(Thursday, July 12, 2007) -- The United States was very fortunate to overcome a determined Uruguay 2-1 in overtime to advance to the quarterfinals of the men's Under-20 World Cup yesterday at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
In a physical match, the U.S. was never able to get its offense into any kind of rhythm. In the end, the Americans were forced to rely mostly on willpower to first draw level on an own goal in the 87th minute and Michael Bradley's point-blank blast in a second extra period, both following goal-mouth scrambles after Freddy Adu corner kicks.
Uruguay, which was one of the major underachievers of this tournament, finally played up to its potential. With five and, at times, six midfielders when the U.S. had the ball, Uruguay denied the ball to Adu and closely-marked striker Jozy Altidore. For most of regulation, the U.S. was simply not able to marshal much of an attack.
The American back-line and midfield did well on defense. Despite Uruguay controlling play until late in the second half and triggering 17 shots, few were quality chances. Uruguay's goal by Luis Suarez in the 73rd minute came off a seemingly routine play, starting with a header that substitute U.S. goalkeeper Brian Perk should have handled. Instead, he stumbled and gave up a rebound and, in the confusion, Suarez was able to get open and tap the ball home.
Perk played in place of the injured Chris Seitz, the hero of the American's 2-1 Group D victory over Brazil with his 14 saves. Perk had a few difficult minutes early, but then settled in and played well for the remainder of the game. He ended up with seven saves, but his value was in controlling his area and cutting off a number of crosses and corner kicks..
In the end, the U.S. prevailed on will. There was nothing pretty about the American effort, and the free-flowing soccer the Americans played against Poland and Brazil was absent. But in the end, the job got done.
"Instead of succumbing to their fate, though, the USA showed remarkable mental strength to strike back," said the official game report from world governing body FIFA, the tournament sponsor.
"This was a total team effort, with Brian Perk filling in for Chris Seitz, and all three of our substitutions coming in and making an impact," U.S. coach Thomas Rongen said. "This is the kind of game where you find out what your players are made of and how good a team you actually have. It was just a great battle over 120 minutes and a fantastic result to move on to the final eight."
The U.S. moves on to meet Austria in a Saturday quarterfinal. The Austrians had to come from behind to defeat Gambia 2-1 in their Round-of-16 match. They feature Rapid Vienna striker Erwin Hoffer, who scored the winner against Gambia, and the U.S. will have a handful trying to defend him.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Brian Perk - 6: Settled in after a shaky start and made only one bad mistake. It cost a goal, but hr received no help from his defense on the play.
Defender Anthony Wallace - 6: Has improved from game to game as the tournament has progressed. Showed great range tonight coming into the middle to make plays, while able to push forward offensively.
Defender Nathan Sturgis - 6: Continues to be the rock of the U.S. defense. Was solid and physical while under considerable pressure.
Defender Julian Valentin - 5.5: Back in the lineup being sidelined by a facial cut, he continues to be a step slow at times and could have been in better position on the Uruguay goal. He excelled in overtime.
Defender Tony Beltran - 5.5: Played solidly, making a number of key defensive stops while managing to push forward often. Was replaced for an additional striker.
Midfielder Danny Szetela - 5.5: Was forced to play a lot of defense and did well. Never really got on track offensively in a crowded midfield, but make a terrific play in the Uruguay box to control an Adu corner kick and force the equalizing own goal.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 5.5: Was not involved in much in the attack, but worked very hard in the defensive end.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 5.5: Held in check by tight marking, but his quality corner kicks led to both U.S. goals.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: Played a lot of defense, disrupting the Uruguay midfield, and them got himself in position to score the winning goal. Was the best U.S. player in the overtime, but his childish temper tantrum, looking to fight the Uruguyans, has to be worrisome.
Forward Josmer Altidore - 5: Never really got on track after failing to score on an early header. Tightly marked, he took a physical pounding that finally forced him out of the match.
Forward Sal Zizzo - 4.5: Playing mostly in the midfield, could not overcome tight physical marking and was never in the match.
Forward Andre Akpan (51st minute for Altidore) - 5.5: Coming in as an injury replacement, he did quite well, especially in the overtime. His pressure caused Mathias Cardaccio into a defensive act that wound up as the tying own goal.
Midfielder Dax McCarty (54th minute for Zizzo) - 6: Another quality appearence. As a key contributor in overtime, he gave the U.S. new offensive life, while defending well.
Gabe Ferrari (81st minute for Beltran) 5:: Came in late as a third attacker with the U.S. still trailing and had some quality touches. Dropped deep into the midfield to play defense.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Michael Bradley.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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