USA’s U-20 squad falls short in Women’s World Cup group stage opener

USA's Katie Naughton and Germany's Pauline Bremer vie for the ball during their U-20 Women's World Cup group match.

JASON FRANSON/AP

The United States began its title-defense at the Under-20 Women’s World Cup with a 2-0 loss to Germany in Edmonton on Tuesday night as Lena Petermann scored the winner in the 65th minute and Theresa Panfil got the assurance goal in the 90th.

In a wide-open and wildly entertaining game at the Commonwealth Stadium, these two tournament-favorites — pitted in the group of death along with China and Brazil — exchanged a plethora of chances and the goalkeepers were really the stars. Between them, the Americans and Germans have won this event five out of the six times it’s been held. And their abundant skill and talent was on show throughout.

In the 10th minute, the USA’s star striker Lindsay Horan ripped a dangerous shot on goal after Mallory Pugh, the barely-16-year-old rising high school junior, made a strong run up the right. But goalkeeper Meike Kaemper came up with the huge save on the against-the-grain finish. This would prove a trend.

HEAR US OUT

Because at the other end, Katelyn Rowland was, at times, just as impressive for the Americans. She was alert on a few testing shots from long range or high balls behind her line early on. She corrected her defenders’ mistakes and was on point in one-on-one situations.

But she wasn’t infallible. In the 38th minute, the busy Rowland — a victim of an end-to-end game — came out to catch a cross but failed to control it. Germany quickly put the ball on target where Katie Naughton had to save the goal with a sliding clearance that stayed out off her own post.

Rowland was exposed again just after halftime, when she gave up an unnecessary chance by overcommitting in charging out, but Lina Magull put her finish off Naughton’s foot, from where it pinged off the post. Horan and Margaret Purce then quickly had big chances at the other end, but Kaemper would not be beaten.

That was a trend as well. Horan, the only American who plays professionally — at Paris Saint-Germain in France for a reportedly princely sum — is clearly a player of several cuts above the rest of the pack, and that goes for both teams. But for all the minor chances she managed to carve out for herself, she came close to scoring just twice. In the 71st minute, Andi Sullivan quickly sent a deep free kick soaring to the end of the box, where Horan met it on a diving header. But she misdirected it where she probably should have scored.

The miss was painful. Because by then, Sullivan had lost the ball in her own midfield, from where Petermann was quickly dispatched towards Rowland’s goal, who couldn’t stop the German from dinking her finish off the underside of her cross bar and in.

Rowland prevented further damage for a time. But in the 90th minute, as the USA pressed for an equalizer, Panfil was given far too much room to stride upfield in the middle of the park. She pushed into the space and calmly slid her finish out of Rowland’s reach and into the net.

It was a loss either way, although the goal difference now poses more of a challenge. And overall, a tricky proposition has now become downright difficult. The USA needs results against both Brazil on Friday and China next Tuesday. Or else their title defense will have ended almost as soon as it began.