The U.S. U-17 MNT opened the CONCACAF Championships/ World Cup Qualifiers in fine style tonight, easily dismissing a weak Cuban side 5-0 in Honduras, behind a hat trick from Joe Gallardo.
Gallardo’s burgeoning career was in jeopardy as recently as last August when the Monterrey striker suffered a broken leg, so tonight’s performance was especially rewarding for the Mexico based youngster.
Coach Richie Williams was at helm in 2013 when the Americans were eliminated from this tournament by Honduras. That is the only time that the U.S. has failed to qualify for the World Championship in this age group, so the coach will have warned his team not to look past Cuba.
Complacency hardly seemed to be a problem for the Young Yanks, who went ahead off of a fifth minute corner kick. Center back and U.S. captain Hugo Arellano outjumped a trio of Cuban defenders and headed home from a well placed Christian Pulisic corner kick.
Recently signed by Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund, the U.S. number 10 is well on his way to earning next big thing status within U.S. Soccer circles.
And if not for two offside calls in the first half, tonight could have been quite the coming out party for the 16 year old Pennsylvania native. Twice in the first half Pulisic put the ball in the Cuba net, but twice the linesman’s flag spoiled the party for the Americans. To make matters worse the second call was blatantly incorrect.
The U.S. were all over the Cubans, but with the two offside calls, and a hit post by Gallardo, the Americans were letting the Cubans hang around.
Fortunately for the U.S. the Cubans were unable to mount any sort of an attack, and the one half chance they did generate was alertly snuffed out by keeper Will Pulisic, Christian’s cousin.
With the game being played almost entirely in the Cuban half, a second goal was inevitable. It finally came in the 40th minute, Gallardo’s first from a Pulisic assist. It took just three minutes for Alejandro Zendejas to make it 3-0, when the midfielder hammered home a loose ball from just inside the 18 yard box.
With the score 3-0 at the half the result was all but settled, all that remained was to see how bad it would be for Cuba, that and avoiding injuries. Defensive midfielder Eric Calvillo limped off in the first half, and star striker Haji Wright had Williams and company holding their breath when he was slow to get up after a first half knock.
Wright stayed in the game and Gallardo completed earned his hat trick with goals in the 65th and 88th minutes, with both assists going to substitute Luca de la Torre, who got a lot accomplished in his 36 minutes work.
Fellow midfielder Tyler Adams also did well when he stepped in for the unfortunate Calvillo in the 28th minute. Williams had earlier trumpeted his sides depth, and in a tournament where the games come fast and furious, squad depth is a big issue.
In the end this was a game that the Americans were expected to win, and win handily. With that accomplished, Williams can turn his attention to preparing for Trinidad and Tobago on Monday, March 2.
T&T fell 4-1 to Guatemala earlier tonight, setting things up nicely for Williams to erase the ghost of 2013.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 3 2 5
CUB 0 0 0
USA – Hugo Arellano (Christian Pulisic) 5th minute
USA – Joe Gallardo (Christian Pulisic) 40
USA – Alejandro Zendejas 43
USA – Joe Gallardo (Luca de la Torre) 65
USA – Joe Gallardo (Luca de la Torre) 88
USA: 1-Will Pulisic; 2-Matthew Olosunde, 4-Alexis Velela, 5-Hugo Arellano (capt.), 3-John Nelson; 6-Eric Calvillo (18-Tyler Adams, 28), 20-Alejandro Zendejas (8-Luca de la Torre, 64), 10-Christian Pulisic; 7-Haji Wright (13-McKinze Gaines, 86), 9-Joe Gallardo, 11-Josh Perez
Subs Not Used: 12-Kevin Silva, 14-Tanner Dieterich, 16-Thomas McCabe, 17-Pierre da Silva, 19-Brandon Vazquez
Head coach: Richie Williams
CUB: 12-Enrique Hernandez; 2-Felipe Hurtado (18-Neisser Sando, 54), 3-Dariel Morejon, 4-Carlos Borromeo (capt.), 15-Jeffrey Delgado; 5-Jansiel Blanco, 6-Jonathan Ramirez (17-Yordan Alonso, 66), 7-Raycharles Herrera (16-Brian Savigne, 87), 10-Eduard Puga, 13-Serguey Campillo; 8-Yosniel Gonzalez
Subs Not Used: 1-Lazaro Garcia; 9-Carlos Sebrango, 11-Nelson Betancourt, 14-Yon Hernandez, 19-Omar Romero, 20-Yordanis Barreto
Head coach: Fidel Salazar
Stats Summary: USA / CUB
Shots: 21 / 6
Shots on Goal: 13 / 0
Saves: 0 / 8
Corner Kicks: 4 / 2
Fouls: 11 / 14
Offside: 4 / 1
CUB – Felipe Hurtado (caution) 39th minute
USA – Alejandro Zendejas (caution) 51
USA – Haji Wright (caution) 69