SUEZ, Egypt -- It was like day and night.
The Americans' second match at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup kicked off after nightfall in Suez, and the Americans shined under the lights in Egypt, thrashing Cameroon 4-1 to erase the unpleasant memories of their opening loss Saturday afternoon against Germany, and put themselves in the thick of things in their group.
"Our team responded well to a disappointing opening game against Germany," said American coach Thomas Rongen. "We showed some great character and resilience to manage this game. We felt we needed three points to get us back into the race in this group and we did that."
Rongen made a number of changes to the squad that was run off the field by the European champions, beginning in midfield. A change in attitude and purpose was also on display from the opening whistle, as the U.S. took the game to the African side, controlling possession and playing as an organized unit, in contrast to the opening match.
"We added a little bit more experience in the team with Bryan Arguez, Dilly Duka and Danny Cruz, who gave us energy on the right side in a workmanlike performance," Rongen said. "We had a little bit more composure and got possession we didn't have against Germany, and we were able to stretch the opponent with our pace up top."
Cruz was a motor on the right wing all evening, never running out of gas as he chased long balls into the offensive third, then tracked back to cover on defense when Cameroon attacked. Arguez also put in another solid performance, after adding composure to the midfield upon his insertion for the second half on Saturday.
An improved second-half performance against the Germans had left the Americans looking capable of better than their 3-0 loss, and Tuesday's match was their chance to prove they could perform as a unit. Improvement came across the board, from goalkeeping forward. But the change that mattered most was in the midfield, which controlled much of the match, avoided turnovers and mostly kept the ball away from the dangerous Cameroon attack.
|U.S. U-20 men's schedule|
U.S. vs. South Korea
Mubarak Stadium; Suez, Egypt
12:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
"We were able to keep the ball way better," said defender Ike Opara. "Our shape was better going forward and even defensively, and I think that was the difference."
The Americans fought evenly throughout the first half with a Cameroon team that had dominated its first match against South Korea. The U.S. finally broke through as the clock ticked down in added time, when Arguez buried a shot in the roof of the net from close range after a feed from Tony Taylor.
With a one-goal lead, the team was able to continue their strategy of picking their spots to attack. The Americans got one such chance early in the second half, when Duka led a breakaway and picked out Taylor in front of goal, doubling the lead with just two minutes gone. The U.S. then looked to put the game away, and Duka did just that with a measured chip from the wing that beat surprised Cameroon goalkeeper Francois Beyokol for a third goal that will make all the tournament highlight reels.
"It was a pretty nice goal," Duka said. "The keeper was out all game, and I was hearing from the coaches, 'The keeper is out,' and decided to chip one, and it went in. This is probably the biggest goal I've scored yet."
As big as that goal was for Duka, it was an even bigger win for the team, clearly its most important yet, just when it desperately needed it.
Player ratings (scale of 1-10)
Brian Perk, GK, 6 -- The UCLA keeper could do nothing about the penalty shot, the second he has had to dig out of his net in two games. Though his distribution could have used some work, Perk organized well and played solidly behind a much improved defense.
Sheanon Williams, D, 5 -- Williams looked a little rusty in his return from an ankle injury, but his athleticism and speed were keys to holding down the right wing of the defense. The defender did make a number of errors that might have been punished on another night.
Gale Agbossoumonde, D, 5.5 -- The big man in the middle cut down on his mistakes after a rough opening game, playing simpler than he had against Germany.
Ike Opara, D, 6 -- Another solid game from the defensive leader, who managed to keep his group out of trouble on numerous occasions, and saved a sure goal with a last-second clearance of a cross in the first half, with the game still scoreless. Opara also set up the first American goal when he headed a free kick that Cameroon keeper Francois Beyokol could only knock away.
Jorge Flores, D, 4.5 -- Flores put in a workmanlike day on the left side of defense, despite being clearly overmatched by the speed and power of the Cameroon attackers. The Chivas USA utilityman was beaten a number of times, but used his guile to get himself back in position. When it was still a one-goal game, Flores did make one terrible clearance that ended up at the feet of an attacker in front of goal, but was muffed.
Bryan Arguez, M, 6.5 -- Again added the composure to defensive midfield that was lacking against Germany. Looked calm over the ball, and had a good idea what to do with it, without giving away possession, and added a goal to the tally to go along with it.
Dilly Duka, M, 7 -- An assist to go with his spectacular goal made this a day to remember for the former Rutgers star. Duka demonstrated what he brings to the table at attacking midfield, despite disappearing for long stretches early in the match.
Jared Jeffrey, M, 6 -- Put in a solid effort in midfield and looked good alongside Arguez. The tandem could make a formidable pairing in defensive midfield if they continue to play this well going forward.
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Brek Shea, F, 6 -- The FC Dallas man demonstrated leadership and poise in moving the American attack forward. Shea made several good passes that could have led to goals with better positioning and finishing from teammates.
Danny Cruz, F, 7 -- The Houston Dynamo midfielder was a motor all night long for the Americans on the right flank. His hard work produced the free kick that led to the first American goal, and his defensive hustle thwarted a number of Cameroon attacks.
Tony Taylor, F, 5.5 -- The central forward put his clearest opportunity into the back of the net when Duka served up a perfect ball early in the second half. Taylor also had a smooth assist on the first goal, but generally was out of position, and missed several good chances. He also looked out of ideas when he couldn't use his speed to beat the Cameroon defenders.
Brian Ownby, F, 6 -- Upped his stock when he managed to put the ball in the net in extra time on a counter. Nevertheless, the UVA man will miss the final group match after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament.
Dillon Powers, M, NR -- Put in a 13-minute shift in defensive midfield as the U.S. closed out the game.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.