The United States had suffered slow starts before at the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, but early on in Sunday’s quarterfinal against Venezuela in Jeonju, it was clear that the Americans’ sluggish beginning had more to do with the opposition – an experienced and much more stout opposition.
The Venezuelans, captained by New York City FC’s Yangel Herrera, presented the most difficult challenge of the tournament for the U.S., and it took some spectacular saves by Jonathan Klinsmann and nonstop fortuitous bounces to keep Tab Ramos’ side level during a lopsided yet scoreless 90 minutes.
Venezuela finally broke through on Adalberto Penaranda’s strike in the first extra time and added another goal by Nahuel Ferraresi nine minutes later. That last tally ended up being the difference as the Venezuelans survived a late American push behind Jeremy Ebobisse’s 117th-minute goal to secure a much-deserved 2-1 victory and reach their first-ever U-20 World Cup semifinal berth.
The U.S. won its group and was riding high after a 6-0 domination of New Zealand in the round of 16. Also, the hype train was gaining serious steam around 17-year-old striker Josh Sargent, the team’s leading scorer with four goals in four games, and expectations were raised due to the performances of midfielders Tyler Adams, Brooks Lennon and Derrick Jones and a backline anchored by Cameron Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown.
However, Venezuela dominated from the opening whistle, overwhelming the U.S. midfield with its strength and skill. Other than the first two of Klinsmann’s six saves, the Americans’ best defensive move in the first half was made by the Video Assistant Referee. In the 20th minute, Sergio Cordova scored with a strike inside the box, but VAR ruled that Ronaldo Pena was offside, erasing the goal to keep the game at 0-0.
When it did have the ball, the U.S. struggled to get Sargent any meaningful touches. And his day didn’t get any better in the second half, as he got kicked in the head by defender Jose Velasquez to open a cut on the side of his head that required a full head bandage. He ended up getting substituted in the 83rd minute.
The Venezuelan onslaught continued after halftime. In one stretch just after the hour mark, Cordova strung together three straight chances, including a free header off the cross bar. And in the 73rd minute, it was a complete miracle that the U.S. didn’t concede when a hard cross deflected off Carter-Vickers, eluded Klinsmann and dangerously bounced in front of the USA goal before a shot was sliced wide.
The Americans found their legs late behind the energy of substitutes Ebobisse and Lagos Kunga. The latter really had Venezuela’s backline scrambling with his mazy runs, and incredibly, just before the full-time whistle, Erik Palmer-Brown nearly won it for the Americans with a header that whistled past the near post.
Erik Palmer-Brown's chance at the death for USA vs Venezuela. Extra-time now. pic.twitter.com/BrDc4l4ARZ
— Hispanospherical (@DarrenSpherical) June 4, 2017
Venezuela outshot the U.S. 20-4 in the first 90 minutes but had nothing to show for it. That changed six minutes into the first extra-time period when Penaranda got his toe on a cross and redirected it past a helpless Klinsmann for a 1-0 lead.
— Luis Marquez (@AbzuardeOficial) June 4, 2017
— Magazine Gol (@MagazineGolWeb) June 4, 2017
Ferraresi’s free header off a corner made it 2-0 and appeared to secure Venezuela’s spot in the semifinals.
But Ebobisse popped a header up and over goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez to make things interesting late. It was the first tournament goal given up by Venezuela.
Wow, USA scoort direct de 1-2. Nog 5 minuten te spelen. Ebobisse met de goal. pic.twitter.com/OVEr99snYC
— Plevla (@Plevla1985) June 4, 2017
There’s no shame in losing to Venezuela, which very well could march to the title in South Korea. The same can’t be said about the the U.S.’s 1-1 draw with Venezuela two hours earlier in a senior-team friendly in Utah. Christian Pulisic’s second-half equalizer saved the Americans against a Venezuelan B team in their lone tuneup for next week’s World Cup qualifiers.
Joe Lago is the editor of FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @joelago.