CARY, N.C. — First, the good news for the U.S. U20 Men’s National Team: it scored a 1-0 win over the Carolina RailHawks U23s Thursday night at WakeMed Soccer Park. The less fulsome fact, however, is that it was a humid, sometimes ragged contest against college-age competition in which few future stars shone very bright.
Fielding an almost completely different starting XI than Tuesday’s loss to the RailHawks’ senior squad, the U.S. U20s scored the game’s lone goal in the 18th minute. A sequence of precision one-touch passing amid the U20 midfield culminated with Jaime Villarreal playing a cheeky through ball to an onside Corey Baird. The unmarked Stanford recruit calmly took a touch, then slotted the ball in for a goal advantage.
In the 57th minute, Villarreal played a pinpoint delivery over the top to the perpetually streaking Kainoa Bailey. However, Bailey failed to take advantage of the opportunity, a constant theme throughout the match.
In the 73rd minute, Adam Najem played give-and-go with second-half sub Ahinga Selemani in the box. The exchange left Selemani 1v1 with RailHawks U23 goalkeeper Travis Worra. However, Selemani’s finish wasn’t true, as his short-range squib was deflected by Worra before deflecting harmlessly off the right post.
Indeed, while U.S. U20 coach Brian Bliss saw several bright spots, his attackers’ inability to convert goals left him flummoxed.
“I thought in the first half we moved the ball pretty well,” Bliss said. “I think we generated as many chances as we did the other night. Same kind of result, though: we couldn’t bury it.”
One of the U.S. U20s best performances came from defender Kris Reaves, an incoming freshman at Wake Forest. The 6-foot right back played the full 90 and stonewalled virtually every effort by the RailHawks U23s in his sector.
“I just got close to my guys and didn’t let them turn on me,” Reaves explained. “I made sure I was nice and tight so nothing was behind me and I kept them in front of me.”
For good measure, in the 85th minute Reaves found himself pushed forward on the left wing after an unfruitful U20s corner kick. Reaves drove ahead and delivered a terrific cross with his weaker left foot that found a leaping Alan Winn in the goalmouth. However, Winn’s header was thwarted by Worra.
In truth, one of the biggest winners Thursday evening was the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s soccer team. Robbie Lovejoy and Nyambi Jabang, two key Tar Heel contributors, not only started for the RailHawks U23s but also put their youth national counterparts under pressure.
The U.S. U20s play the final scrimmage of their May training camp this Saturday when they take on the Wilmington Hammerheads of USL Pro at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field in Raleigh. Kickoff is 6 p.m.
U.S. U20 MNT Camp Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Jefferson Caldwell (Virginia; Todd, N.C.), Evan Louro (New York Red Bulls; Ridgefield, N.Y.)
DEFENDERS (8): Conor Donovan (RailHawks Academy; Fuquay Varina, N.C.), Caleb Duvernay (RailHawks Academy; Cary, N.C.), Chris Odoi-Atsem (Maryland; Mitchellville, Md.), Miguel Polley (Temple; Woodridge, Ill.),Kristoffer Reaves (FC Dallas; Duluth, Ga.), Robert Sagel (Temple University; Las Vegas, Nev.), Jesus Vazquez (UANL Tigres; San Luis Obispo, Calif.), Travis Wannemuehler (N.C. State; Evansville, Ind.)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake AZ; Escondido, Calif.), Ian Harkes (Wake Forest; Fairfax, Va.),Jacori Hayes (Wake Forest; Bowie, Md.), Christopher Lema (New York Red Bulls; Ridgefield, N.J.), Eric Lickert (SC Freiburg; Glottertal, Germany), Alex Muyl (Georgetown; New York, N.Y.), Adam Najem (Akron; Clifton, N.J.), Jake Rozhansky (Bethesda-Olney; Tahoma Park, Md.)
FORWARDS (6): Kainoa Bailey (Bayer 04 Leverkusen; Henderson, Nev.), Louis Bennett (Marquette; Shorewood, Wis.), Andrija Novakovich (Reading FC; Muskego, Wis.), Ahinga Selemani (CSA Wolves; Ann Arbor, Mich.), Jaime Villarreal (LA Galaxy; Inglewood, Calif.), Alan Winn (Solar Chelsea SC; Garland, Texas)