Why USA’s 3-0 Loss To North Korea In U-17 Women’s World Cup Isn’t A Shock

The USWNT U-17 Women's World Cup campaign took a bad turn on Saturday. Featured on FS2 — one of the few soccer matches on TV in the U.S. on a day dominated by college football — the Americans were routed by North Korea 3-0 in their second Group C match in Uruguay. 

The U.S. opened the tournament with a 3-0 win while North Korea lost 4-1. Perhaps the Americans assumed they’d have an easy win based on those scores, but that was anything but the case. 

The USWNT’s 3-0 win over Cameroon to start the tournament looked great on paper but was a bit flattering given the action on the pitch. The young Americans struggled for much of the match, even after Cameroon went down to 10 women (and eventually nine). 

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North Korea, meanwhile, was punished by Germany 4-1, but recent history shows the North Koreans are a far superior team at this level of play. 

North Korea has a much better record in U-17 Women’s World Cups than the U.S., dating back to beating the Americans in the final of the inaugural tournament in 2008. North Korea is also the defending champion having won in 2016, a tournament at which the U.S. didn’t even get out of the group stage. The U.S. U-17s also failed to qualify for two editions while North Korea has qualified for every tournament and only once failed to make it out of the group stage, finishing second in 2012 and fourth in 2010. 

Of course, at the U-17 level, every year is different, so when North Korea lost to Germany, there were suspicions that this wouldn’t be North Korea’s year. But the Asian champions showed they’re not done yet. And the Concacaf champions showed they’re in trouble.

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On Saturday, the U.S. looked lethargic against the pressure of North Korea. While the USWNT had more possession, rarely did it threaten North Korea’s goal, most of the U.S. passes going back and forth between defenders. The most important aspect of the match proved to be corner kicks, North Korea scoring all three goals on such set pieces. 

North Korea took the lead in the 25th minute when Ri Kum Hyang converted after a wild scrum in the box following a corner kick. 

Not long later, North Korea made it 2-0 with a perfect near-post header by Kim Yun Ok on a corner kick.

The second half started in much the same way as the first half, with North Korea scoring off a corner kick. Just as on the first goal, the U.S. failed to clear the ball and was punished, this time by Kim Kyong Yong in the 52nd minute. 

The third goal could be vital as it put North Korea ahead of the U.S. on tiebreakers with more total goals. 

North Korea nearly added a fourth off another corner kick in the 58th minute but for a goal-line clearance, as North Korea outshot the U.S. 22-5.

The 3-0 defeat will be a blow for the Americans’ confidence and they’ll face an uphill battle just to qualify for the knockout rounds out of what is easily the Group of Death. The U.S. will need a result in the final match against Germany, which finished runner-up in the U-17 Euros earlier this year after winning the two Euros prior. 

But, as the North Koreans showed on Saturday, a turnaround isn’t out of the realm of possibilities at this tournament.

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