The United States U20 squad rebounded from their opening loss in the Revelations Cup, settling for a draw against Colombia in a game that, at times, more resembled amateur backyard wrestling in the final minutes.
The Americans had the upper hand on the scoreboard for most of the contest, however were forced to play the final 18 minutes with only ten men on the field, and conceded an equalizing goal to the Colombians in the closing seconds of the hectic final stage of the game.
After the 4-0 shellacking by their first opponents Brazil on Wednesday, new U20 head coach Mikey Varas trotted out a very changed starting eleven on Saturday afternoon. Future Leipzig player Caden Clark was one of the few players who was back in action, this time captaining the team and manning the right side of the front line.
Fulham youth keeper Alexander Borto also took the place of Gabriel Slonina in goal, and the Union Berlin player Malick Sanogo, who recently committed to the US ahead of Germany and Ivory coast, also earned the start alongside Clark in the attack.
After looking disjointed in the opener on Wednesday, they showed a better degree of crispness in the attack in the first half, and regularly threatened the Colombians’ defense. The first such instance was already in the third minute, when Jacob Greene advanced the ball to the left edge of the area and unleashed a low cross towards Clark making a run up the middle, however his marking defender had a good angle and his attempt from short range was blocked.
Greene, who primarily features for DC United’s USL affiliate Loudoun United FC, was consistently the main threat on the left side in the early-going, however was also a bit eager with his runs, leading to multiple off-side calls.
The Colombian youngsters also displayed some limited bite to their attack in the opening 45, and appeared to have taken the lead in the 32nd minute when a header bounced off the right upright of the Americans’ goal and landed at the foot of Javier Ortiz, who put it away only to see his goal negated for an offside infraction in the buildup.
Moments later, the their disappointment became even more bitter as the Americans took the lead on the ensuing attack. While tracking down a long ball into the Colombian penalty area, Brian Gutiérrez got caught up in a tangle of legs with defender Deivi Barrios, leading the referee to whistle a penalty for the Americans.
Team captain Caden Clark stepped up to the penalty spot, let the Colombian keeper Luis Marquines lunge to the left, and then chipped a Panenka kick dead center for the cheeky 1-0 lead.
Colombia came close to pulling even in what would have been spectacular fashion just past the 37-minute mark when Tomás Ángel, son of former MLS star Juan Pablo Ángel, struck a long, nearly 40-yard free kick off the crossbar, barely deflected by Borto’s fingertips.
Colombia applied significantly more pressure after the break, looking to wear down the Americans’ resolve and bring the score back to equal footing. While moments of true danger were lacking due in part to the adept organization in the US defense, and in part to a lack of precision on the final ball by the Colombians, this did keep the Americans mostly on the back foot and on the chase.
Perhaps this played a role when, in a moment of frustration near the sideline, Philadelphia Union Quinn Sullivan wildly swung a kick behind Colombian substitute Carlos Cantillo, completely missing the ball and instead making late contact with his opponents’ legs. The referee correctly judged the action to be reckless enough to warrant a straight red card, leaving the Americans with only ten men on the field for the final 18 minutes plus added time.
From that point on, the Colombians, sensing they had the sympathies of the referee, embellished every contact they could, in hopes of orchestrating another card or penalty call. While, to his credit, the official didn’t fall for the theatrics, he also failed to take any action to shut it down.
This lax attitude was perhaps partially at fault when, two minutes before the end of regulation, a Colombian player overtly and intentionally stomped on Paxton Aaronson in direct view of the official, and was only awarded a yellow for his incredibly professional behavior.
In the end, the Colombians had the final reason to celebrate, as their late push led to an equalizer on nearly the last action of the game. With less than 10 seconds left in the final minute of added time, a last-gasp attack saw a cross fired from the right flank toward the far post, where Ángel was able to sneak between his defenders and chip it just inside the opposite post for the final 1-1 draw.
The referee blew the final whistle just after the ensuing kickoff, and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of Colombian players who argued unsuccessfully that they deserved extra added time to push for the win.
Varas and his disappointed squad will be back in action on Tuesday afternoon with the final outing of the tournament, when they face hosts Mexico, with Brazil and Colombia facing off in the later game.
The current standings after two games of the round-robin tournament have the Americans in last place. While a win would put them even with their upcoming opponents Mexico on points, their underwater goal differential will make it hard for the team to make up the ground in the overall placement.