back home."
"For a player's development to be at its best, the player needs to be training in a good environment," Flemings said. "That environment may not be the same for all players and there are different circumstances in different places from coast to coast.
"We have to always ask ourselves what is best for the players. It may not be just one model. There is some great dialogue going on with all parties involved through the Wellness to World Cup working group (the Canadian Soccer Association's Long-Term Development Program). When everyone is working together, that helps our success on the international stage."
At the time it was noted that Canada's U-17 had players who had been through the Canadian system with 19 of the 20 players at Canadian clubs (including professional clubs Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC and Impact Montréal), while 17 of 20 players have advanced through one of Canada's five National Training Centers.
With the CONCACAF championship over, Fleming will have to develop and expand his U-17 player pool before the FIFA U-17 World Cup kick offs this summer in Mexico where te team will have to get to the next level against higher-quality international opposition.
"We took a moment to thank all the coaches for the part that they played in our success," added Fleming. "It is important that they are recognized in the celebration following our qualification. This is Canada's team."
USA Coach Wilmer Cabrera, his team
may have been taken to the limit by Canada,
but his players never lost focus on the task at
hand. Like everyone who watched the
match Coach Cabrera acknowledged that Nathan
Smith's goal was the key to the
got an unbelievable goal from Nate,"
U.S. coach Wilmer Cabrera said. "He
opened the window for us to start
taking control of the game. When we
scored I noted that the players from
Canada were devastated.
"We needed to keep the ball and then the second goal came which gave us a sense of what was coming. Then the third goal came and Canada was struggling a little bit physically while we were strong."
After the problems with the readiness of its venue, the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Jamaica turned out to be a very good tournament which I am sure also improved the country's economy.
....Stay Tuned for more pictures!