Monday, January 22, 2007

The Kids are Alright, Part 2 -- When the U.S. U-20 soccer team took the field in Panama last night, they already knew they had qualified for the finals this summer in Canada. The U.S. team's opponent, Panama, had also qualified -- both teams advancing thanks to Haiti's upset win over Guatemala earlier in the day. Still, the U.S. turned in a decent effort, walking away with a 5-0 shutout win over the Panamanians, who did not put out much effort.

As lopsided as the score was, the U.S. team shouldn't go overboard with confidence based on this game. The first goal was well earned, with Johann Smith, doing most of the work. Smith made a nice run from the right wing, beating one defender with a nifty step over dribble, and racing past a second defender, before crossing to a wide open Freddy Adu, who did not fail to score from the top of the six-yard box. In the second half the U.S. turned the game into a rout, but a better goalie might have kept the U.S. entirely off the scoreboard.

First, Robbie Rogers found himself open near the top of the box on the left side. Rogers' shot should have been more towards the near post. Instead, he kicked it almost straight at Mejia, the Panamanian goalkeeper, who was handcuffed and slow to react to the shot, as it sailed by him. Later, Smith found himself behind the defense off a long pass by Tony Beltran. Smith's low blast had enough pace to beat Mejia, who was able to get a hand on it, but should have done better. Then, Danny Szetela's pass over the defense found Jonathan Villanueva, whose first attempt was right at the goalie. The rebound went right back to Villanueva, and this time he headed the ball past Mejia, to make the score 4-0. The final goal, set up by a nice run from the flank by Rogers, came off the foot of Freddy Adu, who one-timed a grass-cutter past the flat-footed keeper.

Despite a listless effort against Guatemala, the U.S. emerged as the group winner, and moves on to the finals in Canada. There the team can expect to be bolstered by the addition of Michael Bradley, son of Bob Bradley, who is now the head coach of the senior national team. The junior Bradley may be the best player in the player pool, but was not released for the game by his Dutch club team. So, who is up for a Canadian vacation this summer?

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