(Wednesday, July 4, 2007) -- What has been missing this year from all age groups of the United States men has been a finisher. Now, suddenly, at least for one game, the under-20s found not one, but a pair attackers who effectively put the ball in the net.
The pair are veterans of the U.S. youth program and Major League Soccer -- midfielders Freddy Adu and Danny Szetala -- and they were unstoppable in yesterday's 6-1 rout of Poland at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, a triumph that put the Americans on the verge of advancing from Group D to the Round of 16 of the Under-20 World Cup.
Adu contributed three goals, including a pair of stunning, world-class finishes. Szetala added a pair of goals, including an early header that allowed the U.S. to quickly strike back and equalize after falling behind five minutes in.
"Special players make special plays, within a team concept,'' U.S. coach Thomas Rongen said." I've said before that if our team plays well, individual players will shine. We had better focus, our spacing was better and we were much sharper on the ball. We probably played one of the best under-20 games an American side has ever played."
In probably the best match of his career, Adu was brilliant, converting a pair on Sal Zizzo feeds into a 3-1 halftime lead, finding the left corner of the net twice with dead-on accuracy. In Sunday's opening 1-1 draw with South Korea, Adu was tentative, seemingly playing not to make a mistake and was all but invisible, not even taking a shot.
Today, in a welcomed change of attitude, Adu was aggressive and, after curling a shot from a difficult angle around goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski for a 2-1 advantage in the 20th minute, he began to play with abandon. The new attitude of their captain seemed contagious and lifted the performance of his teammates.
Szetela had reason to be inspired given both of his parents were born in Poland and at one time he was invited to play in Poland's youth program. He wanted badly to do well and his perfectly-placed header erased the U.S deficit after only four minutes. His second goal made it 4-1 in the 51st minute and dispelled any notions Poland might have had of a comeback.
The U.S. defense excelled, especially in the first minutes of the second half when Poland came out breathing fire. The Americans lost a defensive starter to injury in each half, but Ofori Sarkodie and Amaechi Igwe were effective off the bench.
There was nothing really different about the U.S. of style or formation, compared to its sub-par effort against South Korea, when it was lucky to escape with a draw. Today, however, the Americans suddenly found a level of confidence that was missing Sunday and in games leading up to this tournament.
As one of only two teams in the six groups -- Argentina is the other in Group E - with four points, the U.S. (1-0-1) is virtually certain of advancing with only eight of 24 teams eliminated for the second round. Still, the Americans would like to win Group D and can do so by defeating one of the pre-tournament favorites, Brazil (1-1, 3 points), Friday in Ottawa. Brazil recovered from a 1-0 opening loss to Poland (1-1, 3), to defeat South Korea (0-1-1, 1) by a 3-2 count yesterday.
If the U.S. can replicate its effort against Poland, it will be a factor in the later rounds of this event.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Chris Seitz - 6.0: Did not do much to stop Poland's early goal, but settled in and had a strong match though he was not put under a great deal of pressure.
Defender Anthony Wallace - 5.5: Had good range and pushed forward well while conceding little at the back. Not flashy, but solid.
Defender Nathan Sturgis - 6.5: Was the best U.S. defender, he held his ground well and consistently broke up threats by Poland.
Defender Julian Valentin - 4.5: As happened against South Korea, he was beaten for an early goal when he could not keep up with a speedy opponent. Later, he had to leave after he caught an elbow that opened a deep facial cut.
Defender Tony Beltran - 5.5: A quiet, but effective performance. Worked hard defensively, but was also able to push forward with effect at times.
Midfielder Danny Szetela - 7: He allowed the U.S. to quickly respond after falling behind early, then kept the pressure on Poland throughout the match. He not only had a pair of quality goals, but worked tirelessly on both ends.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 6.5: Until today, he had been playing tentatively. In this match, he came out of his shell and became an offensive weapon, pushing hard down the left side, yet getting back into the midfield to play defense. With two assists, he had his best under-20 game.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 8: He was as good today as he was bad against South Korea. All his goals were of high quality, he helped set up teammates and was generally unstoppable. Probably the best match of his career.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: Was little involved in the fireworks going off around him. Did nothing wrong, but was not playing at the same level as some of his teammates.
Forward Josmer Altidore - 5.5: Worked extremely hard throughout the match and was finally rewarded with a goal. He was closely marked, but was able to create chances on a number of occasions. He still needs to improve finishing.
Forward Sal Zizzo - 6: Again playing as a wing midfielder, he too seemed to blossom. He was almost unstoppable on the right wing and he frequently pressured the Polish defense..
Defender Ofori Sarkodie (33rd minute for Valentine) 6: After Valentine was injured, his speed was a big help in shutting down Poland when it still was in contention. A fine appearence.
Defender Amaechi Igwe (63rd minute for Wallace) 5.5: Was effective as an injury replacement.
Midfielder Dax McCarty (79th minute for Altidore) 5.5: Did a good job though the result was no longer in doubt when he entered.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Freddy Adu.
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