The U.S. Under-17 team took on Brazil in Lakewood Ranch, FL, and never looked outclassed in the slightest, defeating Brazil 3-1. Having drawn 2-2 with France midweek and beaten Turkey 2-1 on Friday, they won the Nike International Friendlies trophy with three first-half goals and an impressive second-half defense.
As for witnessing the emergence of the “next Neymar” or “next Clint Dempsey” in the crop of U-17 players, the latter certainly seemed more the case. (“New Pelé” Neymar played in the tournament in 2008.) U.S. attacking midfielder Junior Flores displayed outstanding playmaking abilities and looks a huge prospect for the future. Involved in each of the U.S. goals, he outmaneuvered defenders at will, as Rubio Rubin charged down the right flank, providing excellent service to forwards Corey Baird and Wesley Wade. Meanwhile, right back Shaquell Moore and centerback Tyler Turner looked solid, both in attack and defense. Rubin, Flores and the back four played in every match of the tournament, consistency evidenced in the group’s chemistry and cohesiveness.
Kellen Gulley, former U.S. U-17 standout, sat beside this intrepid reporter in the stands in the second half and said, “The Brazil team two years ago would have killed this [Brazil] team. And last year’s was almost as good.” Gulley, 17, scored the equalizer against Brazil in the 2009 tournament for a 1-1 draw. He currently plays for the Chicago Fire youth team.
Brazil’s number 10 Gabriel repeatedly put in dangerous crosses on which forwards Joanderson and Bruno failed to capitalize. However, captain and center half Eriks definitely seemed one to watch in the coming years. Going against type, though, the side produced more fouls than flair. And when themselves fouled, the theatrics came out, eliciting jeers such as “Get him a binky” and “Get him a pacifier” from the capacity crowd. Right back Abner, in particular, made a meal of every challenge, prompting even Eriks to bark at him to get up and on with it as they chased to close the goal gap in the second half.
Right winger Rubin knocked in a back-to-the-goal strike at just two minutes in, the first shot of the game. Off a free kick from the dynamic Junior Flores that got headed his way, Rubin flick-volleyed the ball over his right shoulder to the surprise of everyone, not least Guilherme, the Brazilian goalie.
In the 12th minute, Brazilian midfielder Matheus Queiroz attacked a poor clearance and blazed in a power strike into the upper right corner to level the proceedings. On a night when the U.S. served up the majority of the ball control and goal-scoring flair, the strike had Samba written all over it.
U.S. captain Turner picked up the ball and created space after a scramble from Flores’ delivery into in the six-yard box in the 31st minute, striking to make it 2-1. The celebration between players and fans actually resulted in a section of ad placards and pitch barriers getting knocked over. The goal was Tyler’s second of the tournament (third, if you count the own goal in the France match-up).
As half-time approached, Flores weaved through midfield and centered for Wesley Wade, who beat his defender and sent the ball past Guilherme into the far corner, doubling the lead and Wade’s tournament goal tally, making it 3-1 at the break.
Brazil pressed for a second goal in the second half, to no avail. Despite firing off many shots, most attempts proved easy saves for Paul Christensen, the U.S. ‘keeper. On the other end, Flores nearly scored in the 75th minute, only to hit the outside netting.
In the earlier match of the day, France drew 3-3 with Turkey to take third.