The young Americans punched their ticket to the U-17 World Cup in Peru later this year following a quarterfinal win over hosts Guatemala, with Keyrol Figueroa knocking in another pair of goals to once again lead the way.
Guatemala 3 – 5 USA
While only the quarterfinal of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship, Tuesday’s match against hosts Guatemala was arguably the most critical of the tournament for head coach Gonzalo Segares and his young squad regardless of what happens in later rounds.
The stakes for both teams were clear: win and book a ticket to the final tournament in Peru in November, or lose and stay at home, ruing the missed opportunity.
While hardly a perfect performance, particularly on the defensive end, another stellar attacking output, with three goals from the European-based contingent, was more than enough to seal the deal.
Philadelphia Union’s David Vázquez triggered the opener in the seventh minute, adeptly stealing the ball off of a Guatemalan defender’s foot at the edge of the hosts’ penalty area. After advancing towards goal to draw the keeper’s attention, he squared the ball to a wide-open Brian Romero on the far side for an easy, low finish into the open net.
Two minutes before the half-hour, Liverpool prospect Keyrol Figueroa netted his fifth of the tournament. After receiving a sharp cross from Vázquez near the upper left corner of the six-yard box and initially losing the ball, he tracked several yards back and whipped a shot on the turn that somehow threaded the needle between the keeper and the near post for the 2-0 lead.
The hosts pulled one back on the stroke of the half; after the ball made the slightest glancing contact with Pedro Soma‘s hand in the Americans’ area, the referee controversially whistled a penalty, allowing Olger Escobar to convert from the spot.
However, Eintracht Frankfurt youngster Aiden Harangi restored the two-goal lead five minutes into the second half, stepping up to blast a loose ball from 27 yards out to the lower left corner, past stunned Guatemalan keeper Diego Bolaños for the 3-1 advantage.
Still, the hosts quickly brought themselves back within shooting range two minutes later, with Gabino Vasquez slipping through a pair of defenders in the USA area, making a nice turn, and looping his 12-yard shot past Duran Feree‘s reach.
However, Figueroa effectively ended the hopes of a heroic and unlikely Guatemalan comeback moments later, having his first attempt from the left blocked by Bolaños, only to see the return land back at his foot for a deflected shot that rolled over the line for the eventual winning goal.
The score was Figueroa’s sixth of the tournament, putting him on even terms with Mexico’s Stephano Carrillo in the race for the Golden Boot.
The hosts did briefly pull themselves to within a single goal in the 74th minute, with poor marking on a corner allowing Carlos Aguilar to hit a towering header that barely slipped in past the upright.
Taha Harboune sealed the deal with seven minutes left in regulation, tapping in the team’s fifth and final goal from short range when Bolaños misjudged Paolo Rudisill‘s cross from the right side.
Segares will next lead his squad into Friday’s final against either Puerto Rico or Canada, knowing that his team has reached their first and most important goal of qualification regardless of the result.
Regardless, in the likely case of victory, odds would be in favor for a final against Mexico, who will play either Panama or Honduras in the other semifinal.