With this morning’s heart breaking loss on penalty kicks to Serbia in the books night owls and insomniacs across the United States will no longer have this American U20 soccer team to keep them company on their late nights, and more’s the pity.
Going out of a major tournament on penalty kicks is always devastating, all the more when the pk round goes to extra time.
That was the situation this morning in New Zealand after the U.S. and Serbia battled through 90 minutes of regular time and another half an hour of added time, with neither side managing to trouble the scoreboard operator.
With a U20 World Cup semifinal berth at stake each team had its moments in this marathon. The Americans were strong in the early going with Paul Arriola and newly installed starter Tommy Thompson leading the way with some aggressive runs at the Serbian back four.
But Serbia weathered that early storm and began to turn things its way as the game went deeper into the opening 45, but despite good opportunities on both sides we went to break goalless.
As the clocked ticked onward the short U.S. bench appeared to become an issue. Having lost forward Maki Tall to injury in the first match of New Zealand 2015, the U.S. were further depleted by the absences of striker Bradford Jamieson IV and fullback/midfielder Kelyn Acosta.
With Serbia edging the play and looking the fresher team, the full 90 minutes expired with neither side forcing a breakthrough. Having spent so much effort searching for the elusive game winner in regular time, neither team seemed to have much left in the tank for extras and the additional 30 minutes passed uneventfully.
Serbian coach Veljko Paunovic had made one change in regulation and didn’t make another until the 111th minute. Ramos made just one move, bringing in Joel Sonora for Thompson after 102 minutes.
Sonora brought fresh legs, but no goal and it was on to penalty kicks. Both teams had reason to believe in their keepers. Serbia’s Predrag Rajkovic and America’s Zack Steffen are two excellent keepers and the pair lived up to their reputations throughout.
The standard five penalty kicks weren’t enough to separate the teams, so the tension continued. Steffen saved twice before Nemanja Maksimovic finally delivered the fatal blow to the U.S and set a date for Serbia with Germany conquerors Mali in the semifinal.
Two weeks ago coach Tab Ramos brought this highly touted squad to New Zealand hoping to improve upon a three and out performance two years earlier in France, when the Young Yanks earned just a single point in the group stage before being sent home.
Placed in a manageable group with Myanmar, New Zealand and Ukraine, this year’s model advanced, as expected to the knockout rounds.
A place in the semifinals and possibly more was in reach for this group, and losing in penalty kicks remains a cruel fate for any team.
But this team will come home with its head held high, and several players return with reputations enhanced by fine performances on the world stage.
Steffen goes to the head of the class of future number one U.S. goalkeepers, center backs Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga excelled, as did fullback Desevio Payne and attacker Paul Arriola. And while not as consistent, Rubio Rubin, Emerson Hyndman, Gedion Zelalem and Bradford Jamieson IV all had moments of quality that make us want to see more.
In the end youth tournaments are about unearthing future national team players, and by that standard the 2015 U20 World Cup looks like a winner for the U.S. MNT.