Yes, this version of the U-17's boasted its fair share of impressive players and cohesive play--they pinged it about quickly and accurately and weren't afraid to shoot early and often with the side playing a decidedly more impressive brand of futbol under new head-man Cabrera than their predecessors did under Hackworth at this summer's U-17 World Cup. They probably should have netted more than the two that they did, but they were also fortunate not to surrender at least one with a few moments of lax play at the back. From a positional perspective, it was nice to see the fullbacks getting forward in attack and taking on defenders to get into good crossing positions, despite the crosses not being of any particular quality and the US aerial threat in the box being pretty lackluster.
All of that said, this was a friendly being played at the U-17's own stomping grounds in front of a modest crowd not packed into a stadium setting against a Russian side that only put things together in fits and starts, and I don't think too much of that had to do with the US defensive effort. Those major caveats aside, there were some standout performances.
- Stefan Jerome was my man of the match for the US. Not only did he take his goal well, but he was a constant danger up top, showing a deft touch, great pace, and a decent shot. He seemed to glide while on the ball and was getting around the big Russian defenders with ease. If he could just use his height to add an aerial dimension to his game, he'll really be one to watch. I'll be interested to see what he does against the Brazilian defense on Saturday, who might prove a little quicker than the Russians.
- Carlos Martinez was the other goal scorer for the US, cracking a shot over the keeper from the edge of the 18. Was I the only one who watched his hunched, Neanderthal-esque running style and immediately thought "Juan Toja"? The kid had some decent skill on the ball, showed he could play on both wings, and got back in defense as well.
- Jared Watts had a few questionable decisions at the back, but he is still young. What he did have in abundance were size, strength, good touch for a big man, and excellent distribution out of the back. Distribution out of central defense--wouldn't that be a refreshing change for the senior side?
- Marlon Duran played a linking role in front of the back four, breaking up attacks and then getting the ball quickly forward to the attackers. Big engine, good in tight spaces, and good decision-making and technique in the short passing game.
- Charles Renken showed well in fits and starts despite having to wade through the mounded piles of blowhard flattery and outrageous expectation heaped onto his slender, soon-to-be 14 year-old shoulders by the broadcast crew. He wasn't a world-beater, but he's got a good touch, can move with the ball, made smart decisions, and even belted one off the bar from distance, looking like he deserved that #10 on his back. Now, lets all back away quietly, turn out the lights on the hype machine and shut the closet door--no sense in letting expectation run loose to pillage and burn the mental villages of what promises to be a pretty decent talent.
- Joseph Gyau was an on again, off again choice for me. While he didn't have the biggest impact on the game, he showed in little bursts an ability to blow past whole swaths of the defense with pace and skill on the ball. Now, perhaps that reflects a little more on the glacial nature of the Russian defense, so I'll withhold judgement until I see what he can do against the speedier Brazilians.
- Tyler Polak is our mandatory fullback pick. Though he only got a half, the left back was up and down his wing with regularity and got into dangerous positions quite a few times, though he didn't really accomplish much from those positions.