Add the U20 U.S. WNT to the ever growing list of U.S. Youth sides to disappoint after Tuesday morning’s 2-1 extra time loss to North Korea eliminated the Mallory Pugh led side from the U20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
With the disappointment of the senior side’s failure at the Summer Olympics still fresh it was hoped that a U.S. team led by rising stars Pugh and Ashley Sanchez could lead the Young Yanks to a fourth title at the age group but coach Michelle French was never able to get this side to gel once the team arrived in the small South Pacific nation.
While the U.S. struggled through the opening round of play, winning its group with just one win and two draws, North Korea ran the table outscoring its three opponents by a 13-3 margin while the Americans managed just a 4-2 advantage.
Then the U.S. barely got by Mexico in the quarterfinals, needing a goal in the 93rd minute to set up this date with North Korea.
With a place in the final at stake, the U.S. was unable to raise its game and could not cope with the physical Koreans, who often crossed that thin line from tough to dirty in their semifinal win.
If this all sounds familiar, it is. Just two years ago these teams met at the same age group and Korea sent the U.S packing while the Americans elimination at the group stage earlier this year at the U17 World Cup was yet another blow to the U.S. prestige at the youth level.
And this was no fluke. Korea outplayed the U.S. although Katie Cousins was unfortunate to be called for a handball that Jon So converted for the Korea DPR in the 50th minute.
The U.S. looked to be headed home in regulation before a late equalizer by Natalie Jacobs, making her first start of the tournament sent this game into extras.
Korea made short work of the Americans in the extra time, scoring less than one minute into the added session. The Koreans then peppered the U.S. goal for the remainder of the extra session, blunting any hopes of an American comeback.
That Mallory Pugh ended this match on the field after leaving for a time to be checked for a possible concussion was a bit of a surprise and Ashley Sanchez also suffered an apparent intentional elbow, indicating a deliberate plan by the Koreans to intimidate the Americans two best players.
Physicality aside, this was yet another discouraging effort from a U.S. team that relied far too often on hit and hope long ball with a side that has been lauded as one of the most talented for the U.S. at this age group.
Coach Michelle French failed to get this group to play anything resembling the cohesive, passing style that Jill Ellis is trying to steer the senior side toward. Earlier this fall the U.S. U17 side bowed out of its World Cup (also won by North Korea) in the group stage after a similar reliance on long ball and individual moments of brilliance.
These results are worrying and indicate that the U.S. has to step up its tactical game if it is to have any chance of maintaining its position as leaders in the women’s game.