Two of the youngest members of Tacoma Defiance have yet to join the team for preseason. That’s because Chris Aquino and Stuart Hawkins are trying to help the United States reach the U17 World Cup being held later this year. First, they’ve got to work their way through the Concacaf U17 Championship where they’ve already won their group, are two wins away from a place at the World Cup, and another away from a chance at winning the tournament for the first time in over a decade.
Through the Group Stage, the US have won all three of their games, outscoring opponents 9-1 in victories over Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and Canada. So far, one or both of Aquino and Hawkins have at least appeared in each of the three games, with Hawkins starting the two opening games against to help secure a place in the Round of 16. Aquino got his first cap with the group in his start against T&T, and came on as a late sub against Canada in the final game for Group F as the US held onto a win and the top spot in the group.
Hawkins came into this camp as something of a known commodity to the coaching staff, and his two starts and 179 minutes of play demonstrated the security of his position within the group even if he wasn’t called upon to do too much in either of his two appearances against clearly weaker opposition. Hawkins couldn’t have done much about Trinidad’s goal — an absolute banger from the top of the box — but still won plenty of his duels, and was a consistent and steady presence in possession while pitching in with the occasional through ball or line-breaking pass. In the two games combined, Hawkins completed 122 of the 125 passes he attempted. He didn’t appear against Canada, potentially being rested ahead of the knockouts.
Aquino entered the tournament with a bit more to prove, having only received his first call into a U17 camp this year ahead of this competition. After being an unused sub in the opening game against Barbados, Aquino started and played the full 90 minutes against Trinidad & Tobago. In his start, Aquino was an important part of the US’s attack, even if he didn’t end up on the scoresheet. He completed 23 of his 28 passes, both highs for US attackers in the game, led both sides with six shots, and also served as the right-side corner taker. His service from corners was promising, and he set up a couple of good opportunities from a designed corner to the top of the box. Ultimately, Aquino provided enough danger and creativity in his long run-out to earn himself further looks throughout the tournament. His six shots against T&T all came from outside of the box, but he came very close to opening his international account with an absolute banger on a couple of instances.
The tests will only get tougher from here on out. Their Round of 16 opponent is the Dominican Republic. DR reached this point by winning their group in a pre-qualifying tournament last year. In a group that pitted them against Saint Kitts and Nevis, the Cayman Islands, and Dominica, they dominated. In three games they claimed three wins, scored 19 goals and their lone goal allowed came in the final group game against Saint Kitts and Nevis in a 5-1 win. They’re no pushovers, to be certain.
Anyone who’s watched any Concacaf competition should know better than to overlook any “small” opponents. The team is filled out with a mix of domestic players, a few guys at private American boarding schools, an FC Cincinnati academy player, and a handful of guys coming up through academies throughout Europe including Parma in Italy, Volendam in the Netherlands, and Spain’s Getafe and CF Damm, a youth club that helped to develop Víctor Vázquez, Cristian Tello, Gerard Moreno, and helped Konrad de la Fuente get noticed by Barcelona.
The game against the Dominican Republic will be Saturday at 2 PM. As of now the game will be available of Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Plus and ViX+.