It’s a debut to remember for Ulysses Llanez…
A penalty by the 18-year-old Latino soccer player gave the United Statesa 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica in Carson, California, on Saturday afternoon to put an end to the team’s January camp.
Llanez, a native of nearby Lynwood, California, buried a penalty kick in the corner in the 50th minute, slotting the ball to the left of goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, who dove the other way.
Llanez celebrated by miming a fadeaway jump shot in a tribute to retired Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with eight others last Sunday.
“It was an emotional week. We were on the training field when it happened, and the first thing is just disbelief,” said U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter. “You just can’t believe something like that happened. And our hearts go out to all the victims.
“It’s a terrible accident. And then when you talk about Kobe, he’s a guy that was tied very closely to soccer.”
Seven Americans made their national team debuts, including four starters: Llanez, 18-year-old midfielder Brenden Aaronson, 19-year-old striker Jesus Ferreira and 20-year-old left back Sam Vines. Three more Americans made their debuts as second-half substitutes: midfielder Brandon Servania and defenders Mark McKenzie and Chase Gasper.
All the debuting players except Gaspar are eligible for the CONCACAF Olympicqualifying tournament, a competition limited to players under 23. The U.S. opens against Costa Rica on March 20, and this early-year experience could speed the laborious process of building chemistry among the youngsters before they fight for a trip to Japan.
Llanez is a former LA Galaxy prospect now playing in Germany for Wolfsburg‘s youth team. After getting invited to the team’s January camp and impressing his coaches, Llanez became the 54th player to score in his U.S. debut.
Llanez’s penalty was awarded when substitute Randall Leal brought down Reggie Cannon on a run deep into the box following a pass from Paul Arriola.
Only two matches in U.S. history featured more debut starters than this exhibition on the Galaxy’s home field south of downtown Los Angeles. The American team fielded five newcomers in a match against Canadain September 1992 and against Panama last June.
Ever since the U.S. missed out on the 2018 World Cup with a humiliating loss to Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017, the new coaching staffs have employed 81 players, including 43 making debuts.
Berhalter’s team will next be in action on March 26 in a friendly against the Netherlands in Eindhoven.