The US National Arena Soccer Team got further than their outdoor counterparts, who failed to qualify this week for the FIFA World Cup, but suffered a disappointing 4-3 overtime loss today to Mexico in the Round of 16 of the WMF World Cup in Tunisia.
In today’s first two games, the Americans’ fellow Group D teams Senegal and Spain advanced to the quarterfinals, but the US had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 and could not hold on. Mexico, who is undefeated in four tournament games, avenged their 5-3 loss to the US in the 2015 WMF Arena Soccer World Cup Final.
After an emotional week, where the US outplayed Spain, Senegal, and India, only to come away with a 1-1-1 record, the team was once again paired up against their biggest rival.
In barnstorming exhibitions, the US struggled all summer against Mexico, going 3-6.
The US got on the board first when Gordy Gurson’s corner kick caromed in off Mexico goalkeeper Diego Reynoso, and Andy Reyes made it 2-0 with a diving header.
Enrique Canez got Mexico back to 2-1, but Israel Sesay scored on a restart in injury time to give the US a 3-1 halftime lead.
Christian Gutierrez cut the US lead to 3-2 and Canez, with Victor Quiroz on as a sixth attacker, tied the game with three minutes left in regulation.
The game went to overtime, which consists of two five-minute periods. Gutierrez scored in the first overtime to give Mexico a 4-3 lead, and the US couldn’t find the equalizer.
According to the final games stats, Mexico outshot the US 24-14 and dominated possession time 68-32. A lot of the time of possession disparity no doubt resulted from the US playing the ball long on every goal kick. Whatever long balls that didn’t go directly out of bounds were easily intercepted by Mexico’s defense.
“We were definitely making an effort to get the ball up to our targets and avoid the high pressure Mexico has been using in all the games so far,” said US Head Coach and General Manager Bernie Lilavois. “Worked first half, second half backfired a bit on us.”
Some of the Mexicans have played futbol-7, which might have helped them adapt more quickly to minifootball’s football-six, but the US players have mostly played arena soccer, while some have futsal experience. Twenty-six of the 30 players for the US and Mexico play in the Major Arena Soccer League.
“We need to learn the small intricacies of minifootball that are different from arena soccer,” said Lilavois. “It’s two different types of games and sports in my opinion.
“We learned tons as this was our first minifootball competition ever and it really was a very beneficial experience,” said Lilavois. “I personally learned, not only about on-field tactics and felt we got better each game, but also learned so much about the WMF and all the other countries and how they run their organizations. We’re excited for the future and will be announcing many things soon that I cant wait to be a part of.”
With the US eliminated, the team will have the next three days off to observe the rest of the tournament and possibly venture out of the hotel-stadium-hotel bubble the team has been mainly confined to for the last week.
“The tournament, and Tunisia in general, has been awesome,” said Lilavois, reflecting back on the past week. “The host federation along with WMF have done such a great job and this was truly a world class event. Hats off to all the teams, players, federations and organizers for an experience of a lifetime.”