Despite surprising most by finishing atop a stern World Youth Championships Group D, the U.S. Under-20 National Team will still be looking to show their best face when they begin knockout play against Italy on Tuesday.
The Arke Stadion darlings finished with two wins and a draw against Argentina, Germany and Egypt - yet can't help but be dissatisfied looking in the mirror before looking ahead to the round of 16.
"I'm not super thrilled about the way we played (against Egypt)," philosophical coach Sigi Schmid told reporters after the game. "I think we can play a lot better. Sometimes you play like that, and if you can win when you play ugly, maybe that's a good sign."
"I'm extremely happy, but I'm not satisfied. We want more."
The players seemed to be in agreement with the boss' analysis and in line with his guiding attitude.
"We grinded it out, we got the win," second half sparkplug Freddy Adu told YA. "We just really need to work on game management, especially when the other team goes down a man."
"What would have happened if they had all eleven guys on the field? They probably would have scored a goal on us, and we can't let that happen."
The Baby 'Nats had the extra man advantage for almost an hour in their victory over Egypt on Saturday, yet had to rely on an urgent second half Jacob Peterson header for the 1-0 win.
Goals have been hard to come by in the first three contests, even with the Americans often working well into dangerous attack positions. This notion has not escaped Schmid, who often seems to be showing his players the way to look forward.
"It's something that we've talked about as a team," he noted, always quick to throw in a jest. "I said 'I know what you guys are doing. You're trying to save your goals for the quarterfinals.'"
"Sometimes, things just don't bounce for you. Hopefully, the goals are going to fall in the next round."
Adu partially blames an overabundance of lazy short passes during combination and link-up play, one critique also mentioned by many observers.
"Touches have to better on our part," insisted the D.C. United ace. "Communication has to be better. Pretty much every aspect of the game has to be better."
The earnest teenager may have exaggerated a bit with his latter point, however, as the positive thinking Yanks sport a clean defensive record heading into the sweet 16.
"Everybody's spirit is there, the team chemistry is amazing," goalkeeper Quentin Westberg told YA after turning away the Egypt attack. "It was a crappy game for us, but we still came out with the win and the shutout, so obviously we're happy with that."
"Happy with the result, not happy with the way we played," he quickly specified. "And hopefully we're going to do better in the next round."
Nevertheless, Brazil and Colombia have also booked three clean sheets, and everyone on the team realizes that things are different now; the bottom eight have been weeded out, and it is one-and-your-done pressure time. The deeper they go, the tougher it gets - a fact that Schmid figures could actually help.
"I think when we play a quality team, our concentration level is much better," he offered. "Sometimes, we have more trouble playing against teams we should beat. Or being put in the situation of being up a man up, in a game we should dominate."
"Yeah, I got frustrated, and I let my team know that. I just have higher expectation and demands for them. That's something we'll sort away, but I have every confidence that you'll see the same type of performance you saw in the first two games."
Should they dispose of the junior Azzurri, the U.S. could end up seeing a match-up with virtual home side Morocco and what would be an eye-opening semifinal with proper hosts Holland blocking their path to the final in Utrecht. Again, the coach is unruffled by potential stumbling blocks that aren’t related to the form of his loyal charges.
"We don't really care who we play," he asserted. "Nobody's going to be easy from here on out. It's going to be our mental focus that is the key."
Moments later, Westberg didn't hesitate when asked what they needed to work on if they hope to take the field at Nieuwe Galgenwaard stadium on July 2nd.
"Consistency," snapped the mini-mohawked netminder. "We had a great game versus Argentina, most or part of a great game against Germany, but today there was something missing."
"We were playing, with all due respect, a weaker team when compared to Germany and Argentina. We didn't really play our game."
Another question getting tossed around concerns apparent U.S. troubles with late game fatigue, but Adu was as quick to reject that talk as he is with some of the moves that have wowed Enschede admirers over the last couple of weeks.
"People say 'Oh, you died at the end'," he explained, reinforcing the focus issue like a political talking point. "No. Our fitness is great, we just use it at the wrong times, and it could come back to bite us."
"The last 10-15 minutes of the last two games, the other team has taken it to us, and that's not acceptable. We know what to do."
And Schmid isn’t likely to let them forget that or the idea that the trophy is still out there to be won by a crew with confidence.
"We're very proud to win the group, to have three shutouts, and we got some players rested," concluded Schmid. "So I'm looking forward to Tuesday."