Friday, August 31, 2007

ATH: Loss at U-17 World Cup

U-17 World Cup: What Went Wrong Against Germany
By Ken Pendleton, USNTPA,08/30/2007 3:17 PM

CORVALLIS, OR (August 30, 2007) USSoccerPlayers -- The extent to which the United States was played off the field in their 2-1 loss to Germany at the U-17 World Cup earlier today is perhaps best measured by time.

The US did not create a remotely promising chance on goal until the 42nd minute, when a free kick from Kirk Urso nearly picked out Danny Wenzel while he was making a diagonal run through the penalty area. They did not have a threatening shot until injury time of the first half, when Mykell Bates got on the end of a long free kick from Tommy Meyer. His header flew two yards over the bar.

Alex Nimo, who had been the creative fulcrum of the US attack throughout this tournament, did not get the ball in a meaningful attacking position until the 63rd minute. He deftly created space on the left, but the subsequent cross sailed well past the far post. They did not put a dangerous shot on target until injury time in the second half, when Bates scrambled a throw-in from Sheanon Williams past the unlucky German goalkeeper Rene Vollath.

And they did not create a single chance from open play. Not one. Virtually the only attacks that troubled the German defense resulted from Williams’ throw-ins, which were whipped into the penalty area with the ferocity of a David Beckham free kick.

The Germans were on top of the match right from the off. The main threats came from the combination of striker Richard Sukuta-Pasu and the creative midfielder Toni Kroos, who took turns setting up chances and taking them. He nearly took one in the seventh minute, after Sascha Bigalke released him through inside left channel with a perfectly weighted 30-yard through ball, but the US keeper, Josh Lambo, managed to block the ensuing point-blank shot. Sebastian Rudy just missed with a 25-yard looping shot less than a minute later. And shortly afterwards, Kroos, who is already training with Bayern Munich’s senior squad, ghosted into the inside right channel but shot right at Lambo.

The US simply could not find a way to seize the initiative. Coach John Hackworth decided to play two defense-minded central midfielders, in Jared Jeffrey and Danny Wenzel, which meant that Greg Garza and Nimo would have to make the bullets for Ellis McLoughlin and Urso. Garza looked like a fish out of water because he was forced to drop back to help protect left back Brandon Zimmerman. Urso, who was selected to replace the suspended Billy Schuler, effectively became a fifth midfielder, and McLoughlin, through no fault of his own, became an isolated figure up top.

The precise passing game that the US had employed so effectively against Belgium in their 2-0 win went out the window. They struggled to clear their own third, and the long passes to Nimo, McLoughlin and Garza were invariably errant. And on the few occasions when Nimo and Garza had possession in the attacking third, they were simply outnumbered and crowded off the ball.

The half-time substitution of Abdusalam Ibrahim for Garza helped a little, but virtually all the pressure still came from the Germans. The left-sided midfielder Dennis Dowidat shot just wide from twenty yards in the 51st minute. Sukuta-Pasu headed a corner just over the bar from ten yards out just before the hour. Lambo had to make two more excellent saves, off a near-post effort from Sukuta-Pasu, who easily held off Bates, and a searing 30-plus yard free kick from Kroos. And, most impressively, a sweeping move, highlighted by a beautiful one-two involving the advancing central defender Konstantin Rausch and Bigalke, culminated in another point blank chance from six yards out, this time from Dowidat. Lambo read the play superbly and closed the angle to make yet another close-range save.

The inevitable goal finally came in the 64th minute. Fittingly enough it was Kroos, positioned just inside the US half on the left sideline, who put Sukuta-Pasu clean on goal with a looping 25-yard pass. Sukuta-Pasu raced behind Meyer with a perfectly timed run and just managed to elude Lambo with a lofted shot. The goal was just reward for all their quality approach work.

The Germans could have, and should have, put the match away at this point. But they took the foot off the gas and, for the first time, ceded the initiative to the US, which was entirely incapable of seizing the opportunity. Although they were able to advance into the final third more often, there were no telling passes. The only cross, easily cut out, came from substitute Daniel Cruz late in the match. The threats that they created all came from set pieces, usually from Williams’ throw-ins.

This was a disappointing end to a disappointing tournament. The US played well during stretches of their first three matches, and very well during the entire match against Belgium, but they only won once. The Germans are clearly a class side -- perhaps the most promising group of players since unification -- but the hope (or is it expectation?) was that the US could now compete with anyone. The match against Germany proved that this is not yet the case.

Ken Pendleton is the US National Team and World Opinion columnist for USSoccerPlayers.

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