Juan Agudelo became the youngest U.S. player to score in the modern era, giving the Americans a 1-0 victory over South Africa on Wednesday that allowed them to avoid finishing the year with a losing record.
Agudelo, who turns 18 next Tuesday, scored in the 85th minute of his debut after coming on as a substitute midway through the second half.
Agudelo fed fellow newcomer Mikkel Diskerud, who maintained control despite being smothered by three defenders and played the ball back to Agudelo. He took one touch and banged the ball in off the crossbar with a right-footed flick from 7 yards out.
The teenager, who just made his first two starts for the New York Red Bulls in the MLS playoffs because of a knee injury to Thierry Henry, dropped to his knees and thrust both index fingers in the air. Jozy Altidore had set the previous mark for youngest scorer in the modern era with a goal against Mexico on Feb. 6, 2008, when he was 18 years and 92 days old.
"I’m speechless, I don’t know what to say," said Agudelo, whose No. 17 uniform matched his age. "It’s an amazing feeling."
South Africa made a furious scramble for the equalizer, and Siphiwe Tshabalala’s nifty backheel pass to the front of the goal looked as if it could be trouble. But Eric Lichaj, who made his first start in his second appearance for the U.S., disrupted it.
The game was the first victory for the Americans since they beat Algeria on June 23 to advance to the second round of the World Cup in South Africa, and gave them a 5-5-4 record for 2010.
The U.S. also improved its record against South Africa to 3-0, all in exhibitions. The Americans were 1-0 winners in the 2007 Nelson Mandela Challenge in Johannesburg, and also won 4-0 in Washington, D.C., in 2000.
The Americans were without most of their regulars, including Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and captain Carlos Bocanegra, forcing coach Bob Bradley to go with a very young and inexperienced lineup. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Clarence Goodson were the only holdover starters from last month’s 0-0 tie against Colombia, and left back Jonathan Bornstein and forward Robbie Findley were the only players in the starting lineup who also started in the loss to Ghana that eliminated the U.S. from the World Cup.
But the kids did all right, giving a glimpse at what could be a bright future for the U.S. in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In addition to the Colombia-born Agudelo and the Norway-born Diskerud, Teal Bunbury, Tim Ream and Gale Agbossoumonde, who turned 19 on Wednesday, all made their debuts.
Eight players have made their debuts in the four matches since the World Cup.
Bafana Bafana took advantage of a slow start by the inexperienced Americans, but Guzan, wearing the captain’s armband in Bocanegra’s absence, came up with two big saves in the first 20 minutes. Leeds forward Davide Somma, who grew up in Florida, put a ball through to Anele Ngcongca in the 14th, but Guzan deflected Ngcongca’s shot.
Six minutes later, captain Steven Pienaar played a nice ball to Bernard Parker, but Guzan blocked the close-range shot.
The second-half additions of Bunbury, Agudelo and Diskerud gave the Americans more speed, and Agudelo and Diskerud showed the makings of a nice pairing on the game-winner.
At Cape Town, South Africa
United States 0 1-1
South Africa 0 0-0
Second half-1, United States, Agudelo (Diskerud), 85th minute..
Yellow Cards-Lichaj, US, 33rd. Red Cards-None.
Referee-Sylvester Kirwa, South Africa. Linesmen-John Ngururi, South Africa; Peter Kieveini,. South Africa.
United States-Braz Guzan; Eric Lichaj, Clarence Goodson (Gale Agbossoumonde, 87th), Tim Ream (Nat Borchers, 67th), Jonathan Bornstein (Jonathan Spector, 46th); Logan Pause, Brian Carroll, Robbie Rogers (Juan Agudelo, 61st), Eddie Gavan, Alejandro Bedoya (Mikkel Diskerud, 78th); Robbie Findley (Teal Bunbury, 46th)
South Africa-Itumeleng Khune; Anele Ngongca (Siboniso Gaxa, 79th), Tsepo Mansilela, Morgan Gould, Siyabonga Sangweni; Kagisho Dikgacoi (Andali Joli, 60th), Thanduyise Khuboni (Matthew Pattison, 88th), Stephen Pienaar (Daylon Claasen, 79th), Siphiwe Tshabalala; Davide Somma (Sthembiso Ngcobo, 60th), Bernard Parker (Kermit Erasmus, 88th)