Despite nearly being run off the pitch at times by a relentless Ghana side the U.S. maintained its grip on first place in Group A at the U17 World Cup today thanks to substitute Ayo Akinola’s 75th-minute goal.
Played in blistering 94-degree heat U.S. boss John Hackworth replaced just one player from his team’s opening game 3-0 victory over India but that change necessitated a defensive reshuffle that moved Chris Durkin from center back up to midfield and Jaylin Lindsey from fullback into Durkin’s spot alongside James Sands.
All to accommodate Sergino Dest, an Ajax player, born in the Netherlands, who has recently come into the U.S. setup. Dest was very good on the day, using his speed, strength, and positioning to thwart several attacks by the Black Stars, making his removal in favor of Akil Watts in the 63 minute something of a mystery. Hopefully, Dest did not pick up an injury.
The teams took turn dominating in the first half, with Ghana threatening Justin Garces’ goal often without finding a way onto the scoreboard. Key to the U.S survival was some good work by the back four that also included Chris Gloster and most tellingly, superb two-way play from DC United prospect, Durkin.
Durkin saved a certain goal when he got a piece of a Ghana shot while sprawled on the ground with Garces beaten, just the most dramatic of his defensive interventions. Equally important was Durkin’s ability to control the ball and find teammates with intelligent passes in the face of intense pressure from a Black Stars side loaded with exciting prospects linked with the likes of Manchester City.
Ghana came flying out of the blocks on the restart and would have scored early when Ghana captain Eric Ayiah rounded Garces only to slip, allowing Sands to clear.
The Americans struggled throughout the half to maintain possession, leaving exciting front men, Josh Sargent, Andrew Carleton, and Tim Weah starved for service and defending more than attacking.
Weah would be pulled for Akinola in the 63rd minute and the young forward soon made Hackworth look like a genius. Full of energy on a field full of spent players, Akinola provided the breakthrough when he took a pass from Chris Goslin and blasted to the net. The goal had been set up by, you guessed it, Durkin, who first stole the ball and then delivered a perfectly weighted lead pass to Goslin.
The Americans hung on against 10 man Ghana, who lost Abdul Yusif in the 85th minute and could not replace him because Ghana had used up their allotment of substitutes. Yusif was stretchered off in the 85th minute following a frightening clash of heads with Sargent, who remained in the game after concussion protocols were implemented.
Next up for the Americans is a showdown with Colombia on Thursday when Hackworth might be tempted to employ some squad rotation.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
GHA 0 0 0
USA – Ayo Akinola (Chris Goslin) 75th minute
USA: 1-Justin Garces; 2-Jaylin Lindsey, 3-Chris Gloster, 4-James Sands, 13-Sergino Dest (14-Akil Watts, 63); 8-Blaine Ferri, 6-Chris Durkin, 20-Chris Goslin; 10-Tim Weah (7-Ayo Akinola, 63), 9-Josh Sargent (Capt.), 11-Andrew Carleton (18-Indiana Vassilev, 81)
Subs not used: 5-Tyler Shaver, 12-CJ Dos Santos, 15-George Acosta, 16-Taylor Booth, 17-Bryan Reynolds, 19-Jacobo Reyes, 21-Alex Budnik
Head Coach: John Hackworth
GHA: 1-Danlad Ibrahim; 5-Najeeb Yakubu, 6-Eric Ayiah (Capt.), 8-Kudus Mohammed (9-Richard Danso, 73), 10-Emmanuel Toku (7-Ibrahim Sulley, 82); 11-Aminu Mohammed (13-Gabriel Leveh, 57), 12-Abdul Yusif (Exited in 85th, was not replaced), 15-Gideon Mensah, 17-Rashid Alhassan; 19-Sadiq Ibrahim, 20-Isaac Gyamfi
Subs not used: 2-John Out, 3-Gideon Acquah, 4-Edmund Arko-Mensah, 14-Bismark Owusu, 16-Kwame Aziz, 18-Mohammed Iddriss, 21-Michael Acquaye
Head coach: Fabian Samuel
Stats Summary: USA/GHA
Shots: 11/ 18
Shots on Goal: 2/3
Corner Kicks: 2/5
USA – Chris Goslin (Caution) 6th minute
GHA – Kudus Mohammed (Caution) 69
GHA – Richard Danso (Caution) 86