Starting XI: Angelina Anderson, Smith Hunter, Natalia Staude, Michela Agresti, Makenna Morris, Sophia Jones, Mia Fishel, Maya Doms, Jordan Canniff, Sunshine Fontes, Payton Linnehan
You know how in Buster Keaton movies, he would engineer crazy stunts that looked incredibly ripe for disaster, but would somehow turn out okay? That was pretty much the bulk of the U17 US women’s national team’s opening game against Cameroon at the U17 World Cup, except Keaton pulled off his stunts with extraordinary timing and undoubtedly a lot of preparation. The US managed theirs through a series of mistakes that made it look like someone had wished to a genie that they would win no matter how badly they played.
The team played out in a sort of 4-1-4-1 that shifted a bit into a 4-1-2-3, asking Sophia Jones to act as the deep-lying lynchpin of their build up with her vision and passing range. She did what she could, but Cameroon picked her out almost instantly and limited her effectiveness while also putting high pressure on the US back line, leading to some turnovers in our defensive third. The US started resorting to long balls, hoofing it and hoping someone in the front lien would be fast enough to peel off their defender without being called off (they got called off a lot).
Somehow, the US went up first in the 22’ as a Cameroon defender went down at the top of her 18, which kept Mia Fishel onside for another one of those hopeful balls forward. Fishel pounced on the free space, shot near post, had her shot deflected by the goalkeeper off the post, and finished the rebound far post. It was an incredibly lucky series of events and a rather harsh reminder to Cameroon about playing to the whistle.
The next US goal came at the end of the half as Maya Doms got put in on goal and the keeper came out for a one-on-one challenge. Unfortunately she came out cleat first, her flying kick gutting Doms and earning her a red card. It also gave the US a penalty, which Sunshine Fontes calmly finished in stoppage to make it 2-0.
The US started their second half playing against 10 for Cameroon and still struggled to get looks at goal. They were able to exploit a little more space along the wings as the half went on, but no sooner would a player get deep on the flank than the attack would get smothered or the ball in would go nowhere. One-on-one challenges got stonewalled close to goal and players weren’t getting into scoring positions.
The first US sub was in the 60’ with Trinity Rodman on for Jordan Canniff. Rodman tried to take advantage of being able to run into more space, with Cameroon getting slightly stretched, but got called offside for her efforts.
There was a particularly galling moment in the 63’ when the US again went up the flank, finally hitting a pass with good weight and speed that got cut into the box, only to find two players staring at each other over who would take the shot. The ball lingered between them in a gulf of uncertainty, allowing Cameroon to clear. Meanwhile, Cameroon didn’t play like they were down to 10, and pushed back down the field before slipping a lovely ball between the center backs, creating an angled shot that Anderson was forced to parry away.
The US subbed Hannah Bebar on in the 73’ for Doms, maybe in the hopes she would help the US settle their midfield and help give Jones some breathing room. Alas, it was not to be. Yes, the US started creating more changes as they wore down an understrength opponent, putting the ball into space behind the back line more often, but no one was finishing. Linnehan hit one off the crossbar and another one right at the goalkeeper.
It was Fontes who finally scored the first solid goal of the game, running onto one of those balls into space, spying the keeper off her line, and hitting a long-range shot into the net to make it 3-0 in the 81’.
#U17TD ¡Doblete! de Sunshine Fontes para sellar el triunfo de #USA ante #CAM pic.twitter.com/NdMDVRiuSZ— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) November 14, 2018
Cameroon’s Dabda received her second yellow of the game in the 82’ and got sent off, resulting in Cameroon going down to nine. The US kept up a decent bit of pressure, creating some even-strength challenges, but didn’t manage to score another.
Opening up group with a 3-0 win would normally be good for a team’s confidence, but considering the manner in which they won, the coaching staff surely have to be feeling some tension. The team seemed to have very little plan for most of the game besides reacting to Cameroon in pockets around the field, unable to play out or connect passes or win take-ons. It was honestly a mess, with the winning scoreline a paper-thin disguise over a team that is going to get thrashed by North Korea and Germany if they don’t find a way to sharpen up.
USA vs Korea DPR
Saturday, November 17
12 PM ET