The United States picked the worst time to give its least convincing performance, though after a U-20 Women’s World Cup where the defending champions only won two out of four, it’s unclear today’s draw was much worse than the team’s opening game loss. The main difference, however, was the finality of the result, with a 3-1 loss in the penalty shootout seeing the three-time champions out after a 1-1 result against the North Korea.
The win moves the North Koreans into the semifinals, to face the winner of Nigeria and New Zealand. Meanwhile, the U.S. matches its worst performance in tournament history – the quarterfinal elimination on penalties to Nigeria four years ago.
Michelle French’s team started strong, with Makenzy Doniek’s second goal of the tournament giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute. Early in the second half, a Stephanie Amack handball conceded a 54th minute penalty, one converted by Jon So Yon to make it 1-1.
Over the next 66 minutes, a match defined by its lack of chances relegated the defending champions to a shootout, one that got off to a poor start when Savannah Jordan failed on the U.S.’s first attempt. Over the next three rounds, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle’s failed attempts gave North Korea a change to win it in the fourth round. When Ri Se Ok beat Katelyn Rowland, the U.S. was eliminated before the semifinals for only the second time in seven U-20 World Cups.
It was disappointing end for a team that was one of the pre-tournament favorites, with an attack built around Paris Saint-Germain star Horan promising a strong defense of the team’s 2012 title. But the attack never fully clicked, scoring only five times in four games, with a goalless performance to open the tournament against Germany relegating the team to second in its group. While a strong showing mid-week against China hinted the team was coming around, today’s flat performance open the door for the North Koreans.
Had the game been an outlier — one of the team’s first down performances of the competition — fans could chalk this up to the realities of knockout round soccer, but aside from the China match, the U.S. never lived up to its reputation. Though a tough group led to a difficult quarterfinal draw, French’s team may not be one of the four best in this competition. In that light, today’s result was a just one.