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USA knocked down and out by Ghana
This departure from the FIFA U-20 World Cup, however, carried little of the drama of the previous two defeats at the senior level. Those matches in 2006 and 2010 were close-run affairs, decided by a goal on both occasions between two teams with relatively fine margins between them.
Only the kindest of reflections would classify Ghana's 4-1 victory in the Americans' final match in Turkey in the same category. The scoreline reflected the balance of play and reinforced the significant gap between the U.S. and the other teams in Group A.
Although the final result may not reflect the opportunity at hand, the U.S. entered its last group match with a reasonable chance of booking a place in the round of 16. The 1-1 draw against France on Monday ensured the Americans had placed themselves in a position to advance as one of the top four third-place finishers.
Unfortunately, the need to chase the game – and Ghana's corresponding desire to claim its first win and rectify its goal difference for its own knockout stage chances – created a difficult scenario for the U.S. This match called for the pursuit of goals, not a modest approach designed to nick a result. The corresponding endeavor granted an impressive Ghana side far too much space and time to push its own numbers forward and seize control of the match.
U.S. coach Tab Ramos altered his setup once more – Caleb Stanko replaced Javan Torre in central defense, while Mikey Lopez and Oscar Sorto started in midfield – to cope with the potential threat and facilitate the necessary improvement in the final third. The adjustments and the circumstances did not create the additional incisiveness required or establish the solidity necessary to repel Ghana for an extended period of time, though. And the repeated forays and unrelenting pressure soon became too much to bear.
Ghana enjoyed the better of the first half chances (though Mario Rodríguez spurned two promising openings), but it made the breakthrough through a slack piece of American defending seven minutes before halftime. Frank Acheampong deserved a bit of luck after his rampant work down the left and received it when the U.S. failed to clear at the edge of the penalty area. Acheampong slotted inside the far post to exacerbate the Americans' problems.
As Ramos astutely noted after the match against France, his team struggles to cope with athletic teams capable of pushing the tempo and stretching the field. By conceding the first goal and placing itself in a position to commit further numbers into the attack, the U.S. hastened its own demise and placed itself in an untenable position heading into the second half.
Ebenezer Assifuah claimed Ghana's second goal shortly after the break to cap a dominant stretch shortly after the interval and placed his team firmly in control of the proceedings. Shane O'Neill's header drew a goal back in the 69th minute and placed some fleeting doubts into the Ghanaian camp, but Assifuah's second goal after 78 minutes and the fourth from substitute Kennedy Ashia removed all of the suspense and sent the U.S. home from Turkey with one point from three games.
The expected, yet still painful, demise after three Group A matches offered some positives. Most of the endemic problems here – inconsistent personnel selections, rickety work in defense and timid application in the final third – matter little in the long run. The shift in deportment toward a more proactive tack with an emphasis on possession will ultimately foster development, even if it led to heavy defeats in two of the three group matches and hastened this quick demise.
But the prospect of once again confronting a difficult task and seeing a significant talent divide emerge underscores the growth required within these ranks. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann can point to the performances from Cody Cropper, Luis Gil and DeAndre Yedlin as potential bright spots for the future, but this group found itself exposed when faced with the rigorous scrutiny on the world stage.
The final tally of one point from three games actually represents a creditable haul given the arduous group assignment and the caliber of the opposition. Perhaps another group or a revamped set of circumstances might have paved the way for further progress, but those contingencies provide only modest solace after yet another defeat to Ghana at the World Cup and a return to home soil after just three matches.
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