The matchup of the USA U-20 women with Germany in the first group game at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada raised some eyebrows.
It was expected that these two teams would play in the championship game as they did two years ago when the U.S. won the world title.
When the U.S. was beaten 2-0, with group games left against Brazil and China, the path to the knockout round became more difficult, but there wasn’t a lot of concern.
However, the U.S. struggled to beat Brazil 1-0 before playing their best game of the tournament, a 3-0 win over China. Germany won all three of its group games, and the U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals as the #2 team in the group, but a heavy favorite over Korea DPR.
University of Virginia forward Makenzy Doniak put the US. up 1-0 in the sixth minute. The Americans, coached by Michelle French, could not score again. North Korea tied the score on a second half penalty kick.
Tied 1-1 the game went to a shootout and the U.S. was eliminated 3-1 on penalty kicks. In fact, the first three kicks by U.S. players were easily saved by the North Korea goalkeeper.
The early elimination of the Under-20 women’s team comes on the heels of the failure of the U.S. U-17 WNT to even qualify for the U-17 World Cup. The U-17s were beaten in a shootout in regional (CONCACAF) play.
This U-20 team was comprised of mostly college players, with Lindsey Horan the only professional. There were also a couple of high school players who saw considerable action in Canada.
Horan, a two-year goalscorer in France with the professional club Paris St. Germain, could never seem to get going in this tournament, but in fairness, she did not receive a lot of quality service.
French had her pick of the top U.S. players in the age group. For whatever reason, the team did not play up to expectation.
The result raises concern about the pool of players coming up behind the full senior national player pool, which is on the cusp of transitioning as the most senior player are certain to begin aging out after the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The U.S. players appeared tentative with a glaring weakness in maintaining possession when pressured by opposing defenders. The team also appeared to have a philosophy of playing direct, long balls which opponents gobbled possession by winning second balls.
Too many simple give away, underlined by failed clearances by UCLA goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, who was solid in four games in stopping shots, but weak in playing balls with her feet.
Different players had their moments in the tournament, including Horan and midfielder Rose Levelle. The player who turned the game in the win over Brazil was UNC forward Summer Green, but her role in every game was a second-half sub.
No doubt the players on the U-20 roster who return to their collegiate teams will make major factors with their clubs this fall. However, the results of the tournament, capping back-to-back disappointing junior national team results, is unlikely to raise the prospects that many of these players will make the next step to the senior level anytime soon.
The fact that the shootout loss went into the record books as a tie, leaving the team with an 11-1-1 record this year, is small consolation.