BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, March 29, 2010
After suffering a first half red card, a short-handed US Under-20 national team fell 1-0 to arch rival Mexico in the opening game of the Dallas Cup on Sunday.

The first half was back and forth with Mexico controlling the opening part of the half with the Americans responding with a series of chances later in the half.

Things would change however in the 40th minute when Mexico sent what seemed to be harmless lofty long ball into the American box. US central defender Chad Barson fell down as he was positioning himself to defend the long ball. When he got back up, he was whistled for taking down Mexican attacker who had streaked passed him while he was down.

The official not only awarded Mexico the penalty but Barson was sent off with a straight red card thereby reducing the US to ten men for the remainder of the game.

"I mean it changes really the course of the game," Rongen discussed of the harsh red card decision. "I don't even think it's a [penalty], it's probably outside of the box. There was some contact obviously with both players in an awkward position. You've got to use a little common sense I think. You put the yellow and give them the penalty and nobody would complain."

US goalkeeper Zac MacMath saved the penalty on a diving stop towards his left and the US was able to escape the first half even at 0-0. However being a man down, the US was forced to change its formation and game plan.

"We pulled into a 4-4-1," US captain Dillon Powers said. "I was playing a little higher [in the second half]."

The second half would see Mexico dominate possession using their man advantage. They would capitalize in the 50th minute when midfielder Taufic Guarch headed home a corner kick to give El Tri a 1-0 lead.

Mexico would continue to dominate possession but the Americans would continue to play feisty and scrappy soccer. The US shifted to a more counter attacking style and would use their speed to create chances.

"Yeah we had a good number of chances," US midfielder Amobi Okugo said. "Cesar [Zamora] and Dillon did a great job in the midfield trying to battle out. We had a couple of chances we could have put away."

Most notably the US received a strong performance from Powers who played well on both sides of the ball. His playmaking continued to be a handful for the Mexican defense throughout the game.

"Dillon was the captain today for a reason," Rongen said of his leader. "I think he showed today that he can, by example, lead. I think sooner or later he will get more verbal as well."

The US earned a series of chances and the best chance was in the 89th minute shortly following a Mexican red card. Powers sent a perfect corner kick into the box. Midfielder Okugo managed to break free and head a clean ball which beat the keeper but not the crossbar before the match ended minutes later.

"We had great character and hit the crossbar [at the end]," Rongen said of the game. "We tried to go at them with 10 men and go at them a little the last ten minutes. It was a typical US-Mexico game with some fireworks, a little bit of flair, and two teams that go after each other."

"It was a tough obviously with a red card in the first half," Rongen continued. "In the second half we hung in there actually. We gave up an early goal on a set piece. It's a little disappointing obviously. You chase the game from that point on."

Despite the loss, Rongen feels as if he leaned a lot from his team.

""Yes I did [learn from the game], which is always good," Rongen said of his evaluation of his players. "That's the most important thing. We are never happy that we lose."

"In these games you find out about character and resilience of players and their willingness to sacrifice and push the threshold of pain, so to speak - all the little things that are important. You find out about guys. That was a good exercise, quite frankly, to get done."

The US will be forced to regroup quickly as they face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Monday in their second game of the Dallas Cup. Rongen said that he will play almost an entirely different team because he wants to evaluate all of his players.

"We don't like to lose, but results now are secondary in where we are at in our phase of preparation," Rongen said of his priorities at the Dallas Cup. "We have to figure out which guys can play and which guys can't and who are our best 20 players to take us through qualifying. That's what we are trying to do."

The US must now win their last two games against Vancouver and Eintracht Frankfurt if they hope to have a realistic chance to advance to the semifinals in a tournament where only the group winners advance to the semifinals. While difficult, the players are optimistic.

"We have a lot of character," Okugo said of his team in Dallas. "I am surprised that we actually created as many chances as we did being a man down. If we can do well the next two games we might have a chance of going to the [semifinals]."