DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Brushing off Saturday's meltdown against Germany, Ike Opara and the US Under-20 back line rebounded to limit their Cameroonian counterparts to a single goal in Tuesday's comprehensive victory.
Having played all 180 minutes over both games, starting central defender Opara saw first-hand the drastic improvement from one game to the next, and feels that they responded well to the pressure incurred from their opening loss.
"We had a meeting of the whole back line and we said that we have to tighten it up," the Wake Forest standout told YA following Tuesday night's game.
"We went through practice yesterday and we decided that our back line was also going to help dictate our attack. You saw on the turnovers they had that we sprung some guys in, and [that's how] Tony got that goal."
In addition to their greater level of focus, Opara recognizes to two clear on-field factors which helped to generate their dominant performance against the Lions; the first being simply the return of right back Sheanon Williams from a brief injury absence.
"I thought it was a huge difference," Opara suggests of the one-time Wolfsburg trialist's presence. "[Sheanon] gave us some attacking going forward and was also there as a defensive presence. He matched up well physically, which I think was a big part for our defense playing well today."
In addition, he points out his own developing partnership in central defense with the team's youngest player, 17-year old Gale Agbossoumonde, as a another aspect which he sees continuing to blossom even as the tournament progresses.
"We're getting better every day," the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year says of the defensive pairing. "We've [both] been at a lot of camps, but we've only been at one together twice."
"We're working together and still trying to figure each other out but it's getting better and better, and hopefully we can continue it this week in practice and move it on to Friday [against South Korea]"
The third-year Demon Deacon is also quick to point out the improved play of the team's midfield in bringing their drastic turnaround, where a central trio of Bryan Arguez, Jared Jeffrey and Dilly Duka left their opponents wanting for both possession and the space to attack the Americans' goal.
"[The midfield] was able to keep the ball way better," Opara appraises. "Our shape was better both going forward and defensively. I think that was a huge key since when we had turnovers, they were right there to pick up the second balls.
Earning special praise is attacking midfielder Dilly Duka of Rutgers University, who notched up one goal and an assist in his first start of the tournament, likely turning the heads of many European scouts.
"Dilly played really well today with a goal and an assist, and he proved to be a key factor."
Opara played his own part in getting the team on the scoreboard just before halftime, with his header on goal deflected by Cameroon's keeper directly into the path of teammate Tony Taylor, who sent the Americans well on their way with their first of four goals.
"It was good to get that one early instead of waiting till late in the game to find that first goal for the win," he asserts. "I think it definitely gave us momentum going into halftime, which improved as we came out sharp in the second half."
Now in second place in the group with three points just ahead of the Cameroonians on goal differential, Opara and the rest of the team will shoot for a place in the knockout round when they the face last-place South Koreans on Friday evening.