The USA (pictured) celebrates after qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup by overcoming Jamaica on penalties in a CONCACAF Under-17 Championship playoff on March 15, 2015, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Photo: Mexsport)
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- The United States is into the FIFA U-17 World Cup, but only after advancing past Jamaica 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in Sunday’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship playoff match at the Estadio Francisco Morazan.
Alexis Velela drove in the USA’s sixth spot kick, before Jamaica’s Alex Marshall sent his penalty wide of the top left corner, putting the Americans back in the U-17 World Cup after missing the tournament for the first time two years ago.
The Jamaicans also hadn’t qualified since 2011, but nearly pulled off a feat of heroic proportions after shutting out the Americans for 180 minutes.
The Reggae Boyz had beaten the U.S. 1-0 on Wednesday thanks to Nicholas Nelson’s penalty in the teams’ final game of Group A play.
Much like that encounter, the Jamaicans defended expertly and countered quickly.
The U.S. would not be denied this time, however, even after Jamaica goalkeeper Jahmali Waite dove to his left to save Christian Pulisic’s opening spot kick in the shootout. In addition to Velela, Joe Gallardo, Daniel Barbir, Alejandro Zendejas and John Nelson each converted their penalties, while Jahwani Hinds also missed for Jamaica.
After an uneventful opening 30 minutes, the United States began to gain the majority of possession and chances, but found it difficult to break the deadlock.
Its best first-half opportunities came in quick succession, when Josh Perez saw his goal-bound header nodded away by Jamaican back Shandel Senior in the 36th minute. Then, another attack down the left a minute later resulted in a blocked Gallardo effort.
Perez, who scored four goals in the tournament, continued to be the Americans’ most dangerous player after halftime, generating a string of chances on the left before nearly chipping Waite from the edge of the penalty area in the 80th minute.