For the first time in the history of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, the United States has failed to failed to qualify.
The U.S. needed a victory in Sunday’s quarter-final of the CONCACAF tournament against Honduras to clinch a berth to the semi-finals and to punch a ticket to the World Cup but it was not to be as Honduras shocked the favored Americans, 3-1. With the loss, the Stars & Stripes crash out of the tournament they previously qualified for on each of their previous 15 attempts. The win guarantees Honduras a spot in the World Cup and a semi-final matchup with Mexico, who defeated Guatemala 2-0.
The Americans dominated early on with first half opportunities from Shaquell Moore, Corey Baird and Joel Sonora but each effort was thwarted by Honduran goalkeeper, Cristian Hernandez. Los Catrachos broke the deadlock in the 42nd minute when Christopher Alegria unleashed a 30 yard blast to hand his country a 1-0 lead. Two minutes later the Americans responded when Christopher Lema linked up with Sonora, who unleashed his own long distance strike to tie the match 1-1 going into halftime.
U.S. manager, and former Red Bulls assistant coach, Richie Williams (pictured) hoped to inspire his squad at the break but just 12 minutes into the second stanza Honduras’ Alberth Elis received a diagonal ball from Brayan Velasquez, beat an onrushing Thomas Redding and dispatched a dink past American goalkeeper Jefferson Caldwell.
Elis was a constant menace and nearly doubled his side’s lead in the 66th minute when his strike from 12 yards out hit the underside of the bar but was ruled not to have crossed the goal-line. But the nail in the U.S. coffin was nevertheless delivered two minutes later when Kevin Alvarez unleashed a furious free kick from 28 yards out that Caldwell couldn’t parry. The win was Honduras’ first over the U.S. in eight meetings in the U-17 championship.
The U-17 defeat comes just one year from the historic letdown of the U-23 Men’s National Team’s failure to qualify for the Olympics. The loss raises questions about the state of U.S. soccer, and in particular, the Residency Program that has been the primary feeder for the U-17 squad over the last 14 years. Questions will also be asked of Williams’ failure to motivate his talented squad and his decision to sit one of his best midfielders, Junior Flores, during the quarter-final loss.