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U.S. Eliminated
The FIFA Under-20 World Cup
By Michael Lewis

Freddy Adu fights for soccer ball
Freddy Adu of the U.S. team battles for the ball with Austria's Erwin Hoffer during their quarter-final match at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup soccer tournament in Toronto, July 14, 2007.
(Photo: Mike Cassese/Reuters)
Toronto—One by one, the U.S. players fell to the ground, exhausted, disappointed, and stunned they had just been eliminated from the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

But then again they had no one to blame but themselves. Entering the match as favorites, the Americans allowed it to get away from them, especially in the second half. They lost the lead and relied on goalkeeper Chris Seitz on too many occasions to keep them in the game in what turned into a 2-1 loss at Canada's National Soccer Stadium on July 14.

"Out of the first round, all games become really tight," U.S. coach Thomas Rongen said. "They were well organized and their set pieces were very dangerous. We knew that there weren't going to be too many chances. We didn't take our chances, and they took theirs. It was a battle, like we expected and they took the few chances they made."

"We fell short of our goal here in Canada, and we are bitterly disappointed about that."

Indeed, the U.S. should be.

The Americans missed out on becoming only the second American side to reach the semifinals of this competition, duplicating the 1989 team's effort. Instead, Austria will take on the Czech Republic in Edmonton, Canada, on Wednesday.

Erwin Hoffer, who was in the game for two minutes, scored the game-winner during a scramble in front of the net in the 105th minute, the final minute of the first extra time.

The U.S. was dumbfounded on what transpired.

"I think we did well in the first half," said New York Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore, whose fourth goal of the tournament gave the U.S. 1-0 lead in the 15th minute. "In the second half, we just weren't there mentally. It happens. Unfortunately, it happened to us in the quarterfinals."

Real Salt Lake midfielder Freddy Adu, whose left-wing cross set up Altidore's goal, didn't have an answer as well.

"It's difficult," he said. "I don't know what it is. Things didn't go our way today. But that's soccer for you. Sometimes the bounces go your way and sometimes they don't. It's about inches and bounces and they didn't go our way today."

Austria seemed to adapt better to the rain, which started early in the first half and came down heavily at times in the second half.

"It moved faster without a doubt," Rongen said. "We couldn't move the ball as well as we would have liked."

Altidore agreed. "I thought it did," he said. "But you can't make excuses. You clearly saw the first 20 minutes. Then the rain came in. It was uncomfortable. It just wasn't our day."

Until then, it was the U.S.'s tournament, winning the Group D title with a 2-0-1 record and upending Brazil, which had lost only three first-round games (31-3-8 record) in the U-20 world championships prior to this tournament.

The Americans began with a 1-1 draw with South Korea. They opened up with a rousing 6-0 triumph over Poland as Adu registered a hat trick and surprised a favored Brazilian side, 2-1, as Altidore struck twice.

The U.S. overcame a 1-0 deficit to defeat a spirited Uruguay team in the second round, 2-1, on a goal by former MetroStars midfielder Michael Bradley in extra time.

"We've read some reports that said we played some very good football and I was very proud of that, especially in the Poland and Brazil game," Rongen said. "We also had some moments against Uruguay. I think we showed the capabilities of this team, whether it's technical players first and foremost, if its difference makers that can do something special, and we were better defensively than initially maybe people thought going into the tournament."

"The amount of goals we've given up over five games is just over one and we scored twelve, which is a pretty good ratio. We're a team that wants to play attacking football and succeeded in most cases."