Striker Barrett key to U.S. hopes
With the United States scoring only twice in the first three games of the World Youth Championships, goals have been harder to come by than a Dutchman without a bicycle.
For his part, target forward Chad Barrett (Chicago Fire) knows he needs to repeat his dangerous performance against Argentina in the first game of the tournament. In that match, he understood keeping the ball away from Argentina was just as important as getting forward himself and found the right mix between the two.
"When I played against Argentina that was my best game," Barrett said. "I was getting the ball, taking a touch, holding it, allowing the team to get up and keeping possession."
Barrett's hard work paid off with a well-placed header goal to lead the Americans to a 1-0 victory.
Definitely not the flashiest striker in the tournament, he maximizes his abilities and blends in perfectly with Schmid's offensive concept. In the United States system, the solidly-built Barrett plays alone up front and acts as a target forward, distributing the ball to the midfield during transition. After the team has moved into the attacking third, he works with his talented midfield to get behind the opponent's back line and also uses his ability to create for himself.
"When I get the chance to go one-on-one, I am going to take that chance. In my mind, more than likely I will be able to beat him."
The United States needs some help up front, especially considering the feeble finishing it displayed in the final group game. With the Americans struggling to string passes together yesterday with Barrett on the bench, his return to the lineup really gives the team a big boost with Italy coming up.
The son of a Marine with a high-and-tight haircut, Barrett's serious appearance on the pitch belies an affable personality off the field.
He appeared Saturday night in an entertaining interview with Dutch TV station NOS, flashing his smile and talking openly about camping trips and his high school days in Oregon. But his intensity is evident once he laces up; he's not too shy to yell at his teammates if he feels they need to pick up their games.
A realist, Barrett knows that this tournament will more than likely be his biggest international event.
"I know I am not good enough to move up," Barrett said. "This is the ultimate - this is my World Cup."
Lack of intensity worries Schmid
By all accounts, yesterday's game should have been a chance for the American team to practice its goal celebrations. Not only did Egypt have virtually nothing to play for, but they played with 10 men after a red card to Ahmed Gamil in the 35th minute.
However, the U.S. converted only one of its chances, despite an overwhelming 17-4 advantage in shots and failed to put the African side away.
Lack of production on that scale would seriously diminish the United States chances against the always defensive-minded Italians Tuesday.
"Scoring first will definitely be helpful. They are a team that plays very good defense and they manage a game very well," said Schmid. "Scoring first will force them to open up."
Granted, the United States did advance in first place in group D with two wins and a draw. However, both wins were 1-0 and the draw was scoreless, meaning the Americans have very little to show for its work up front. Each goal relied on a little bit of luck - both came after U.S. strikers headed home deflections.
The lack of a killer instinct against inferior teams is a problem that has historically plagued the team.
"I think when we play against a quality team our concentration is much better and we play much better," Schmid said. "We still - in our development as the United States - have trouble playing against a team that we should beat."
More frustratingly, the team seemed disinterested for portions of the game and defensive lapses allowed the Egyptians more chances than they should have gotten.
Schmid, for his part, tried to shout his team out of its lethargy, imploring his players to step up and pressure the short-handed Egyptians. However, the United States failed to break out of the malaise and instead rode the 1-0 lead all the way to the final whistle.
The lack of energy did not go unnoticed by Schmid in his post-game speech to the team.
"I got frustrated and I let my team know that frustration because I have higher expectations for them," said coach Sigi Schmid. "I think we can play a lot better than that.
"We did not play the prettiest soccer today, but we grinded it out and got the win," said Freddy Adu. "We really need to work on game management, especially when the other team goes down a man.
"What if we played like this if they had all 11 guys on the field? They probably would have scored on us."
However, Schmid also noted the United States raises its game against better teams, joking that it's almost a blessing to play against the likes of Argentina, Germany, and now Italy.
Schmid clears bench
With a place in the second round nearly in hand, Schmid used Saturday's game against Egypt to give some new players a chance. Six new faces took the pitch for the Americans as Schmid opted to rest the majority of the first-teamers.
"We wanted to rest some players. We knew we were taking a risk by playing so many reserves," Schmid said. "That was a risk we were willing to take and we felt confident in the guys coming off the bench."
Of the new crop, Will John and Jacob Peterson showed themselves most likely to provide the offensive spark the team has been lacking.
John (Chicago Fire) provided some stressful moments for the Egyptians during his first action of the tournament. With his activity, great first touches and inventive distribution, John looked the most dangerous with the ball at his feet.
Peterson, Schmid's primary offensive substitute, got a chance to start against Egypt and provided a lift with his tireless motor and relentless pressure. It was Peterson's goal, off a deflected shot from Freddy Adu, that proved to be the winner.
Schmid also tabbed Sacha Kljestan as a player who accounted well for himself.
Against Italy, the regulars should be back in action, including Jonathan Spector. The Manchester United defender suffered a deep thigh bruise early on in the tournament and sat out the past two matches. He will come on for Nathan Sturgis, who played admirably in his stead.
"He's certainly given us what we think are five quality defenders, so we have some depth there," said Schmid.
Around the tournament
Japan's equalizer four minutes from the end in their game against Australia pushed the team through to the second round. Group A finished with three teams (Benin, Australia, and Japan) tied with two points, but Japan went through by virtue of its four goals scored, one more than Benin's three.
The result is a shame for Benin, the small African nation between Togo and Nigeria. The Young Squirrels overcame the tragic and violent death of its goalkeeper, Yessouffou 'Campos' Samiou, in qualifying to make it to the Netherlands. The tournament began with a moment of silence for Campos, who was killed January 17th after his team's 3-0 loss to Nigeria in the African Youth Championship.
Although Benin did not advance, they showed they have the stuff to compete at this level.
"We are only a small football nation, but we are pleased we proved we are up to the task at this tournament," coach Serge Deveze told FIFA.com.
In a must-win game against Switzerland, Nigeria's speed, strength, and desire carried them to a 3-0 victory. The attack-minded Nigerians, led by David Abwo and spurred on by the drumbeat of their supporters, ran tirelessly in the upper 80s heat. The Super Eagles advance despite earning only one point in their first two matches against Brazil and South Korea.
Switzerland, which looked very strong in its first game, bowed out after finishing in last place of its group. Switzerland's exit shows how high the level of play is in this year's World Youth Championships.
"When a team like Switzerland finishes last in its group, it's a strong tournament. Switzerland was a very good team," said Schmid. "Overall, (global competition) has become much, much tighter.
Colombia got a bittersweet reward after storming through group E with three 2-0 victories. Their second round opponent is Argentina, which has bounced back from its opening loss to the United States to beat Egypt and Germany and reestablish itself as a tournament favorite.
Andrew Winner is a freelance writer who covers U.S. soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at email@example.com