Despite being down late in the match and being dominated for most of it, the US Under-20 national team knocked off Uruguay 2-1 in overtime yesterday, to advance to the quarterfinals at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
After a first half that saw the US on the defensive throughout, the Americans lost star forward Josmer Altidore to injury, and proceeded to play flat for most of the second half, despite controlling much of the possession. The Uruguayans continued to attack and struck first when Luis Suarez put a rebound past US goalkeeper Brian Perk in the 73rd minute. Perk was under siege for most of the contest, mainly from free kicks, as the two teams combined for 57 fouls and eight yellow cards.
Once Uruguay scored, Freddy Adu took over. He played well in stretches early in the first half, but he truly dominated the game after the US fell behind. Finally, they broke through in the 87th minute. Adu floated a perfect corner kick that Danny Szetela controlled and fired across the mouth of the goal. Forward Andre Akpan, who replaced Altidore, broke for the ball, but Uruguay’s Mathias Cardaccio beat him to it, knocking it in to his own net. It officially went in the books as an own goal but that’s misleading because Akpan would have certainly scored if Cardaccio didn’t deflect it. With the score tied 1-1, the teams headed into two 15 minute overtime periods.
Again, Adu was at his best here. He could be seen pumping up his teammates with a speech before the first overtime period and during the entire 30 minutes he was everywhere from end to end on the field. As the teams traded chances through the first period and the beginning of the second, you could feel the US gaining control of the action, as the team clearly played its best soccer of the night during this time. In the 106th minute, Adu sent another perfect corner kick into the box that Uruguay’s goalkeeper, Yonalon Irrazabal, punched the ball on to the feet of the US’s Julian Valentin. Valentin shot the ball to the far corner of the goal, where Michael Bradley reached out and deflected it into the roof of the net, 2-1 US.
The US withstood several frantic attacks over the last few minutes, but Perk was equal to the challenge in net and the Americans secured the victory. There was a bit of a post-match scuffle when some of the Uruguayan players tried to break up the US celebration and some pushing and shoving ensued but the players were quickly separated. With the win they advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament for just the second time since the field was expanded to 24 teams in 1997. They will face Austria (who beat Gambia 2-1) at 2:15 p.m. ET on ESPNU this Saturday.
Adu has been fantastic throughout the tournament. And Bradley, son of the senior national team’s coach Bob Bradley, has shown his quality as well. The fact that they came from behind without Altidore is simply astonishing. Adu showed the leadership qualities he has needed for years, he got what I like to call “the snarl.” It’s that face guys like Jordan, Kobe, Tiger and Tom Brady get when they know the game is all on them. It’s the “No matter what it takes, I’m going to beat you and there isn’t anything you can do about it” look. Adu had that last night and it rubbed off on his teammates. The kid looks like he’s finally grown up and I can’t wait to see more of him. You can bet your ass I’ll be glued to my couch watching the team take on Austria this Saturday.
This team has a weird vibe surrounding it. They started off looking awful in a 1-1 tie against South Korea, then they destroyed Poland 6-1, before besting Brazil 2-1. After this inspiring comeback they look like a team of destiny. And one that is getting better every time out. I’ll tell you one thing for sure, they are a lot of fun to watch. And that Adu kid, he might have a future.