LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. — It was a night to remember for the United States U17 men’s national team.
Opening the annual Nike Friendlies, the U.S. produced one of its best offensive performances in the competition’s history, battering the Portuguese goal in a 7-1 victory.
The attacking trio of Ayo Akinola, Andrew Carleton and Josh Sargent scored six of the team’s seven goals, leading the U17s to a memorable 7-1 win.
“If you look at the score line, it might not be a fair indication of that game,” head coach John Hackworth said after the win. “Portugal’s a very good team, we capitalized on a lot of good opportunities, but they were dangerous as well.”
The U.S. hit the ground running from the opening kick off. Akinola won a penalty kick in the eighth minute. A Portuguese defender failed to control a forward pass from Chris Gloster, allowing Akinola to get in behind and draw contact in the box. Carleton smashed home the penalty.
Akinola remained in the thick of things, setting up Sargent’s first of the game in the 19th minute. Sargent guided home the winger’s curled entry pass, beating the Portuguese ‘keeper to the ball.
MORE: Five individual standouts vs. Portugal
Three minutes later, Portugal cut into the lead. Mamadou Kone intercepted a loose pass from U.S. center back Arturo Vasquez. Kone’s dribbled towards the box, and his pass found the feet of Umaro Embalo at the top of the box. Embalo’s curled effort found the corner of the net.
The Portuguese continued to pile forward and threaten Justin Garces in the U.S. goal. Carleton produced a moment of magic in the 37th minute to lieve the pressure. A looping ball from George Acosta over the Portuguese defenders found the Atlanta United forward with enough space to lash home a left-footed volley. From there, the U.S. put the pedal to the floor.
“Getting that third goal that Andrew Carleton got was good because we were defending a lot before that,” Hackworth said. “In the second half, we made some adjustments, handled their press and played through it and obviously got goals to put the game away.”
The trio continued to wreak havoc after the break. Carleton looked hungry for a hat trick, testing goalkeeper Joao Monteiro early in the second half. Center back Tiago Djalo nearly dribbled the entire length of the field to but into the lead, only for Garces to save onto his post.
Sargent added his second in the 54th minute, poking home a brilliant threaded ball from midfielder Blaine Ferri.
Nine minutes later, the trio produced the best move of the night. A long, looping ball from Ferri found Sargent at the back post. The forward headed the ball back into the path of Carleton, who curled a shot to the far post that Akinola redirected home to make it 5-1.
For Hackworth, the success of his triumvirate came as no surprise – it’s what the team sees in training everyday.
“All three of them are exceptional attacking players,” he said. “Josh combines a work ethic and a really good soccer mind, picking spots to really initiates our attack by being in good spots defending, and Ayo and Andrew have some special qualities. They’re different so it’s hard to defend us, with some of their mobility and different ways that we’re attacking them.”
Even with a four-goal lead, the United States wasn’t finished. Sargent’s back heel effort in the 82nd minute made it 6-1, his first hat trick in a U.S. jersey.
“That’s an amazing feeling [to score a hat trick],” Sargent said. “Against Portugal it’s even better. It’s great”
Substitute Rayshaun McGann left his mark on the game in stoppage time, rounding out the scoring with a blast to the upper 90. The Nike Friendlies continue on Friday down in Florida, as Brazil takes on Portugal and the U.S. faces Turkey.