Print and go back ESPNsoccernet: US Soccernet Print

Thursday, October 1, 2009
All comes down to execution for U.S.

Brent Latham

SUEZ, Egypt -- Even with its final group match showdown with South Korea on the horizon, it's far too early for the American under-20 national team to make travel plans.

After 90 minutes Friday night in Suez, coach Thomas Rongen's American squad could find itself in first place in the group, awaiting a second-round matchup in the same stadium. It could take second or third place as well, which would see the Americans travel elsewhere for their next game. Or, they could be headed home.

U.S. U-20 men's schedule
Friday
U.S. vs. South Korea
Mubarak Stadium; Suez, Egypt
12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

The Americans' itinerary will depend largely on which group turns up against the South Korean team -- the one that was trounced by Germany in the opening match, or the squad that pummeled Cameroon on Tuesday night. After a shaky opening effort, what looked like an American team in disarray found its game in dispensing with the African side. The improvement came just in time for Friday's match, when everything will be on the line for all four Group C teams at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

If the play of the midfield trio that took the field against Cameroon is any indication, American fans can expect to see that second, more effective side. Playing at the center of a hybrid 4-3-3, the triangle of Bryan Arguez, Jared Jeffrey and Dilly Duka increasingly dominated possession and reduced errors as the match wore on, helping the U.S. to pull away.

"We normally play that at practice and are kind of used to it," Duka said of the formation. "We actually played that in qualifying, so we have a chemistry. I thought we played pretty well both on the defensive and offensive side, so it looked pretty good."

After the capitulation against Germany, Rongen fiddled with his midfield lineup before the second group match. But further adjustment for the Korea game will likely be unnecessary. With Arguez and Jeffrey playing deeper holding roles, and Duka leading the attack by linking the midfield to the forwards, the U.S. found the offensive pep it had been sorely missing in the opening match.

As instrumental as that offensive rhythm may have been to the victory, the shape that the central triangle lent to the team as a whole was even more important. The midfield changes brought organization the Americans lacked without Duka and Arguez in the starting lineup for the opening game. Familiar with each other and their roles in the center of the field, each member of this trio knows and understands the others' games well.

"We've played together in qualifying a lot," said Jeffrey. "All of us know what each other like and our spacing is generally pretty good. We're definitely feeling confident right now. We turned it around from the first game and we hope that we continue to use our momentum and keep rolling forward so we can hopefully get out of our group."

To do that, the Americans likely need at least a point against a South Korean team itself desperate for a win. The Asians managed to pull off a late tie with Germany, still leaving them in last place with one point, but with a chance of advancing from a tight Group C.

The U.S. sits in second place in the group with three points, one behind Germany and ahead of Cameroon on goal differential. Because four third-place teams from the six groups make the elimination rounds, a tie would virtually assure that the Americans advance, but a win could earn them a more favorable draw, or even first place in the group.

"This group is fairly wide open, so we've just got to look at Korea now and get ourselves into a position where we can get to the second round," Rongen said. "I felt going into this tournament that it was an interesting group and that everybody could take points from each other. The way that the first two games have gone, it's proven that's a fact."

The Koreans, like the Americans, count on a number of players who are yet to turn pro, still plying their trade at the South Korean university level. The regular Korean starting back four are all among those coming from the collegiate ranks. With Germany's squad composed of mainly Bundesliga reserves, and Cameroon fielding players from leagues across Europe, the Korean defense figures to be a step down in quality from those the Americans have encountered so far.

Tweet, tweet
Don't miss a moment of the latest U.S. soccer and MLS coverage from around the world. Follow us on Twitter and stay informed. Join

But the Americans expect an organized and determined opponent who knows them well. Korea and the U.S. -- and their coaches -- have a long track record. Korean coach Hong Myung-Bo was in the lineup that faced the Americans in the 2002 World Cup and played for the L.A. Galaxy for two seasons before retiring to coaching in 2004. Rongen knows the Koreans from his previous three trips to the U-20 World Cup.

"Korea has been to three U-20 World Cups and we've played them three times now -- 2003, 2007 and now 2009 again -- so I'm familiar with the Korean style of football," Rongen said. "They proved against Germany that they belong and are a very good team. We'll do our pregame analysis and prepare our team as best as we can to get a result against a very formidable opponent that we respect."

In its previous two matches, South Korea controlled long stretches of possession, but had trouble taking advantage of its scoring chances. With that in mind, Rongen may opt to cede more of the ball and counterattack, an approach that paid off against Cameroon but failed against Germany. Rongen might also prefer to keep the ball away from the technically gifted Korean attack.

The coach can be confident, though, that whatever strategy he opts for in this decisive match, his midfield trio will be ready to execute on Friday night.

Brent Latham covers U.S. soccer for ESPNsoccernet. Based in Dakar, Senegal, he also covers West Africa for Voice of America radio and can be reached at brentlatham@ymail.com.


ESPNsoccernet: Help | Media Kit | Contact Us | Site Map | Tools | Jobs at ESPN | Supplier Information | Copyright ©2014 ESPN Internet Ventures.
Terms of Use (Updated 5/6/08), and Privacy Policy and Safety Information/Your California Privacy Rights are applicable to you. All rights reserved.