McIntosh stands out at U-17 World Cup

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The United States Under-17 Men’s National Soccer Team was in overtime against El Salvador back on Feb.22, vying for a spot in the CONCACAF semifinals — and, by extension, in the U-17 World Cup — when starting goalkeeper Fernando Piña was hit with a red card for a violent foul in the box.

Kendall McIntosh, 17, a student at Sonoma Academy, just returned from Mexico after playing goalie for the U.S. team in the Under-17 World Cup. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

Piña was tossed out of the game, and would be suspended for the next two contests as well. It was a desperate moment for the Americans. And a golden opportunity for Kendall McIntosh.
The former Sonoma Academy student, Santa Rosa United player and member of the San Jose Earthquakes Youth Academy had spent most of the past year and a half with the U-17 national team, and he rose to the occasion in Piña’s absence. After helping the U.S. to a 3-2 win in that El Salvador game, McIntosh pitched shutouts against host Jamaica (2-0) and Canada (3-0 in overtime), helping to preserve America’s distinction of going to every World Cup since it began in 1985.

It was a long-awaited triumph for McIntosh, and it brought a greater surprise. When Piña returned from his suspension, coach Wilmer Cabrera and his staff stayed with the Sonoma County kid.

“My coaches talked to me about it,” McIntosh said. “They told me, ‘He’s back, but you won the spot outright, so you’re in.’”

McIntosh did little after that to shake their confidence. At the U-17 World Cup, which rotated among several cities in Mexico, the U.S. team beat the Czech Republic 3-0, lost to a good Uzbekistan team 2-1 and fought New Zealand to a scoreless tie, making the Round of 16 before getting eliminated in a 4-0 loss to the powerful Germans.
Along the way, McIntosh drew heaps of praise for his aggressive style in the box and his leaping saves.

Even the Germany result wasn’t as bad as it sounded for the 17-year-old. As a game story in the Sporting News reported: “The result would have been far uglier for the Americans if not for goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh, who made a series of acrobatic — sometimes point-blank — saves that kept the score line somewhat respectable.”

That was little consolation for McIntosh.
“I wouldn’t say I took it as an individual victory, no,” he said. “I was pretty upset with the loss. I thought I could have done better. I would trade all those saves and articles for a win in that game.”

Messias Souza, director of Atletico Santa Rosa and McIntosh’s long-time mentor, watched all of his World Cup games. The graceful athleticism no longer surprises him, but he noticed McIntosh playing out of the goal area a lot more, drifting upfield to become, in essence, an extra defender. It was another sign of McIntosh’s development.

“I can tell you, I’ve never been more proud than when I saw Kendall on TV playing at that level,” Souza said. “I’ve been coaching him since he was 9. We’ve been in contact almost every week. I feel a lot of pride when I see him now.”

Yet the overall experience was invaluable for McIntosh. He proved beyond a doubt that he belongs on the biggest soccer stages in his age class. He justified his unwavering dedication during the time he wasn’t starting. And he got a taste of the high-pressure world of international play.

“They booed us a lot,” McIntosh said of the Mexican fans, who see the Americans as big rivals. “But it was a good experience. I got to see what our full team is put through every time they play in another country. The fans were not positive toward us. You realize that in tournaments, all you have is your team.”

McIntosh is back with family in Santa Rosa now, but he does not plan to re-enroll at Sonoma Academy. He will instead try to get a waiver to graduate early, and hopes to be playing at Santa Clara University next spring.

He may begin as a backup for the Broncos, but that prospect isn’t as daunting as it once was.
“Of course it’s always difficult when you feel like maybe you could be starting,” McIntosh said. “You have to balance your emotions. You learn a lot of lessons as a No.2.”

And, apparently, as a No.1, a role that could be prominent in McIntosh’s future.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.