While most of his Union teammates and fans were asleep, midfielder Derrick Jones helped save the United States under-20 national team from an embarrassing defeat in its opening game at the World Cup in Incheon, South Korea.
The Americans rallied to earn a 3-3 tie against Ecuador thanks in no small part to the defensive stability Jones provided in midfield after entering the game as a 34th-minute substitute. Ecuador led by 2-0 at that point, having scored twice in the game's first seven minutes.
If you presume from that scoreline that the U.S. defense looked dreadful, you're right. The woes started with goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann (yes, that's Jurgen's son), who came off his line too far on the first goal and got burned. Centerback Tommy Redding, an Orlando City prospect, was beaten badly on both early goals.
"I wish I had the answer for the first 10 minutes - that wasn't the plan," Ramos told reporters after the game. "We are a high-press team and we like to come after teams. Unfortunately, we made a couple of mistakes and we paid for that."
Ramos' own tactics were partly to blame. He deployed midfielder Gedion Zelalem, an Arsenal product long-touted as one of the United States' top young creators, in a defensive role. He was set up next to the New York Red Bulls' Tyler Adams, a fine two-way player with plenty of steel. Luca de la Torre of England's Fulham took the playmaking reins, with D.C. United's Eryk Williamson on the left and Real Salt Lake's Brooks Lennon on the right.
It looked something like this:
De la Torre proved a suitable playmaker, but Zelalem is no enforcer. And it looked the part on the field.
The problem was solved in the 32nd minute, though not in a way anyone would ask for. Zelalem got injured when he planted a foot wrong while going in for a challenge. He could not leave the field under his own power and had to be helped off by the U.S. medical staff with what appeared to be a left leg injury. The extent of the damage remains unclear.
Jones replaced Zelalem, and U.S. fortunes turned almost immediately. Indeed, he helped start the sequence that led to the Americans' first goal. In the 36th minute, the Ghana-born product of Southwest Philadelphia's Junior Lone Star club sprung de La Torre for a surge up the field. He fed Sargent, who struck a clinical shot.
Sargent scored the equalizer in the 54th minute off a terrific cross from Williamson, and Jones was involved again in the build-up. Aaron Herrera blocked an Ecuadorean pass to Jones, who turned upfield and fed Tyler Adams. He found Williamson, who had plenty of space to fire a perfect ball on to Sargent's head.
(I realize the full build-up isn't in that clip. I'm trying to find one that has it, but there aren't many legal outlets with highlights.)
Just when it seemed the U.S. had momentum, Klinsmann shockingly kicked it away. Ten minutes after the tying goal, he tried to start a build-up out of the back. But he dribbled into traffic caused by two Ecuadorian players. A third, eventual scorer Bryan Cabezas, picked off Klinsmann's short pass and finished easily.
There was to be one more twist in the plot. In the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, Lennon hit a cross that Ecuador failed to clear, and de la Torre pounced on the loose ball to slam home the dramatic equalizer.
"Obviously, our fight is always there, so we expect that," Ramos said. "This team has a lot of character. Having to dig yourself out of this type of hole in the World Cup is not easy, so I obviously have to give the team a lot of credit for that. I think the players did a great job."
The U.S.' next game will be against Senegal at 7 a.m. Eastern on Thursday, also in Incheon. Fox Sports 1 will televise it live.
5': Herlin Lino, Ecuador
7': Bryan Cabezas, Ecuador
36': Josh Sargent, United States
54': Josh Sargent, United States
64': Bryan Cabezas, Ecuador
90+4': Luca de la Torre, United States
74': Washington Corozo, Ecuador (yellow)
80': Derrick Jones, United States (yellow)
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This article contains information from the Associated Press.