Thursday, July 12, 2007

US U-20's Rally, Advance to Quarterfinals

Michael Bradley put the finishing touch on a left-footed shot by Julian Valentin in the 107th minute and the US U-20 national team held on to beat the Uruguayan U-20's 2-1. Luis Suarez put Uruguay ahead on 73 minutes after slamming home a rebound that couldn't be controlled by US fill-in keeper Brian Perk, but an own goal 14 minutes later sent what was a brutal-to-watch, no rhythm game to extra time.

The match started off slow and just got slower throughout the first half. A combined 22 fouls (some of which were nitpicky and could've been no-calls by the Uzbek referee, Ravshan Irmatov) really sucked the flow out of the first 45 minutes of play. The US wasn't able to play the up-and-down, high-paced style of soccer they'd exhibited in the group stage of the tournament as they fell in to the slow tempo that Uruguay wanted to maintain. Neither side had any exceptional scoring chances, though Luis Suarez sent a curling free kick just over the crossbar and Josmer Altidore had a free header which was saved by the Uruguayan backup goalkeeper, Yonatan Irrazabal.

The US suffered a huge blow in the 51st minute when Josmer Altidore suffered a knee injury that could prove problematic to the US down the line. Uruguay's defenders had been very physical with Altidore all game long and their repeated challenges seemed to take their toll on the New York Red Bull striker. He was substituted for Andre Akpan, and at this point, things seemed bleak for the US as they'd generated little offense to that point and with their best striker out of the game, not much more attack could be expected.

The situation became even drearier when Uruguay drew first blood in the 73rd minute. Luis Suarez beat Brian Perk to a rebound from an Edinson Cavani header and hammered it home to put the South Americans up 1-0. The two European-based players were the best players on the field for Uruguay all night long, and when Suarez was substituted out in the in the 83rd minute, it was a move that had me second, third, and fourth-guessing Uruguay coach Ferrin Gustavo.

Sure enough, the US scored just 4 minutes later courtesy of a Mathias Cardaccio own goal. Danny Szetela kept a Freddy Adu corner kick alive, dribbled towards the end-line, and slammed a low left-footed drive from 9 yards out that skipped under Irrazabal's diving frame. Andre Akpan looked certain to finish it, but a sliding lunge from Mathias Cardaccio was actually the touch that directed the ball into the net.

Uruguay nearly won the game in regulation but an awkward-looking header from Manuel Diaz came squarely off the right post. It had Brian Perk frozen; just an inch or so to the left and Uruguay would've won but as it was, the US benefited from a stroke of luck and the game went into extra time.

The first 15 minutes of extra time went by without any drama, though a yellow card was handed out to defender Anthony Wallace. The second 15 minutes produced 5 more yellow cards, but most importantly, what turned out to be the game-winning goal by US midfielder Michael Bradley. In truth, Bradley had not played very well, to say the least, all game long but he was in the right place at the right time to redirect a Julian Valentin shot into the net to give the US a 2-1 advantage. Bradley has often times looked out of his depth during this FIFA U-20 World Cup, which is surprising after his impressive performance (though it was against lesser CONCACAF teams) during the Gold Cup. However, his goal gave the US the lead and it was a lead they held onto for the last 13 minutes of extra time.

Men of the Match:
USA: No one jumped out at me whatsoever, and I refuse to name Michael Bradley man of the match simply because he scored the game-winning goal because he didn't play well at all during the game. Insert your choice here, but I'll go with Freddy Adu.
Uruguay: Edinson Cavani

The US advance to the quarterfinals to take on Austria, a 2-1 winner over Gambia. That game will be played this Saturday, July 14, also in Toronto. Kickoff is set for 2:15 PM Eastern Time, and ESPN U will have the live broadcast from BMO Field.

A full preview of that game can be found here either tomorrow night or early Saturday morning. Keep checking the site for the latest coverage of the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

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