(Saturday, July 14, 2007) -- The good fortune the United States has experienced throughout the men's Under-20 World Cup ran out today in the quarterfinals with a 2-1 overtime loss to defensive-minded Austria, denying the Americans a second trip to the semifinals of this event and first since 1989, when the team was led by goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
The U.S. started well and dominated the game early, getting quickly into the offensive flow and jumping in front on Jozy Altidore's header off a wonderful cross from Freddy Adu in the 15th minute
Then, the rain that had begun in the fifth minute, started to come down heavily and suddenly the U.S. stopped pushing forward with the whole tenor of the match abruptly changing. Over the final 15 minutes of the first half, the Americans stopped pressuring the ball and starting giving the Austrians room to operate. Austria took advantage and began to control play with the U.S. seemingly content to lay back and looking for counter-attacking opportunities.
The result was the U.S. conceded a sloppy Austrian equalizer just before intermission after American keeper Chris Seitz failed to control a rebound. Entering the game with the lingering effects of a leg injury and limping significantly by the time the match ended, Seitz could not hold defender Sebastian Proedl's long shot that skipped on the soaked artificial turf just before it reached him. The long rebound was controlled by Austria striker Rubin Okotie, who dodged two two tackles and squeezed a six-yard shot between Seitz who got a hand on it, and defender Tony Beltran, literally holding his right post.
The second half was eminently forgettable. As the rain continued to come down, the U.S. never regained its early advantage, at times having trouble stringing two passes together. It did not help that Swedish referee Martin Hansson handed out 11 yellow cards -- six to the Americans and five to Austria -- calling fouls seemingly after any physical contact.
U.S. defender Anthony Wallace was sent off with his second yellow card in the 104th minute. Still, the Americans had their chances over the final 20 minutes, but the team suddenly seemed to lose the finishing touch it had enjoyed over the tournament. Adu, Altidore, Robbie Rogers, Michael Bradley and substitute Gabe Ferrari all had chances to score, but could not put the ball past Austrian keeper Michael Zaglmair.
As the match moved into overtime, Austria seemed fresher. Star striker Erwin (Jimmy) Hoffer was inserted in the 103rd minute and the Austrian offense came alive with its game-winner coming two minutes later, one minute after Wallace was ejected.
U.S. players tried desperately to send a ball out of their box and to some extent got in the way of each other as three just failed to clear. Then, reserve defender Tim Ward tried to send the ball to safety, only to have it hit an opponent and slowly roll to Austria's right post. The ball appeared ready to catch the goal frame, but Hoffer nudged it home at the last second.
With its one-man advantage, Austria focused on keeping its shape and did not concede much to the Americans..
Had the U.S. been able to continue the way it started over the opening half hour, it might of recorded a decisive triumph, but it could sustain the effort. Whether it was the rain, fatigue or nerves is unclear, but it allowed Austria to get into a rhythm and the Americans then simply could not regain the lost momentum. Unlike earlier efforts, they stopped pushing forward and pressuring the ball all over the field, and their demise was imminent
"They're a hard team to play against," Rongen said of the Austrians. "They converted two of their four opportunities and we converted one out of five. That's really the story of this game."
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Chris Seitz - 5: Played hurt and had trouble controlling the ball on the slick field, including giving up a rebound on Austria's equalizer. Twice more, he was beaten, but was saved by defender Nathan Sturgis and his goal-post. Given his physical condition and the deteriorating field conditions, he did not do badly under difficult circumstances.
Defender Athony Wallace - 5.5: Hampered by an early yellow card, which would have suspended him in the semifinals, picked up a rather thoughtless caution late in the first overtime period, sending him off. In between, he played rather well and showed substantial growth during the tournament.
Defender Nathan Sturgis - 6: Again was best U.S. defender, sliding to save a goal in the 69th minute. Was a tower of strength all afternoon.
Defender Julian Valentin - 5: Was inconsistent, doing quite well at times, but making costly errors.
Defender Tony Beltran - 5.5: Was able to get forward and push the attack, but was rarely beaten in back before seemingly tiring in the second half.
Midfielder Danny Szetela - 5: Had some good touches, but was really not in the match.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 5.5: Was one of the few American players today who played with consistency at both ends.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 5.5: Was involved in most of the good things the U.S. did, but twice had the opportunity to tie the game in overtime, but was unable to finish.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: In an inconsistent performance, he was alternately good and bad. He was at the heart of the U.S. offense, but was reckless and made key errors at other times.
Forward Josmer Altidore - 5.5: He got the U.S. started with a quality goal and was strong over the first 30 minutes or so, but he had a poor second half and could not take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.
Forward Sal Zizzo - 5.0: He had a few decent touches, but was not a factor in the match.
Midfielder Dax McCarty (63rd minute for Szetela) - 6: As he did in every match in the tournament, he came on as a substitute and made a big contribution. For stretches of the second half, he was teh best American.
Defender Tim Ward (81st minute for Beltran) - 4: Made more mistakes then good plays, never settling in.
Gabe Ferrari (106th minute for Zizzo) - 5: Did not add much in his 15 or so minutes.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Nathan Sturgis
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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