Tab Ramos said he believed this was the most talented US squad he’s assembled in four cycles as the U-20 coach. But this squad, exclusively comprised of professionals, have an uphill climb to get out of the group stages after a 2-1 loss to Ukraine in both team’s Group D opener at Bielsko-Biała Stadium.
In a clash of styles, where the US wanted to possess the ball, while Ukraine looked for counters off long balls, it was Ukraine that struck first.
Heorhiy Tsitaishvili clipped a ball behind where Dynamo Kyiv teammate Serhii Bulesta shielded Sergino Dest before firing first time off the bounce with his left foot in the 26th minute.
The US needed just six minutes, though, to level through Brandon Servania. The FC Dallas midfielder tapped in a low cross from Tim Weah at the edge of the six to put the finishing touches on a well-worked goal.
Ukraine regained their lead in the 51st minute when Denys Popov slipped in between defenders and latched onto Bulesta’s corner and the Dynamo Kyiv defender flicked his header from the edge of the six-yard box inside the far post.
“In general I’m very happy with the team. The team made a good effort, tried to win the game,” Ramos said. “Unfortunately on that set piece in the second half we lost the game, but I’m very happy with the players’ effort and overall with today’s performance to start the tournament.”
Alex Mendez was arguably the most dangerous US attacking threat, especially from distance. The Freiburg midfielder out of the LA Galaxy academy had the game’s first quality chance, but Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Lunin did well to parry over the crossbar for the first US corner kick in the 10th minute.
Just before halftime, Mendez ran into space and put a dipping shot from distance that Lunin again got enough of to force out for a corner.
Three minutes into the second half, Mendez split a pair of defenders and again unleashed a threatening shot from deep. But the Leganes goalkeeper again pushed the attempt away. That came just after Tsitaishvili cut the ball back onto his left foot and hammered an attempt off the crossbar for Ukraine, which was making its fourth all-time appearance and first since 2015.
Mendez got himself closer to goal in the 76th minute, receiving a clever ball cutback by FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal and putting a first-time shot off the near post from 11 yards out.
Two minutes from full time, Pomykal made a rampaging run into the Ukraine box, but he Popov came up with the saving tackle. Pomykal continued to probe for the equalizer, but his pass intended for Weah in the first of four minutes of stoppage time was snuffed out by the Ukraine defense.
It doesn’t any easier for the US, who on Monday back at Bielsko-Biała Stadium face a Nigeria team that defeated Qatar, 4-0, in its opener earlier on Friday.
“i think we dd a lot of good things today,” Ramos said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get more goals, but overall I’m happy with the team.”
- 26’ — UKR — Serhii Bulesta
- 31’ — USA — Brandon Servania | WATCH
- 51’ — UKR — Denys Popov
- THE BIG PICTURE: The US promised to possess and play the game on their terms, and for the most part they did, but they were punished for not being clinical enough in the final third. Meanwhile, Ukraine did well to take their chances and proved deadly on set pieces, as expected.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: At 1-1, the US were just fine. But missed assignments allowed Popov the sliver of space he needed to bury the winner off a Ukraine corner.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Mendez was a threat every time he touched the ball. He showcased his seemingly unlimited range, but couldn’t put one of his several shots on frame past Lunin.
- USA: Monday, May 27 vs. Nigeria (2:20 pm ET | FS1, NBC Universo)
- UKR: Monday, May 27 vs. Qatar (10 am ET | FOX Soccer Plus)