April 15, 1999
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria - A furious second-half comeback, sparked by a pair Taylor Twellman goals, fell just short of the mark as the U.S. Under-20 National Team lost to Spain today, 3-2, in the Round of 16 at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria.
The loss eliminates the U.S. from the biennial tournament, in which the USA accumulated a 2-2-0 record.
The loss to a seasoned Spanish team dampens an otherwise classy tournament for the Americans, who defeated England (1-0) and Cameroon (3-1), and lost to Japan (1-3) in the tournament.
"I'm very proud of the determination we showed today to get back into the match," said U.S. and UCLA head coach Sigi Schmid. "I thought we played a bit tentative in the first half, gave them (Spain) a bit too much respect, and this put us on our heels. But in the second half we were a much better team and forced the play much more."
Though eliminated, the U.S. team set new standards for their attack-minded play in Nigeria. In four matches, the U.S. scored seven goals, equaling the total scored during the USA's 1989 semifinal run in Saudi Arabia. In addition, U.S. forward Taylor Twellman netted four goals, the most ever for a U.S. player in a world youth championship. And finally, the U.S. team was not shutout in its four matches, another first for an American WYC team.
The match opened with the two teams exchanging sequences of ball possession. The more-experienced Spanish team, with virtually every player competing in the Spanish first and second division, were more confident on the ball in the early going.
Spain took the lead in the 16th minute through star striker Pablo. A dangerous through ball appeared to catch the Spaniards offside, but the referee assistant kept his flag down, forcing U.S. 'keeper Tim Howard to come far off his line to contest the ball. Speedy forward Varlea beat Howard to the ball at the top of the box on the right side and flipped a pass over the goalkeeper's head to Pablo, who slammed his shot into an open net from 12 yards.
The controversial score stunned the Americans, and three minutes later Spain doubled the lead through Spain's skillful playmaker Xavi, a first team player with Spanish club Barcelona. After a foul at the top of the U.S. penalty area on the left side, the midfielder whipped his free kick over the U.S. wall and into the right corner, past Howard.
The Americans nearly pulled a goal back on 29 minutes, with John Thorrington setting up Taylor Twellman with a one-on-one with Spanish 'keeper Aranzubia. Twellman charged into the box, but his right footer was saved spectacularly by Aranzubia, who did well throughout the day to keep Spain in the lead.
Thorrington, who tormented Spanish defender Coira on the left side throughout the match, made a superb solo run in the 39th minute to get into the penalty area. A clever head feint slipped the midfielder past two defenders and, with Aranzubia approaching fast, the Thorrington chipped a pass into the middle of goal mouth. Chris Albright was in place to hammer the ball into an open net, but a retreating defender managed to clear the ball over the endline at the last moment.
As the first half ticked away, the Spanish picked up a third goal to extend their lead. Again it was striker Pablo, who collected a loose ball in front of the U.S. goal and slammed a shot home from 6 yards.
After the halftime break, an inspired U.S. team finally got on the in the 49th minute. UCLA midfielder Shaun Tsakiris penetrated through the heart of the Spanish defense and slipped a pass to Thorrington on the left side. Thorrington whipped a cross into the middle of the area to Twellman, who leapt high to slam a header into the top of the goal.
Twellman's goal sparked chants of USA-USA-USA from the spirited crowd 16,000 at Port Harcourt's Liberation Stadium.
The U.S. looked a different team in the second half, played with much greater poise and confidence, and indeed had several chances to cut the lead even further. With 30 minutes left to play, the U.S. were attacking with numbers and defending with equal vigor.
The Americans had Spain on their heels even before Schmid brought on forward Jamar Beasley for midfielder Nick Downing. Together with substitute Tsakiris, and starters Thorrington, Twellman and Chris Albright, the U.S. had its most potent offensive alignment available. And the lineup produced numerous chances as the U.S. worked to get back into the match; Twellman's shot from point-blank range was saved in the 56th minute, Tsakiris unsettled the Spaniards with a dangerous run into the box in the 64th and Albright's 78th minute break-away was also saved by Aranzubia.
The Spanish defense held, and as the clock ticked away, the U.S. finally scored the goal it had deserved the entire half. Again it was Twellman's head that found the net, on a play that was nearly identical to the one that produce the first U.S. goal. After a U.S. corner kick, Thorrington served another perfect cross to Twellman, who powered his header into the back of the net.
But the second-half foray didn't produce enough, as the final whistle blew shortly after Spain restarted the match.
"For us there are many good things we will take out of this tournament," added Schmid. "Any time you get the chance to play in a world championship it provides players with valuable learning experiences. We played well, and although we aren't satisfied with the result, we know that we have earned the respect of a very good European opponent."
The U.S. U-20 team will depart Nigeria on Friday.