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USA lose in ninth round of penalties to Serbia, eliminated from U-20 World Cup

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A great effort by the Americans is ruined by the cruel result of a penalty shootout

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The United States has been eliminated from the 2015 U-20 World Cup in the most heartbreaking of fashions. After a hard fought 120 minutes, the fate of their tournament lives had to be decided in the dreaded penalty shootout. Despite two incredibly clutch saves by Zack Steffen, the Americans came up short due to some poor penalty efforts of their own.

Starting lineup

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="pl" dir="ltr">U-20 MNT Starting XI vs Serbia: Steffen, Payne, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Requejo, Delgado, Hyndman, Arriola, Zelalem, Thompson, Rubin. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/1N1T?src=hash">#1N1T</a></p>&mdash; U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) <a href="https://twitter.com/ussoccer_ynt/status/609922835151065088">June 14, 2015</a></blockquote>

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What happened

The U.S. started off the first 15 minutes of the game very strong. They controlled possession for the most part, but failed to create any chances. This would be a recurring theme for both sides as they took turns controlling the game, with very little to show for it. The best chance of the half fell to Tommy Thompson with five minutes left. Paul Arriola's driving run down the left flank and cut back pass found Thompson alone in the box, but his quick shot spun wide of the post.

The second half started much of the same way with the U.S. looking bright early, but unable to break down the Serbian's stout defense. The last half hour of regulation saw Serbia dominate the game and come close to breaking the deadlock a few times. Cameron Carter-Vickers, who had a tremendous tournament, was forced to clear a dangerous Serbia chance off the line. Steffen's great diving save from a free kick in the 68th minute was Serbia's best chance in regulation. Rubio Rubin had a chance to win the game in second half stoppage time when he found space inside the box, but he scuffed his shot right to the Serbia goalkeeper.

With both teams exhausted, Serbia always looked the favorite to find the winner in extra time. The best chance in the game came in the 95th minute when a ball across Steffen's six yard box was pushed wide of an open net by a Serbian attacker. The U.S.' bench was extremely thin due to injuries and suspension. Tab Ramos didn't make his first sub of the game until the 102nd minute.

The Americans had a few set piece chances in the second half of extra time, but failed to create any dangerous chances with them. After 120 minutes the ref called time on extra time and the game would need to be decided on penalties.

The U.S.' first penalty taker was Rubin who was extremely tired from working so hard all game. His weak attempt was saved easily. After trading goals, Serbia missed their second attempt to bring it back level after two rounds. Both teams would be successful in the next three rounds pushing the penalties to sudden death. Things looked bleak for the U.S. when Joel Sonora missed in the sixth round. However, Steffen came up with a huge save on Serbia's goalkeeper who volunteered to take the potential winning spot kick.

Round seven saw both teams again make their attempts. With both sides down to their least desirable penalty takers, it could have gone either way. Carter-Vickers stepped up in round eight and blazed his kick way over the bar. Again, the U.S. were one make away from elimination. Steffen once again miraculously kept his team alive with another diving save. His third penalty save of the tournament (two tonight and one against Colombia). John Requejo's tame effort in the ninth round was easily saved, and this time Serbia finally were able to fool Steffen and win the shootout. A heartbreaking way to get eliminated from a World Cup.

Quick thoughts

  • What a great tournament run by this talented team. They fought valiantly, but a few glaring holes in the roster cost them.
  • The main factor in the team's struggles has to be the lack of a true defensive midfielder. Russell Canouse would've occupied this role, but his pre-tournament injury ruled him out. He was sorely missed.
  • The defensive pairing of Miazga and Carter-Vickers was phenomenal. The allowed only one goal in the entire tournament as a pairing.
  • Rubio Rubin overcame a severe lack of service and being isolated up top to score three goals and record and assist. He's a dynamic force in the attacking end and will be a dangerous option for the USMNT very soon.
  • Gedion Zelalem started the tournament really strong. His technical ability is out-of-this-world good. However, his weak play on the ball and lack of physical strength really showed itself as the tournament progressed. He's a very young soccer player who had a lot of improving to do. The sky is still the limit for him.
  • Emerson Hyndman scored two early goals in this World Cup. As the opposition's quality increased the less of an impact he made on games. It's concerning how much he disappeared in the team's biggest games. He's still an exciting talent for the future.
  • Paul Arriola worked so hard in the quarterfinal. He was by far the team's best attacking threat against Serbia. Unfortunately his efforts didn't result in a goal.
  • Desevio Payne was a revelation at right back. His all-around game is quality. His touch is soft and he his disciplined on the defensive side. He's an exciting prospect.
  • Payne replaced Shaquell Moore in the lineup early on. Moore had a less than stellar tournament, getting beat on the defensive end several times and having his poor technical ability exposed.
  • Marky Delgado's shaky play as a defensive mid was another area of weakness for this team. He constantly forfeited possession in crucial areas of the field.
  • Bradford Jamieson's injury left a big hole in the lineup and in Tab Ramos' game plan. Jameison had an up and down tournament, but his ability and willingness to take on defenders was missed.
  • Zack Steffen started the World Cup with an error against Myanmar. After that, he was flawless. He made save after save in key situations. He has the chance to be a top flight goalkeeper for a long time.
The U-20's World Cup is over, but you can expect to see a lot of these players in October when Olympic qualifying begins.