LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. — At the final whistle, the second U.S. U17 performance at the Nike International Friendlies echoed the success of Wednesday’s opener.
A star-studded attacking effort dominated in a 5-1 victory over Turkey. Three different players found the back of the net. Andrew Carleton, Ayo Akinola and Josh Sargent were unstoppable at times, breathtaking on the counter attack. Crucial interventions by goalkeeper Justin Garces kept the game within reach.
But the path there was much different against a Turkish side that seized the initiative from the start. With the U.S. flat in the opening five minutes, Recep Gül pounced on a loose ball at the top of box. Taking a touch away from the defender, he lashed home a left-footed shot to put the Turks up 1-0.
For head coach John Hackworth, the U.S. answered the challenge.
“That’s a really difficult Turkey team to play against,” he said, “and to go down a goal early in the game and not have it going our way, our resolve, the problem-solving and finding a way to get back in the game was excellent.”
It was not a quick fire fix, however. Turkey had more than one opportunity to double their advantage. But Garces made a couple of timely stops to keep it a 1-0 game, and close to the 20 minute mark, the tide slowly shifted back towards the hosts.
“We were just a half step too slow to everything,” Hackworth said of the start. “We were not as aggressive as Turkey was, we wanted to try and play more and we were trying to do that, but we just needed to be that little bit more aggressive in all ways. We needed to play the ball faster, we needed to defend, we needed to take out the passing lanes.”
It was the attacking trident that setup the equalizer. Akinola latched onto a loose pass on the left flank. The Ontario native motored towards Turkey’s box, and he lofted in a cross towards Sargent. While fighting off a defender, Sargent was able to deflect the ball into the path of Carleton, who lashed a low show home to tie the game.
Carleton struck again to put the U.S. in front in the 44th minute. It came from a simple long throw. Left back Chris Gloster lofted in a shot that Akinola glanced to Carleton, who had his back to goal. The Atlanta United forward quickly turned and fired past goalkeeper Eren Bilen to put the USA in front.
The second half featured more of the same for the U.S. attack. Akinola grabbed goals in the 60th and 67th minute. A Carleton pass sprang Sargent down the right flank, and the No. 9 curled in a perfect cross that Akinola smashed home for the first. Seven minutes later, George Acosta’s run down the middle split the Turkey defense, and Akinola followed up on the play, tapping home a cross to make it 4-1.
Two substitutes combined for the final goal. Timothy Weah rounded out the scoring in the 86th minute, slotting home after a nice burst forward from right back Sergino Dest.
With the win, the U.S. U17s can capture the Nike Friendlies crown with a draw in Sunday’s finale with Brazil. No matter what happens, there’s little doubt that the team is humming at the moment.
“We’ve been trying to peak for this tournament, this is our showcase, this is our tournament, our home,” Hackworth said. “So really, it was about trying to prepare our team to come here and play their absolute best and test ourselves some of the best teams that are out there, to have played two of the best countries from Europe and to get good results like this is a good feeling for us for sure.”