Written By Alex Burstein
Heading into the pool play opener for the Maccabi USA U16 boys’ soccer team, set pieces were nothing more than a small part of practice.
“It was something we definitely worked on in training, but I wouldn’t say it was like coach really said ‘this is what we’re going to [do to] affect the other team,’” United States midfielder Eli Wachs said.
But, by the end of 70 minutes, set pieces were exactly what decided the game.
Wachs led the attack with an assist off a corner kick and a goal off a free kick as the US rolled to a 2-0 win over the Netherlands to kick off pool play.
It took only four minutes of gameplay for the United States to get on the scoreboard, as Wachs hammered a free kick into the box, where it met the head of Walker Blake. Blake easily put it away.
“I thought it was really important [to score early] because I felt the other team started off really strong,” Wachs said. “And I thought we did good to ride their pressure and then getting the goal. I felt like [that] really calmed us down.”
That goal put some momentum on the side of the US, but also ignited an already aggressive Netherlands offense. The second half goalkeeper Jarret Wodotinsky thinks the US defense responded well to this.
“I thought they played really well,” Wodotinsky said. “The Netherlands was an aggressive team coming – they were fast and aggressive. And I think the defense really held up well with the strikers and shots.”
As the Netherlands kept its attack going, the United States squandered the few opportunities it had, until Wachs stepped up for a free kick directly to the right of the top of the goalie box in the 35th minute.
“I like to call it a shot cross,” Wachs said. “So if it goes in, it goes in and if somebody gets their head on it and scores, somebody gets their head on it and scores.”
Nobody needed to get their head on it, as Wachs’ kick curved into the goal just past the fingertips of the Netherlands’ goalie, putting the final goal of the day on the scoreboard.
From there, it was time for the defense to shine.
“Always love a clean sheet,” Wodotinsky said. “It’s great for the team. And you know, we hope to keep a clean sheet for the rest of the tournament.”
While the defense did what it needed to do, the team will now look for the offense to play energetic for a full 70 going forward.
“I think we can just press a little bit higher and then try to keep our energy up,” Wachs said. “Because I felt like times we were dropping back too deep and then it was like we were allowing them to have the ball a little bit too much.”
On the defensive side of things, Wodotinsky is looking for some communication tune-ups heading forward.
“I just think more communication would help for me and just the defense together so we don’t have open areas of space for them to come through,” Wodotinsky said.
While the team may have some points they want to improve on heading into the rest of the tournament, a day one win was a strong starting point, according to Wachs.
“I think it’s really important [to start off with a win],” he said. “You don’t want to have to be battling back and needing three points to qualify. So I think it’s really good to get off to a good start.”
The US (1-0-0) hopes to keep that good start going on Thursday, July 14, with a 10 a.m. kickoff against Panama (1-0-0).
Photo (Soccer pgotoO: Maccabi USA U16 Boys’ Soccer player Tamier Ratoviz dribbles during a matchup with the Netherlands.
Photo Credit: Logan Schiciano for Maccabi Media