It’s not often that a goalkeeper is central to a game story after a lopsided score line, but it would be impossible to talk about the Philadelphia Union U17 team’s 4-0 win over Atlanta United on Friday without talking about Kristopher Shakes.
The 16-year-old keeper was called upon early and often in the first game of the Generation adidas Cup east region qualifier at Power Training Complex and responded well with a series of saves, a couple of the highlight reel variety, to keep his team in it.
His saves early helped set the tone for the Union, which grabbed a lead on a Axel Picazo volley in the 32nd minute before three second-half substitutes, including one who subbed in for an earlier substitute, to open GA qualifying with a bang.
“Our goalie coaches always tell us if we are going to play an MLS opponent we’re always going to have to make three-four big saves in a game and after that it’s all focus and communication and keeping them together,” Shakes said.
Shakes and the back line, which had Ian Graham and JD Wagner paired in the middle and A.J. Cousins and Donovan Wu as outside backs were heavily pressured by an Atlanta attack led by the trio of Don Deedson Vixamar, Edson Candela-Perez and Jackson Conway in the middle with both outside backs, George Bello on the left and Natnael McDonald on right, bombing forward into the attack.
Cousins, the Union left back, came up big on a number of occasions on one-v-one situations in the first half while Wagner helped lead the back line from his position as the right-sided center back.
While they bent but didn’t break in the first half, the Union defense did benefit from a few strokes of luck in the second half with a couple of shots that hit woodwork.
The substitutes provided the offensive spark to put the game away.
Michael McKeown sprung Jason Aoyama free on a counter attack to double the lead in the 53rd minute and McKeown drew a penalty and took the spot kick to make it 3-0 seven minutes later. Aboubacar Camara, who subbed in for Aoyama when he had to leave with a knock, scored the fourth.
In the end, Union U17 head coach Gary Lewis was pleased with the result but felt the score line didn’t tell the whole story.
“We weren’t delighted with the performance but we were resilient,” Lewis said. “Overall, to beat a name like Atlanta four zero is great for the confidence for the boys.”
“Our 17s got thumped pretty good by Red Bull in that game but the experience and playing in those games is valuable for them as they go through our process,” said Bryan Scales, New England’s Director of Youth Development. “We need more of these games. You can’t replicate these games enough in the DA.”
Atlanta United: Vincent Florio, Natnael McDonald, George Campbell, Kendall Edwards, George Bello, Takuma Suzuki, Victor Delgado, Alan Leyva, Don Deedson Vixamar, Jackson Conway, Edson Candela-Perez
Subs: Wasswa Robbins (46’), Remi Smith (46’), Liam Butts (53’), Thomas Toney (64’), Daniel Mangarov (64’)
Philadelphia Union: Kristopher Shakes, Donavan Wu, JD Wagner, Ian Graham, A.J. Cousins, Marco Bla, Michael Pellegrino, Axel Picazo, Julian Anderson, Nicholas Blacklock, Shanyder Borgelin
Subs: Jason Aoyama (45’), Michael McKeown (47’), Adam Lenges (63’), Aboubacar Camara (64’), Awodesa (76’)