The United States and Freddy Adu were knocked out of the Under-20 World Cup Saturday after a 2-1 overtime loss to Austria. The quarterfinal win for the Austrians is being considered a major upset.
The Americans jumped ahead 1-0 in the 15th minute thanks to a brilliant cross by Adu, and a finishing header by Josmer Altidore, his fourth goal of the tournament. If you’re a fan of US Soccer, get used to the combination of Adu to Altidore, you’ll be hearing it for a long time. They play so well together and made the most of their opportunities as a one-two punch in this tournament.
The US continued to attack relentlessly for the rest of the half, but failed to convert on any of their chances. In the 43rd minute, the Austrians struck back with a goal of their own. Chris Seitz, America’s excellent goalkeeper, mishandled a long shot by Sebastian Proedl, and Rubin Okotie snuck in and knocked the rebound past Seitz. It was a down note for the US heading into halftime.
The US attack wasn’t well organized in the second half, they showed the fatigue that must have been mounting after their grueling 120-minute marathon against Uruguay in the Round of 16. The Americans seemed to be one step behind Austria for much of the second half and the defense seemed to be scrambling constantly. In the 69th minute Okotie – who was a problem for the Americans all day – broke through the defense and beat Seitz, but defender Nathan Sturgis made an incredibly stop, clearing the ball off the line and saving a sure goal. Then in the 78th minute, Seitz made a phenomenal save, but the rebound was collected and fired off the post by the Austrians. The Americans also began to make mistakes, showing a lack of discipline, which often results from being worn down. They netted seven yellow cards to Austria’s five. One yellow was bigger than the rest however.
After a scoreless second half, the game went into the first of two 15-minute overtime periods. During the break, the Austrians looked fired up and ready to go, while the Americans looked tired. Adu did his best to pump up his teammates and they all seemed to respond to his leadership, as they had throughout the tournament. As the first period wound down, US defender Anthony Wallace made a hard, late tackle and picked up a yellow card, his second of the game. That resulted in a red card and an ejection, leaving the US a man down in the 104th minute. Off of the following free kick, the ball bounced to Erwin Hoffer (just two minutes after he entered the game as a sub), who slid through and poked it in, past Seitz, giving Austria the 2-1 lead.
In the second overtime period, the US had its chances, mainly because of the unending work of Adu. He, again, was all over the field, and gave life to an otherwise extinct American offense. In the 118th minute, the Austrians broke free for a two-on-one with Seitz, Hoffer sought his second goal of the game, but his shot cracked off the right post. The rebound went to the US and they brought it back up the pitch feverishly. Adu twisted and spun his way through the defense, and had a great shot on net, but it was deflected past the far post and out for the corner kick. The Americans never really threatened again and the Austrians finished off the upset.
The fact that the US had any chances when down 11 men to 10 is really a credit to how good they are offensively. To me this was a loss due to fatigue, and the outstanding job the Austrians did containing Altidore, who barely had any chances all day. The Americans certainly played hard and there is a lot to look forward to coming up to the national team. The run they made in this tournament shouldn’t be overlooked. Here are some of the positives that I took from it:
Adu’s leadership: The knock on the kid for the past few years has been that he was too selfish. Well aside from setting up or assisting almost all 12 goals the US scored in this tournament, he was a vocal leader too. Yelling, pumping up his teammates, directing traffic on the field. The other players respected him, listened and supported him. Plus, the kid had like 20 absolutely perfect crosses in just five games and his one-on-one moves are amazing. This tournament likely earned him a fat contract from a European club team as he was clearly the best player in the tournament.
Altidore’s finishing: There is no doubt Josmer Altidore will be a star – along with Adu – on the senior National Team, the question is when. He’s just 17, so he’ll probably spend another year with the Under-20 team before making his big splash. Plus the presence of Eddie Johnson will probably slow his rise, since Johnson (when healthy) is an excellent striker. Obviously Altidore will be better, but the senior National Team doesn’t quite need him yet.
Michael Bradley’s fire: The coach’s kid is a firecracker. Not only can he help facilitate, but he can score, defend and scrap with the best of them. He’s a great midfielder and an incredibly skilled player but he’s also the sort of mix-it-up kind of kid the US Men’s National Team needs. He’s not afraid to go for a tackle against bigger guys, or push and shove his way for position. It’s hard to watch and not like him. He’s already played a lot for the senior team, and we’ll definitely see more of him in the short future. And it will have nothing to do with the fact that his pops happens to be the coach because this kid earns his playing time.
Chris Seitz’s spectacular saves: Let me just put it this way, the US defense was … well let’s just say it was lacking in this tournament. But they had a guy in goal who sold out on every shot to make great saves. During their 2-1 win over Brazil i said, “Holy shit!!!!” at least five times after the kid made an amazing stop. He’s another guy who has a lot of fire and spurred on his teammates constantly. If Adu was the leader of the offense, then Seitz was definitely the leader of the back half of the team. He was also banged up for most of the tournament, but came to play every time he was out there. Technique can be taught, balls cannot. And this kid certainly has the latter.
Team speed: One thing that has hampered the senior National Team – especially against South American opponents – is the lack of breakaway speed, especially in the midfield. Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley aside, the US just doesn’t have a ton of burners capable of making long, impressive runs. Well, guys like Sal Zizzo (great freaking name), Robbie Rogers and Dax McCarty will change that soon enough. Zizzo created tons of opportunities with long runs up the right side, and with his passing. Rogers basically dominated the first half of the Austria game by running past his defenders, or quickly cutting inside them. And McCarty was a super-sub for the US, using his speed to exploit weaknesses in the opposing defense. All three of these guys will find a way onto the National Team roster sometime in the future.