(Sunday, July 1, 2007) -- The United States under-20 men were very, very fortunate to emerge from their opening World Cup group D match last night against South Korea with a 1-1 draw. Last night at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the Koreans dominated much of the match, but were unlucky to have one well-placed shot catch the crossbar, another goal disallowed on a questionable offside call and have U.S. goalkeeper Chris Seitz come up big five times to deny them a victory.
South Korea was not only faster than the U.S, but was much quicker. It seemed it got to every 50-50 ball ahead of the Americans and the U.S. was back on its heels and holding on for dear life for long periods.
The Americans were in the match for the first 20 minutes or so and took the lead on Danny Szetela's diving header in the 16th minute after midfield mate Freddy Adu, under heavy pressure, had striker Sal Zizzo's cross flick off his foot into the middle. From that point, however, South Korea dominated until the final 20 minutes, pulling even on Young Rok Shin's goal in the 38th minute. The U.S. had to depend on Seitz and some heroic defensive clearances from its back-line.
The training-camp ankle injury to forward Johann Smith, who plays in the English Premier League for Bolton Wanderers, looks to be a critical loss for U.S. coach Thomas Rongen. The team really only had two experienced forwards in Smith and Josmer Altidore, so it is now playing with one on top with either Adu or Zizzo trying to run with him. Both are natural midfielders and, as this match showed, without Smith to partner with Altidore, the team loses much of its offensive shape in the attacking end.
The U.S. back-line was constantly scrambling to thwart the speedy South Korea forwards. The group of two Major League Soccer players and a pair of college standouts made mistakes but, in the end, gave up only a single goal with fortune smiling down on them.
The American midfield was disappointing. It had problems keeping up with the Koreans and had to concentrate on defense to the point that it clearly suffered on attack. Only after Dax McCarty came in did the group in the middle seem to sort things out a bit and get on track.
"Well, we are not happy with the way we played tonight, but we're happy with the result," Rongen said. "Quite frankly, we are lucky to have come away with a draw against a very good Korean squad. Korea was strong and fast and quite frankly we didn't do our part to match up with them tonight."
Rongen apparently doesn't have much faith in his reserves, using only one sub in the game.
The U.S. next plays Poland, which surprised favorite Brazil 1-0 last night despite playing much of the match a man down. Where Poland surprised was it was faster then the Brazilians, especially down the wings. That does not auger well for the U.S. on Tuesday.
U.S. player ratings:
Goalkeeper Chris Seitz - 7: In a strong performance, he took away from South Korea at least three goals that looked like sure things. Did everything he was asked to do and then some.
Defender Tim Ward - 5.5: At left back, he took on the brunt of the Korean attack, which was mostly down the left side. Not a flawless performance, but he was very good at times and did not give up much.
Defender Nathan Sturgis - 5.5: Essentially with an inexperienced mate, he was asked to do the work of two in the defensive middle. Given the quickness of the South Korea attackers, he did not do badly.
Defender Julian Valentin - 4.5: At Wake Forest, he does not see players the caliber of Young Rok Shin, already a rising star in South Korea's K-League. He struggled through much of the match in a situation where he is learning on the job.
Defender Tony Beltran - 5: Was not put under a lot of pressure with much of the South Korea attack coming from the opposite side of the field. At times, he did fine, but often showed his inexperience playing at this level.
Midfielder Danny Szetela - 5.5: Scored a wonderful goal, diving full-length to convert a header, but he did not have the pace to keep up with the speedy opposing midfielders, leading to an early substitution. .
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 4.5: Contributed little and was simply never a factor in the match.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 4: Was simply awful. Except for getting a foot on the cross that resulted in the goal and one very nice passing sequence in the second half, and a few decent free kicks and corners kicks, he was marked out of the match by an aggressive South Korean midfield. Given his reputation for pace, it was surprising to see him constantly run down from behind as he tried to get going.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5: He is expected to play a different role on this team then the full national team, a much more offensive role and he was not up to the task.
Forward Josmer Altidore - 5: Closely marked by quality defenders, he was not able to create much for himself, but received very little help from his midfield either.
Forward Sal Zizzo - 5: Actually playing as a wing midfielder, he seemed to be another overmatched college player, but at times used his physical strength to advantage. He is likely to be the real thing some day, but right now is still learning.
Midfielder Dax McCarty (52nd minute for Szetela) - 6: Besides Seitz, he was the best American after coming in. Worked tirelessly on both ends of the field. Made a big statement that he should be starting.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Chris Seitz.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.