Though the margin was just the minimum, there was a full serving of drama in the United States' 1-0 win over Senegal on Thursday at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Incheon, South Korea.
The Americans played a fantastic first half, full of energy and sharp passing. It culminated in this terrific goal by Josh Sargent in the 34th minute:
In the second half, Senegal asserted itself much more. Senegal entered the tournament as the favorite to win the group, and their speed and skill showed why.
But the U.S. defense held firm. Union midfielder Derrick Jones helped the effort, including a clutch block of a shot in the 55th minute. So did goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann, who recovered from a mistake-prone first game Monday to make some key saves in the shutout.
"I think this was an amazing effort from the team," U.S. coach Tab Ramos said. "When you play an African team at a World Cup like this, and physically you run them into the ground by pressing them and by not allowing them to play, I think it shows a lot about the character and the type of players that we have here... It was a complete effort for 90 minutes, and this, I think, gives us wings looking forward to the rest of tournament."
The biggest performances came from midfielder Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls, who was a dominant presence all over the field; and centerback Cameron Carter-Vickers of England's Tottenham Hotspur.
"We knew that if we pressed them, it would give them a hard time, and that created a lot of chances for us in the opposing half," Adams said.
Carter-Vickers is at the top of the Americans' defensive depth chart, but came into the tournament not fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in April. He was ready to go Thursday, and delivered a great 90 minutes.
"I felt great," Carter-Vickers said afterward. "As a team, we defended really well... We all dug in deep, especially in the second half, to keep the clean sheet."
Ramos said Carter-Vickers "was probably ready to play our first game, but we saved him a few more days and I think it was worth it."
Up next for the U.S. is the group stage finale, against Saudi Arabia in Daejon on Sunday at 5 a.m. Fox Sports 1 will televise the game live.
U.S. lineup (4-2-3-1)
Forward: Josh Sargent (Jeremy Ebobisse 90+5')
Midfielders: Eryk Williamson (Justen Glad 84'*), Luca De la Torre (Lagos Kunga 90'), Brooks Lennon; Derrick Jones, Tyler Adams
Defenders: Danny Acosta, Erik Palmer-Brown, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Aaron Herrera
Goalkeeper: Jonathan Klinsmann
* - Glad is a central defender. The U.S. switched to a five-man back line at this point.
34': Josh Sargent, United States
7': Aaron Herrera, United States
60': Bamba Kane, Senegal
86': Mamadou Diarra, Senegal
88': Ibrahima Ndiaye, Senegal
1. United States (4 points, +1 goal difference)
2. Senegal, 3 points (3 points, +1)
3. Saudi Arabia, 3 points (-1)
4. Ecuador, 1 point (-1)
The top two teams in the group automatically qualify for the knockout stages, along with the best four third-place teams across the tournament's six groups.
Saudi Arabia got its points from a 2-1 upset win over Ecuador earlier Thursday. This past Monday, the Saudis lost to Senegal 2-0. Senegal will play Ecuador in the other Group E finale on Sunday, at the same time as U.S.-Saudi Arabia.
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