Wednesday, July 11, 2007

2-1; 2-1; Dos a Uno; Two to One -- That was the message that Michael Bradley kept flashing at the Uruguayan, Mathias Cardaccio. Whatever set off Cardaccio as he and some teammates went after American players at the end of tonight's game, there was no arguing that point. The U.S. side had been minutes from elimination, after falling behind 1-0, on a goal in the 73rd minute. Brian Perk had made a nice diving save on an attempt by the ever-dangerous Edinson Cavani, but Perk gave up a big rebound, which was put away by Luis Suarez. It's hard to be critical of a diving save like that, but Perk should have done better. On the other hand, Perk's defense really broke down on this play, with the worst offender being Julian Valentin. He looked like a spectator while his man, Suarez, raced for the rebound.

As it turned out, giving up that goal was precisely what the American squad needed. They had been sleepwalking through much of the game. Jozy Altidore had played with some determination, and he had produced the United States' only shot on goal in the first half, but Altidore was long gone from the game, with a leg injury that appeared rather ominous. TV announcers are prone to commenting that a particular game "really needs a goal." That was true of this game. Though the U.S. was suddenly facing elimination, the goal changed everything. With their backs against the wall, the Americans finally threw themselves into the attack.

In the final minutes, the Uruguayan defense was trying to clear a loose ball, but Danny Szetela got his body in front of the clearing attempt. Then, Szetela collected the ball and sent in a perfect low cross that passed out of the reach of the Uruguayan goalie, Yonatan Irrazabal. The defender Cardaccio tried to intercept the pass before Andre Akpen could get his foot to it, but Cardaccio actually deflected the ball into the net, for the tying goal.

Just prior to the end of regulation, Uruguay nearly produced a winner when Juan Diaz' brilliant header deflected off the post. Otherwise, Perk, who was playing for the injured Chris Seitz, was up to the task, and kept the U.S. in the game. Perk's finest save was a diving stop in the first period of extra time.

In the second extra time period, the U.S. was back on the attack, and it finally produced results. Freddy Adu sent in a terrific corner kick that Irrazabal tried to punch the ball clear, but the ball came to Julian Valentin, who shot it back towards the goal. Valentin's shot was headed just wide, but it was also heading right towards Michael Bradley. Bradley stretched his leg out and kicked the ball up into the top netting, putting the U.S. in front for the first time.

Sure, the U.S. was lucky to win this game. Uruguay played the better game, and was the more dangerous team on the attack. Still, as Bradley kept flashing with his fingers at Cardaccio, the final score was 2-1, in favor of the U.S. U-20s. It's on to the quarterfinals on Saturday, when the U.S. takes on Austria.

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