The U.S. Under-17 men’s youth National team qualified to the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a wild, back-and-forth 5-3 victory over Guatemala in the quarterfinals of the 2023 Concacaf U-17 Championship in Antigua, Guatemala on Tuesday night.
The USA clinched its World Cup ticket in hard-fought fashion, fending off a gritty Guatemala side energized by the raucous home crowd of 11,275 at Estadio Nacional Doroteo Guamuch Flores.
While the U.S. opened the scoring early with a seventh-minute goal from forward Brian Romero and another from forward Keyrol Figueroa in the 28th, a Guatemala penalty kick just before the break kept the hosts’ advancement hopes alive.
The start of the second half saw three goals in the span of three minutes as a tally from Aiden Harangi and another from Figueroa sandwiched Guatemala’s second goal. Los Chapines made it a one-goal game again in the 74th minute before midfielder Taha Habroune finally put things out of reach in the 83rd minute.
The Americans qualifies became the fifth team to earn a berth to this year’s tournament, set for November/December in Peru. The U.S. will be joined by Mexico, whichh defeated El Salvador, 3-0, in the first quarterfinal match of the night. Two other quarterfinal winners from Concacaf. The U.S. also will play in the semifinals of the Concacaf U-17 Championship on Friday, Feb. 24 (8 p.m. ET; FS2, ViX+) against the winner of Wednesday’s Canada-Puerto Rico match.
The U.S. had trouble finding its rhythm offensively against a Guatemala team buoyed by its home crowd, but still found the game’s opening goal in the seventh minute. Vazquez won the ball just outside the Guatemala 18 and sent in a well-timed cross for the onrushing Romero, who slotted it home. The U.S. nearly doubled its early lead a few minutes later, when Romero played in a nice ball for Vazquez in the 11th minute.
Los Chapines gave the U.S. trouble with their press and kept up a bruising, physical defense as the half wore on. While the U.S. once again had the advantage in possession, 67 percent to 33 percent, Guatemala made advancing the ball difficult. The U.S. broke through on a few line-breaking passes and runs down the wing, and Vazquez again sparked the second goal on the left side in the 28th. He played a ball from deep on the wing to Figueroa near the six and while a Guatemala defender deflected the initial cross, the center forward stuck with the play and doubled the American advantage with his follow-up attempt.
All of Guatemala’s early shots came outside from outside the box, but it began to venture deeper into U.S. territory. The host nation finally got on the board in the aftermath of a free kick in the 43rd minute. As the U.S. attempted to clear, the referee whistled for a questionable handball and pointed to the penalty spot. While Ferree guessed the right direction, he wasn’t able to save Olger Escobar’s attempt and the New England Revolution forward’s goal sent Guatemala into the break with momentum.
The hosts carried that momentum into a wild opening to the second half, getting out on the front foot before right back Aiden Harangi added to the U.S. lead in the 50th minute, as he charged downfield to strike a hard-rolling shot from 25 yards. Guatemala responded almost immediately, as a long ball over the top fell to forward Gabino Vasquez, whose spinning finish brought Los Chapines back within one in the 52nd. The U.S. answered in turn as Figueroa bagged his brace just a minute later. After an initial save by goalkeeper Diego Bolaños, he hit the bouncing rebound through the Guatemala defense for his sixth goal of the competition, tied for the tournament lead.
Los Chapines refused to go down easy, buoyed by the ever-fervent home crowd. They climbed back to a one-goal deficit once again in the 74th, as midfielder Antony Recinos headed a ball for defender Carlos Aguilar after a well-taken corner kick to set up a tense final 16 minutes for the U.S.
The USA was finally able to put things to bed in the 83rd minute as second-half substitute Paulo Rudisill played a lovely cross in for Habroune. The midfielder met the ball at the six and tapped it past Bolaños to secure the USA’s World Cup berth and advancement to the semifinals.