It wasn’t easy, is it ever anymore? but the U.S. ground out a 1-1 tie with Ghana Sunday night/Monday morning to advance to the knockout stages of the U20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
Ghana did not make it easy on the Americans, in fact, it was the youthful Black Queens who jumped in front in the 20th minute when the Americans 6’1” goalkeeper Casey Murphy fumbled Abambila Ernestina’s high floater from outside the 18-yard box resulting in an own goal.
Murphy was quickly bailed out by a bit of brilliance from team captain and U.S. senior teamer Mallory Pugh. Pugh needed less than two minutes to get Murphy off the hook, equalizing after beating Ghana’s offside trap and running onto a fine ball over the top from midfielder Katie Cousins.
That would be it for the scoring and it would be just enough to allow Americans to finish atop Group C, thanks to the Fair Play rule. With the U.S. and France finishing the opening round with identical stats, one win, two draws, and zero losses, it was time to turn to the tiebreakers.
The two teams tied 2-2 when they played earlier and with each team scoring four goals and conceding two, the Americans won the group by virtue of its, well, virtue. Meaning that the U.S. collected fewer yellow cards than the French.
Up next for the U.S. is a quarterfinal showdown with none other than Mexico on November 25th, with the scheduling gods kind enough to spare the Young Yanks a match on Thanksgiving.
France face Germany, also on the 25th, one day after Korea DPR (North Korea) vs. Spain and Japan vs. Brazil opens the knockout round. If the U.S. beat Mexico they will get the winner of Korea/Spain game on November 29th.
Both semifinals will be played that day with the Championship match and the third place game wrapping things up in Papua New Guinea on December 3rd.
The U.S. has competed in all eight editions of the U20 WWC (2016 included) and is tied with Germany, having won three titles each. North Korea claimed the remaining championship.
The Americans are hardly favorites to add a fourth crown as the KO rounds begin, having failed to catch the eye with their performances to date. Coach Michelle French has been unable to build any sense of cohesion within this group, who could very well be traveling home for Turkey Day by now if not for moments of individual brilliance from Pugh and Ashley Sanchez.
That the U.S. move on to the quarters is a good thing for the American program, the inability of the U20 side to play, dare I say, proactive soccer is not, especially when paired with the dismal showing by the U.S. at the U17 WWC Cup in October.
That team also struggled to play anything other than hit and hope and it cost the Americans who were eliminated in group play.
There would seem to be enough talent on this U20 U.S. squad to play a more attractive and more efficient style of play. But with Knockout play looming, is there enough time?
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
GHA 1 0 1
GHA – Own goal (Casey Murphy) 20th minute
USA – Mallory Pugh 22
USA: 1-Casey Murphy; 5-Madeline Elliston, 6-Taylor Otto, 3-Kaleigh Riehl, 14-Ellie Jean; 16-Emily Fox (11-Ally Watt, 81), 10-Emily Ogle, 20-Katie Cousins; 9-Mallory Pugh (capt.), 18-Ashley Sanchez (19-Natalie Jacobs, 89), 15-Jessie Scarpa (2-Parker Roberts, 75)
Subs Not Used: 4-Sabrina Flores, 7-Savannah DeMelo, 8-Courtney Petersen, 12-Rose Chandler, 13-Marley Canales, 17-Kelcie Hedge, 21-Brooke Heinsohn
Head Coach: Michelle French
GHA: 16-Victoria Agyei; 3-Jane Ayieyam, 4-Adu Agyemang (12-Vinoria Kuzagbe, 46 (20-Fatima Alhassan, 82)), 5-Belinda Anane, 7-Ernestina Abambila, 8-Wasila Diwura-Soale, 9-Sandra Owusu-Ansah, 10-Princella Adubea (14-Lily Niber-Lawrence, 68), 13-Samira Abdul-Rahman, 15-Faustina Ampah, 18-Rasheda Abdul-Rahman (Capt.)
Subs Not Used: 1-Azume Adams, 2-Vida Opoku, 6-Patience Adjetey, 11-Rita Darko, 17-Veronica Appiah, 19-Sandra Boakye, 21-Rose Baah
Head Coach: Mas-Ud Dramani
Stats Summary: USA / GHA
Shots: 8 / 14
Shots on Goal: 2 / 1
Saves: 0 / 1
Corner Kicks: 3 / 1
Fouls: 9 / 17
Offside: 1 / 3
GHA – Adu Agyemang 36th minute
GHA – Ernestina Abambila 67
GHA – Belinda Anane 89