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USA aims for U-20 World Cup semifinals
by Ridge Mahoney, July 13th, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  men's national team, under-20 world cup


One win stands between the U.S. under-20 national team and only the second semifinal appearance by an American team in the 30-year history of this world championship. The USA meets Austria in Toronto Saturday at 2:15 pm ET (ESPNU, TeleFutura) and that last semifinal appearance might as well be ancient history. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller helped the USA to a fourth-place finish in 1989, the same year the youngest members of the current squad were born.

Two of those players, Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore, have scored six of the team's 11 goals in this competition. Two others, left back Anthony Wallace and goalkeeper Brian Perk, didn't start the first game but have played vital roles since being summoned by head coach Thomas Rongen.

So, too, did Gabe Ferrari and Andre Akpan, left on the bench in group play but summoned in a rugged 2-1 comeback victory over Uruguay in the round of 16 Wednesday. The other sub, midfielder Dax McCarty, replaced right back Tony Beltran and covered vast stretches of ground as the U.S. rallied to set up the meeting with Austria.

For video highlights of USA-Uruguay click HERE

"I haven't seen them play, but I'm sure they are a very tough and talented team," said Altidore of Austria, which beat Gambia, 2-1, in its second-round match. Gambia went down to 10 men in the 43rd minute yet managed an equalizer before Erwin "Jimmy" Hoffer scored the winner for Austria with nine minutes left.

The Austrians have conceded only two goals in four games and are strong in the air, which has been something of a weakness for the Americans while defending set plays. Three of Austria's four goals are products of a corner kick or free kick.

The American win over Uruguay proved to be costly. Altidore (calf muscle tear) and winger Sal Zizzo (strained hamstring) were forced out of the game early in the second half with injuries and their status for the quarterfinal is to be determined. Seitz sat out the game because of a thigh contusion suffered in the historic 2-1 defeat of Brazil that concluded group play, and he, too, will be evaluated over the next 24 hours to determine his fitness.

Cautions (eight) and fouls (57) littered the match with Uruguay, which took a 1-0 lead in the 73rd minute when Perk couldn't handle a header cleanly and Luis Suarez got to it first. But a pressing American team forced an own goal by Mathias Cardaccio and struck the winner two minutes into the second overtime when Michael Bradley stabbed a bouncing ball high into the net. Before and after his bobble, Perk rescued his teammates with sharp saves and heroic tackles thwarted Uruguay's frantic efforts to score the goal that would necessitate a penalty-kick tiebreaker.

"This was a game about guts today," said midfielder Danny Szetela, who centered the ball Cardaccio knocked into his own net to tie the match, 1-1, in the 87th minute. "We had to fight for everything on the field. It's important to show you can come back from a goal down and win these ugly games. It wasn't like any of our first round games and I couldn't be happier with making the quarterfinals."

Four years ago, the under-20s reached the quarterfinals, the stage at which they play Austria Saturday -- but lost to Argentina and were placed fifth. Rongen coached that team; in addition to his own experience, three of his current players - Adu, Szetela and defender Nathan Sturgis - played in this tournament two years ago.

Then, as now, the U.S. won its group and faced a third-placed team in its second-round game. The 2005 team lost to Italy, 3-1, and that painful memory helped forge a determination not to let the same occur against Uruguay.

Said Sturgis prior to the Uruguay game, "Me, Danny, and Freddy all talked about it and said we can't come out flat and need to come out focused. We may have won our group and had a big win against Brazil, but we need to put that behind us and focus on our next game."

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