Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team was going to need a much better defensive performance than the one they delivered in their 4-1 loss to Spain last week if they were going to have any chance against France on Monday.
That is exactly what they received, along with a strong showing from their goalkeeper.
The American defense bent, but never really broke, even as the French pressed and pressed, and even after a poor penalty call gifted them a 1-0 lead. The U.S. looked doomed to settle for a close loss, but Daniel Cuevas came off the bench and delivered an equalizer in the 86th minute to help the U.S. earn a 1-1 draw vs. France in Turkey.
U.S. goalkeeper Cody Cropper turned in a standout performance in goal, making several important saves to keep the Americans in the match against a stacked French side that featured Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba and Auxerre striker Yaya Sanogo.
The draw sets up a vital group-stage finale vs. Ghana on Thursday, with the winner all but assured of a place in the Round of 16.
U.S. head coach Tab Ramos only made one change to the side that lost to Spain, benching captain Caleb Stanko in favor of Shane O’Neill, while leaving in struggling defender Javan Torre. Both Torre and Juan Pablo Ocegueda rebounded well from their opening match struggles, while O’Neill stepped in after serving a suspension during the Spain match and helped solidify the back line.
That didn’t keep France from applying heavy pressure and controlling possession for much of the match. Despite that, the U.S. kept the French off the scoreboard until a penalty called early in the second half against Torre set up a Sanogo penalty. Replays showed that Torre committed the foul outside the penalty area, but the goal still stood, leaving the U.S. to fight back.
The Americans looked to have their equalizer in the 65th minute when Mario Rodriguez drew a very soft penalty. Luis Gil stepped up to take the spot kick, but he appeared to telegraph is attempt enough to let French goalkeeper Alphonso Areola dive to his left for a relatively easy save.
The U.S. shook off the disappointment of the missed penalty, and dodged another bullet just a minute later when Sanogo rattled the crossbar with a shot. They finally broke through in the 85th minute when Gil sent a free kick into the penalty area that bounced around before Cuevas latched onto it with a left-footed shot from close range for the equalizer.
The tie puts the U.S. in position to earn a place in the Round of 16 with a win against Ghana in the final group match on Thursday.
What did you think of the match? Impressed with how the U.S. defense rebounded from the Spain loss? Disappointed with the U.S. attack? Hoping the U-20s can beat Ghana in a World Cup to exact some revenge for the senior national team’s past losses to Ghana?
Share your thoughts below.