United States is still alive in World Cup despite 3-1 loss to Tunisia.
U.S. under-17 men
Disappointing effort leaves Americans on U-17 life support.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, August 23, 2007) -- The United States, which entered the Under-17 World Cup in South Korea as one of the favorites, lost its second straight Group E match to Tunisia 3-1 tonight and now must win its final group game Sunday against Belgium and hope for help. Otherwise, the Americans will pack their bags and go home.
The U.S.-Tunisia affair was an odd match. Colombian referee Hernando Buitrago, who had the visage of a stern headmaster, awarded Tunisia a pair of first-half penalty kicks, both of which were converted. In the 90th minute, the U.S. was given a penalty kick which allowed it to pull within 2-1. Many other officials would likely have signaled play-on on all three occasions, but Buitrago though otherwise and, by halftime, the Americans were in a hole they could not climb out of.
Considering the importance of the match, after the U.S.'s opening 4-3 loss to Tajikistan, the U.S. came out strangely flat. Striker Ellis McLoughlin, who played only the closing few minutes against Tajikistan, suffering the effects of strep throat, started tonight, but was replaced after doing little in 70 minutes.
Even though both the Tunisia goals came from the penalty spot in the first half and it dropped back into a defensive posture to preserve the lead, it was still dangerous, creating better chances than the U.S. The Americans had only three shots on goal, a tribute in no small measure to the hard-working Tunisian defense.
Atef Dikhili was solid in the Tunisia goal and was up to the task on the few occasions the U.S. got off a dangerous shot. Perhaps the best U.S. chance came when striker Billy Schuler broke through in the second half, but was called offside. Other times, especially late in the match, good American chances were sent after beating an attempted offside trap.
At the other end, the U.S. defense played well. It held the Tunisia to only a handful of chances and won almost all the one-on-one challenges. The only goal the Americans gave up from the run of play did not come until four minutes into stoppage time when all the defenders had pushed up far into the attack desperately seeking to level the match.
In the final analysis, the Americans were simply flat for 90 minutes. In what was the biggest game this group has ever had, yet it just lacked the spark and cohesiveness it needed. Sometimes this happens with youth teams for no apparent reason.
"The heat and humidity are difficult here when you're trying to play two games in three days," U.S. coach John Hackworth said. "I definitely think the pace of the game in the first half from both teams was a bit slow and that probably had something to do with the heat."
Whatever the reason, the U.S. cannot afford for it to happen again. To remain in the tournament, it must beat Belgium Sunday. Then, depending on the result of the Tunisia-Tajikistan match and goal differential, the Americans actually have a decent chance of advancing. The top two teams from each of six groups and the four third-place teams with the best records -- 16 of 24 sides-- move to the second round.
By defeating Belgium, the U.S. will finish second if Tunisia wins by more than two goals or in third place. Otherwise, the U.S. heads home with perhaps the most disappointing result ever suffered by an American teams in 12 visits to this competition.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Zac MacMath - 5.5: Came up short on both penalty kicks, but they were well-taken. Otherwise, he stood up well during the match and cannot be faulted for the final goal on a two-man break.
Defender Sheanon Williams - 5.5: In the first half was able to get into the attack, but in the second had to stay home as part of a three-man back-line. Made few mistakes.
Defender Mykell Bates - 5.5: As he was in the opening match, he was strong in the center. Rightly seemed mystified when the hand ball was called against him leading to the first penalty kick.
Defender Tommy Meyer - 5.5: Did not play in the opening match and after a strong performance here, one might wonder why. Was often one-on-one and he won all those battles, especially as part of the three-man, back-line the second half.
Defender Chris Klute - 5: Played only one half, coming off for an additional attacking player. Did not play badly.
Midfielder Jared Jeffrey - 5.5: Improved on his effort in the first game. appearance than in the opening match. Converted the U.S. PK and made good passes throughout the match, creating chances that went for naught.
Midfielder Danny Wenzel - 5.0: Had some good moments, but too few.
Midfielder Bryan Dominguez - 4.5: Tried some long range shots, but none were dangerous. Tired in the second half.
Midfielder Alex Nimo - 4: As good as he was in the first game, he was about as poor tonight. Contributed little. Even his set pieces were off.
Forward Ellis McLoughlin - 4.5: Has been ill and did not play in the first match until the end. Went 70 minutes, but did not look like himself at all. Probably is not really match ready.
Forward Billy Schuler - 4.5: Had several good chances, but could not finish. Was too easily handled by the Tunisia defense.
Forward Abdusalam Ibrahim (46th minute for Klute) - 4.5: Entered on the wing in a three-man front line, but had little success. Was easily handled by the opposing defense.
Forward Brendan King (70th minute for McLoughlin) - 4.5: Did not add anything to the offense.
Midfielder Daniel Cruz (77th minute for Dominguez) - 4.5: Had almost no impact on the match.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Tommy Meyer.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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