ISTANBUL – Though coach Tab Ramos and his US Under-20 national team can't help feeling like they should have won, there was nonetheless a great sense of relief after a late strike by Daniel Cuevas earned them a 1-1 draw against France and the lifeline to advancement that came with it.
It wasn't the prettiest evening of soccer on record, with Javan Torre's sloppy penalty foul at one end and Luis Gil's spot kick miss at the other among the lowlights. However, Cuevas buried a broken restart with five minutes left to give the Americans life heading into their final U-20 World Cup Group A match against Ghana.
"We should have gotten all three points," Ramos told reporters following the contest. "But at the end of the day, I think it was great courage by our team. Without having our best, we worked very hard until the end and got the tie. Now we go into the last game hoping for the best."
While the US did not struggle to assume dangerous positions on the attack, low passing efficiency and bouts of indecisiveness on the ball conspired to keep them off the board until Cuevas grabbed the equalizer just in time.
"We should have scored earlier, but unfortunately that's how things go," he said. "I'm just really happy we didn't lose and we still have a chance."
The key play was actually a bit broken. Gil's low free kick from just beyond the area somehow squirted through both US forward Mario Rodriguez and a couple of France defenders before falling kindly for Cuevas to lash home.
"There was a little bit of confusion at the beginning because Mario was in the wall," said Cuevas. "But at the end, I was the one in the wall and the ball went my way."
The happy bounce to Cuevas rescued a point and the team's hopes for advancement, but the earlier squandered opportunities essentially left the team looking for ways to improve their sharpness.
"We're just going to keep working on our finishing," stated Wil Trapp, the captain on the day. "Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in the game, so it's just going to take a little practice."
However, Ramos opined that the players weren't quite as lively as they had been in their tourney-opening Spain defeat.
"I felt like the team didn't have its legs today," said the coach. "I'm a little disappointed in that, but obviously the result is what it is. We could have won the game, but we certainly want to play a lot better than we did today."
Thanks to the timely leveler, they will get the chance to improve both their performance and the result on Thursday in Kayseri (1 pm ET, ESPNU). Against Ghana, though, a draw won't be good enough and everyone involved knows it.
"We've got one more game to go and we need three points to move on," said Trapp. "So that's what we're looking forward to now."