One of the harshest lessons taught at youth world championships is an historic victory in the group phase, even against a team as renowned as Brazil, counts as just one win and leaves work still to be done.
The U.S. under-17 team, which included Claudio Reyna, found this out at the 1989 world championships in Scotland. It stunned Brazil, 1-0, in its opener, and a few days later suffered a 5-2 hammering by East Germany. A 2-2 tie in its final group game against Australia left it just short of advancing.
Poland opened the 2007 FIFA U-20 tournament by beating Brazil, 1-0, and had nothing left for its second match against the USA on Tuesday. A Freddy Adu hat trick, two excellent goals by Danny Szetela, and a nice finish from Jozy Altidore destroyed Poland, 6-1, and moved the USA atop Group D with four points.
The USA had been overrun by South Korea in its own opener yet escaped with a 1-1 tie. Coach Thomas Rongen made just one change to his starting XI, replacing Crew left back Tim Ward with FC Dallas rookie Anthony Wallace.
After laboring to keep pace with the relentless South Koreans, the USA dictated the tempo against a lagging opponent. It raced past and through Poland, which against Brazil had scored midway through the first half and held on for the final 63 minutes a man down following an ejection.
Whether because of fatigue or fat-headedness, Poland allowed Adu to roam unchecked in midfield, and he exploited the time and space to set up numerous chances as well as finish three himself.
Adu polished off two excellent setups from right winger Sal Zizzo with a curling shot and a blast into the top far corner, and raced onto a Robbie Rogers long ball in the final minutes to beat the keeper and roll his third goal into an empty net.
Szetela lined up alongside Michael Bradley in the two central midfield slots behind Adu and he too zoomed past sluggish foes. His snap header in the ninth minute from a Tony Beltran cross glanced off the underside of the crossbar and dropped over the goal line from an impressive distance of 15 yards. He split two Polish defenders in pursuit of an Anthony Wallace diagonal ball and lashed his second goal in the 51st minute.
Rogers got a second assist with 20 minutes to play by providing the ball that Altidore banged into the net for his first goal of the tournament. The USA outshot Poland, 18-9, and with a plus-5 goal difference is all but mathematically assured of reaching the second round regardless of what happens in its group finale Friday against Brazil. Four third-place teams advance as well as the top two teams in each of the six groups.
No U.S. players were cautioned, which leaves only those cautioned against South Korea - Rogers and Bradley - in danger of missing a second-round game by picking up a yellow card against Brazil.
Defender Julian Valentin suffered a gash under his left eye in an aerial collision and had to be replaced by Ofori Sarkodie.
In the other Group D match Brazil had to fight off South Korea, 3-2, which leaves all four teams with a chance of advancing. Alexandre Pato scored the second and third goals as Brazil built a 3-0 lead, then Young Sung Shim and Young Rok Shin tallied in the final six minutes to make it close. If it beats Poland in the final group match, South Korea will almost certainly advance, and the Polish dream start will truly have turned into a nightmare.
July 3 in Montreal
USA 6 Poland 1.
Goals: Szetela 9, Adu 20, Adu 48+, Szetela 51, Altidore 70, Adu 85; Janczyk 5.
USA - Seitz, Sturgis, Wallace (Igwe, 63), Valentin (Sarkodie, 33), Beltran, Bradley, Szetela, Adu, Rogers, Altidore (McCarty, 79), Beltran.
Poland - Bialkowski, Starosta, Fojut, Strugarek, Danch, Marciniak (Adamiec, 67), Malecki, Janczyk, Krychowiak (Marek, 55), Sacha ( Szalek, 46), Cywka.
Referee: Martin Hansson (Sweden)
FIFA U-20 highlights: