Nigeria cruise past USA to start U-17 World Cup title defense

Nigeria, the defending U-17 World Champions, have begun their title defense on the right foot after dismantling USA in their opening match of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015.

AndrÈs PiÒa/

The USA lost their opening match in the Chile U-17 World Cup, 2-0 to Nigeria, thanks to second-half goals from Chukwudi Agor and Victor Osimhen. The USA simply looked outclassed for the majority of the match and when Auston Trusty was ejected late for stomping on Osimhen, it completed a miserable day for the Yanks.

Unable to break the pressure brought by the defending champions, the Americans looked quite a cut below the average, particularly in the back. Agor’s goal came off a dreadful defensive error – as it happens, from Trusty. Trusty shanked a clearance in the box into traffic, and John Nelson was unable to sweep it away on the second attempt. Agor simply ran onto it and blew the ball past William Pulisic in the net. Osimhen, Nigeria’s leading scorer in qualifying, exploited the centerbacks again to put the game to bed on the hour, simply heading the ball past Trusty and Hugo Arrelano to fire home cleanly.

The young Americans’ odds in this tournament were always long. Despite fielding a largely professional squad, the USA had missed out on the last edition of this biennial tournament, and only barely squeaked back into this one. Richie Williams’ squad survived a six-round penalty shootout in March against Jamaica just to get into Chile, and were rewarded with a tough draw into what is arguably the tournament’s group of death. The Americans also have not won a knockout game in the U-17 World Cup since 1999 and alongside the defending champions, the USA will have to face the hosts and a tricky Croatia side.

On the evidence of today’s game, the Americans will unfortunately continue what has been a bad run for the program overall. US Soccer is already reeling from shambolic losses to Mexico and Costa Rica by the full national team, and the Olympic side is not favored in their one game playoff against Colombia to get to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Many of the failings those teams showed – a lack of tactical and technical acumen, an inability to play at pace – were also on display here, indicating perhaps that the youth pipeline is quite dry.

Aside from standout Christian Pulisic, a star midfielder in the Borussia Dortmund program, the Americans looked outmatched at every position. The central defensive partnership looked half-baked and in midfield, Nigeria were simply sharper and faster to every ball. Whenever the Africans had the ball, they did something with it. Every time the Americans had the ball, they gave it away.

Nigeria’s danger was hinted at ten minutes in when Osimhen was slipped behind a static back four only to screw his shot wide. But the USA did have their early chances: Christian Pulisic was able to great time and space, forcing two early chances that were spurned. The first saw a good ball in to Joe Gallardo that Akpan Udoh had to clean up; the second was simply a dreadful miss from the New York Cosmos’ Haji Wright. Nelson had slipped the ball in to Christian Pulisic on the near side, and his cross caught Udoh guarding his near post. With an open net gaping, Wright instead hacked the ball over the bar under pressure.

That was pretty much all she wrote for the Yanks as the Africans started to stretch the field and isolate Christian Pulisic. That left his cousin, William Pulisic, with a lot of work to do. William Pulisic was fortunate when Osinachi Ebere’s fine square ball to Agor was belted high and wide of his net. He lived again three minutes later when Eric Calvillo coughed up the ball and allowed Famsho Bamgboye to belt the ball clean through him and across the face of goal – but ultimately to no one.

As the half wore on, the Americans visibly tired. Nigeria continued to use their speed on the flanks to torture; when the USA got the ball back, they more often than not quickly conceded. By the end of the half Williams looked a grim figure on the sideline. The USA had just two shots, and neither on goal. William Pulisic did make two superb late saves to keep the USA’s goal difference manageable, but it’s hard to see where the goals will come from.

The second half saw an American collapse. Shoved back into their own half, the USA conceded five minutes after the restart, and never were able to recover. The USA next face Croatia in Vina del Mar Tuesday (live, 4 PM ET, FS2) in what is effectively a must-win game.