photo by John Dorton/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Poor finishing for the U.S. U-20 national team nearly cost it a result against a team made up of players from southern Florida, but Zac MacMath came up with a big second half penalty kick save to end the match at 0-0 on Thursday afternoon.
After D.C. United homegrown player Ethan White committed a questionable foul, MacMath rescued the United States by making a good save to his left on a shot from current University of South Florida Bull and former U.S. U-18 forward Hasani Sinclair. The shot was hit hard and placed well, but MacMath guessed correctly and parried it away for a corner kick.
The makeshift Florida team, which had Bryan Arguez in its starting lineup, may have lost a big opportunity on the penalty kick, but it was the United States that blew multiple opportunities. Poor finishing horrified the Americans despite them dominating possession and making most of the game's chances.
"We just missed our chances," said Juan Agudelo, who is leaving the U-20 camp later on Thursday to join the U.S. senior national team in Carson, Calif. "We just have to keep focused and finish our chances when it counts. Obviously, we're going to go back and practice finishing because we should have had some goals there."
Agudelo, who started the game out right in a 4-2-1-3 formation but ended the first half centrally after switching with Conor Doyle, had one of the more clear opportunities for the United States. The New York Red Bulls forward anticipated a kick from the goalkeeper and was able to block it. With the ball bouncing right next to him, Agudelo settled it before floating a shot over the helpless goalkeeper, but it went just wide.
With a completely different set of field players on in the second half, the United States continued to waste multiple opportunities to break the deadlock. Second-half substitute Omar Salgado was the main culprit, missing at least three good chances for the Americans.
"We're in our third day. We've hit it pretty hard (in practice) so we had to fight through a little bit of heavy legs today," U.S. U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen said. "The quality wasn't there, but I'd like to think that during this week we'll continue (to improve) and have a better performance on the 9th, when we play an intra-squad game for all the MLS coaches, and then we finish up with a game on the 12th.
"It's for us to determine which guys are going to make the 20-man roster to go to qualifying, so we're playing some guys out of position at times as well to see how they fit in. Overall, it's still a good exercise for us."
Two players who Rongen was assessing are newcomers Alex Zahavi of Maccabi Haifa F.C. in Israel and Fabian Huerzeler of FC Bayern Munich. Each played the first 45 minutes with Huerzeler enjoying the stronger of the two performances.
"He had a pretty good game," said Rongen. "We wanted to see some players with our first unit, so to speak, and he was one of those guys and Zahavi was the other guy. That was important for us. We got a little bit of a gauge now, and while we're going forward we up the ante in terms of playing longer minutes. We'll see if there's a continuation of good soccer.
"(Huerzeler)'s a smart player, he's very comfortable with the ball. I thought for the first time that we've seen him really in a game situation, I was quite happy with him."
Other Americans who player well were Moises Hernandez and Joe Gyau. Hernandez was solid defensively and joined in on the attack with several good runs down the left. Gyau made dangerous runs as well, and nearly assisted on a goal, but Salgado saw his chance off Gyau's feed hit the post.
USA's first half XI (4-2-1-3): Zac MacMath; Zarek Valentin, Gale Agbossoumonde, Perry Kitchen, Greg Garza; Amobio Okugo, Fabian Huerzeler; Sebastian Lletget; Juan Agudelo, Conor Doyle, Alex Zahavi.
USA's second half XI (4-2-1-3): Zac MacMath; Sebastien Ibeagha, Ethan White, Sacir Hot, Moises Hernandez; Kelyn Rowe, Moises Orozco; Alex Molano; Bobby Wood, Omar Salgado, Joe Gyau.
What do you think of the U.S. U-20s being held to a 0-0 draw? Think Huerzeler will earn a permanent spot in the starting 11? Surprised Agudelo, Salgado and the rest of the team missed so many chances?
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