The U.S. U18 Men’s National Team recently returned from a successful trip to France where they finished undefeated in games against the host nation, Poland, and the Czech Republic at the Limoges Tournament. The 2-0-1 record was good enough for the youth national team to claim the second place hardware from the event.
The U.S. played to a 2-2 draw against France in the opener, which featured a thrilling come-from-behind result after the French took the lead early on a couple of set pieces.
“It was a great experience to play France, one of the best international teams in the world,” U18 MNT center back Erik Palmer-Brown told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “It was great to play kids on PSG, Manchester City, and some of the other top clubs in Europe. Going down two goals and then fighting back was a great feeling. It definitely helped with us coming together as a team.”
Helping to spur that comeback was Chicago Magic PSG forward Andrija Novakovich, who came off the bench in that game to score a goal and provide an assist.
“It wasn’t a great start for us to go down early – both coming on set pieces,” Novakovich told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “[While I was on the bench] I was thinking that, ‘If I get in, I am just going to give it my best.’”
Novakovich entered the game at the start of the second half and found the back of the net off an assist from Emerson Hyndman to cut the lead to 2-1. With 11 minutes left, he provided the assist for Rubio Rubin who scored the game-tying goal.
The U18 MNT topped the Czech Republic 1-0 in the next game with Palmer-Brown scoring the lone goal. Palmer-Brown rose above the defense to direct the corner kick into the corner of the net on a well-placed header.
“That was my first international goal,” the Sporting Kansas City defender said. “It was a great ball from Emo [Emerson Hyndman] – I can’t take any credit for that. I just remember giving Shaq [Moore] a hug and then everyone surrounding us.”
Novakovich was once again in the thick of things during the Czech Republic game. His cross was knocked out for the corner kick that set up Palmer-Brown’s goal.
“We wanted to show consistency from one game to the next,” Novakovich said about the second game. “We kept scrapping and trying – and our goal came. We were happy with the result.”
The U.S. ended the trip with a 2-0 win over Poland with Palmer-Brown picking up another 90 minutes in center back and Novakovich getting the start in the attack.
“It brings more confidence,” Palmer-Brown said when asked about playing every minute of the three games. “It was great for my experience – most of the guys have more international experience. It was great to play with Shaq [Moore], Rubio [Rubin], Kyle [Scott], and the rest of the guys. It is a group of players that get the job done.”
For Novakovich, the Poland game was his first start of the trip. He said the coaches told him shortly before they went to the field for the game about being placed in the top XI.
“I was really energetic to get the game going,” Novakovich said. “We got a good result there as well.”
The striker from Wisconsin had a shot redirected for an own goal in the win over Poland. Ahinga Selemani headed in a corner kick from Hyndman for the other goal.
Statistically, Novakovich had a remarkable trip. He was on the field for every goal scored by the U.S. and was on the bench when the U.S. conceded a goal. He did not think anything of the stat beyond it being a fluke.
“I think it was just a coincidence,” the Marquette commit said. “The guys performed well and it was a real team effort.”
Palmer-Brown spoke glowingly of the knowledge he gained from the games and the coaching staff.
“Coach [Javier] Perez preached that we have to be more consistent,” the defender said. “If we want to be one of the contending teams, we can’t start slow.
“I love coach. He is a great guy. He knows what he is talking about and he is not afraid to be honest with us. He tells us if we aren’t up to the standards.”
U18 MNT Tournament Roster (courtesy of U.S. Soccer):
U.S. U-18 MNT ROSTER BY POSITION:
GOALKEEPERS (2) : Jefferson Caldwell (NC Fusion; Todd, N.C.), James Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes; Alamo, Calif.)
DEFENDERS (5): Conor Donovan (Capital Area RailHawks Academy; Fuquay Varina, N.C.), Chase Gasper (Bethesda Olney; Alexandria, Va.), Shaquell Moore (IMG Academy; Powder Springs, Ga.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting KC; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Tommy Redding (Chicago Magic; Oviedo, Fla.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Mukwelle Akale (Minnesota Thunder; Minneapolis, Minn.), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake AZ; Escondido, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham FC; Plano, Texas), Kyle Scott (Chelsea FC; Winterbourne, Bristol), Benjamin Swanson (Crew Soccer Academy; Grove City, Ohio), Tyler Turner (IMG Academy; Meriden, Conn.)
FORWARDS (5): Andrija Novakovich (Chicago Magic PSG; Muskego, Wis.), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht; Beaverton, Ore.), Ahinga Selemani (CSA Wolves; Ann Arbor, Mich.), Alan Winn (Solar Chelsea SC; Garland, Texas), Dembakwi Yomba (Concorde Fire; Lithona, Ga.)
Photo credit: ussoccer.com