COMMENTARY | What was largely a missable affair involving the United States and France in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup also included two penalties that shouldn't have been awarded, two rather poor attempts from the spot, and an inside-the-box deflection that resulted in a late equalizer. In the end, the US still have a chance of going through to the next round heading into Thursday's showdown with Ghana, and thus it's so far, so good for the Baby Yanks.
A match that was a tale of two wonky penalties heated up two minutes after the halftime break, when US defender Javan Torre brought Dimitri Foulquier down in an incident that was a clear foul. Replays showed, however, that the contact had occurred a step outside of the penalty area. The referee nevertheless pointed to the spot, and Yaya Sonogo somewhat casually struck the ball far too close to American goalkeeper Cody Cropper, who guessed correctly and dove to his right. Cropper didn't get a strong enough touch on the attempt, however, hitting it upward and into his goal rather than off to the side.
Perhaps most upsetting about the goal was that Cropper played very well throughout the match. He kept an overly defensive-minded US side level in the first half, and one could easily argue that he was his team's best overall player. With all of that said, I imagine that the Southampton man will view replays of the penalty with a bit of regret having not done better.
Things were evened up regarding controversial penalty decisions in the 64th minute after Mario Rodriguez, who had correctly had a goal waved off four minutes earlier because he was offside, went down in the box due to what, in real time, looked like minimal contact. Replays indicated that Rodriguez bought the penalty and had taken a dive, and/or that the ref had given the US a makeup call. Luis Gil, the only American to score in the 4-1 loss to Spain, couldn't take advantage of the good fortune, instead hitting the ball almost directly at Alphonse Areola. Areola, unlike his counterpart, made sure to deflect the ball away from danger, keeping France ahead.
The US kept at it and eventually earned an equalizer six minutes from time. Rodriguez was again taken down, this time a few yards outside of the box, and Gil delivered a low free kick around the wall for Torre, who had begun a run toward the center of the penalty area. Torre whiffed on his effort, and the ball deflected off of a defender and to an unmarked Daniel Cuevas, who buried a half-volley that lifted the Americans to the draw and the point.
It was truly a result that was fair to both teams. France dominated nearly one hour of the action, but the US deserve credit for remaining strong and confident in defense just a few days after being thoroughly outclassed by a Spanish side that could very well go on to win this tournament. The fact of the matter is that the Americans pitched a shutout in that the lone goal they surrendered came off a kick that never should have occurred in the first place. That's impressive when you consider the opponent.
Finishing third-best in a group that includes both Spain and France is admirable, especially if doing so gets the US to the knockout stages of the U-20 World Cup. Ghana, who put up a decent fight in their 3-1 loss to France, were losing to Spain as of the posting of this piece. Assuming that the Americans can take care of business on Thursday, the US U-20s will be playing at least a couple of more games before they exit the competition.
That's a job well done for the US youth.
For more: US lose 4-1 to Spain
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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