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Sep 28, 2009

U.S. looks to strike on the counter against Cameroon

SUEZ, Egypt -- With a forgettable opening game performance in the FIFA U-20 World Cup behind his team, U.S. coach Thomas Rongen had some advice for his players as they prepare for their second game against Cameroon on Tuesday. Throw away the tape. That, the coach told players, is what he planned on doing with the recorded evidence of the defeat at the hands of the German side. Despite the setback, the U.S. has a quick chance for redemption in the tournament, with a short turnaround before facing the African runner-up, which disposed of South Korea 2-0 in the other opening Group C match. The Americans are pleased to have the chance to take the field again so quickly. They know they will need to make broad changes in their approach for this match, including the general attitude. "We need to be more aggressive," said forward Peri Marosevic. "We need to go at them and play with some passion, some drive, show that we have heart and we want to win this tournament. We want this win against Cameroon, that's all we have to think about." An adjustment in mentality will be a first step, but the starting lineup for Cameroon is also likely to look significantly different from the one that took the field in the opening game. Rongen began Saturday's match with a number of surprises among his starting 11, but said after the match that he would probably make some changes for Tuesday, in line with the scouting report he would receive from the Africans' victory over the Koreans. The alterations should begin in midfield, where an inexperienced U.S. group was overwhelmed for most of the game by the German attack, looked disorganized and pressed for ideas for most of the match.

U.S. U-20 men's schedule
Tuesday
U.S. vs. Cameroon
Mubarak Stadium; Suez, Egypt
12:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

Friday
U.S. vs. South Korea
Mubarak Stadium; Suez, Egypt
12:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

"Germany was a very organized team that came at us in counterattack," said defender Jorge Flores, who entered for an injured Kyle Davies in the first half. "The midfield got a bit lost and we didn't move the ball around. There was too much space between the defense and the midfield and we left too many spaces open." In order for the U.S. to improve, and stand a chance of taking three points, against the Africans, the midfield will not only need to close those spaces, but will need to take advantage of possession and improve its passing. All of which makes Bryan Arguez a good bet to start. The Hertha Berlin reserve came on in the second half Saturday and stabilized the midfield to some degree, holding the ball and distributing well to the attack. The Dutch coach may also opt for old standbys like Houston Dynamo midfielder Danny Cruz, a regular on the team throughout qualifying who didn't play on Saturday. FC Dallas forward Marosevic, who has led the team in scoring throughout the two-year U-20 cycle, may also see action given the team's meager output of just two shots on goal in the first match. Rongen may be forced to make at least one change in the back line, as well. Davies, who captained the team on Saturday until being forced out in the 34th minute with a repeat of a head injury sustained in his last match with club team FC Dallas, was headed to see a specialist Sunday. The MLS regular is not expected to play against Cameroon, and after a second head injury in less than a month, may be out for the rest of the tournament. The news Sunday was not all bad for the Americans, though, as regular right back Sheanon Williams returned to training after missing out against Germany with a slight ankle problem. Though Gerson Mayen stepped in adequately for him, Rongen may lean toward Williams in what should be an athletic squad aimed at matching up with Cameroon.
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"African teams in general are very athletic," said goalkeeper Brian Perk. "They're going be fast, they're going be big. But generally speaking they tend to be disorganized, so that's when we can hit them. We can sit back and let them do what they're going to do, and when they turn it over, we go. That's how we're going play and that's how we want to play." Despite the subpar performance on Saturday, the Americans are far from eliminated in a tournament which allows four third-place teams from the six groups to make it through to the elimination rounds. If they can refocus their energies on Tuesday's match, the panorama could look completely different headed into the final group game against South Korea. "We're just totally looking forward to throwing away the tape, as Thomas Rongen says, and forgetting about it," said midfielder Cruz of that first match. "Four third place teams get in, so a win here puts us in the driver's seat." A result could get the U.S. back into the thick of things overnight. If the U.S. is to retain much hope of advancing in Egypt, whatever the result Tuesday, when the time comes to review the match video they will need to be looking for a television instead of a trash can. Brent Latham covers U.S. soccer for ESPNsoccernet. Based in Dakar, Senegal, he also covers West Africa for Voice of America radio and can be reached at brentlatham@ymail.com.

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