The United States held on against Serbia for 120 minutes of scoreless soccer, but couldn’t survive a nine-round penalty shootout, losing 6-5 to be bounced from the U-20 World Cup.
It marks the end of a great run for Tab Ramos’ side, who surprised many by making it to the quarterfinals of the competition.
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After beating Colombia 1-0 against all the run of play in the round of 16, it looked like the U.S. was about to pull off another unlikely victory against the Serbs in Auckland.
The U.S. had a good run of play for the opening 25 minutes of the match, but facing one of the toughest defenses in the tournament in Serbia, failed to create any dangerous chances on goal.
Once Serbia settled in and found their game, they controlled play for most of the match.
San Jose Earthquakes’ striker Tommy Thompson got his first start of the tournament for the United States and had the best chance of the first half for the Stars and Stripes, but his shot with the outside of his foot curled just wide of the Serbian net.
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Both sides went into the break tied 0-0 after a relatively cautious first half, with neither team posing any major threats on the attack.
In the second half Serbia created more opportunities offensively, but Zack Steffen made a few fine saves in net for the U.S.
Steffen enjoyed a brilliant tournament for the United States, as the University of Maryland-product was one of the main reasons they advanced to the quarterfinals in the first place.
One of the brightest prospects following a long line of great U.S. goalkeepers, Steffen showed why he left college early to join Bundesliga-side Freiburg.
Steffen kept the match scoreless with a great save off a free kick in the 68th minute, diving low to his right side to get a hand on a ball destined for the bottom corner.
As Serbia continued to press, defender Matt Miazga stayed strong on the right-side while Cameron Carter-Vickers cleared anything that came his way. After 90 scoreless minutes, the match headed to extra-time.
Serbia had the better of chances in extra-time, but just as two of the other three quarterfinal matchups ended, the match would be decided in a penalty shootout.
Rubio Rubin was the first to shoot for the United States, and had his shot stopped by Serbian keeper Predrag Rajkovic.
The next four shooters for the U.S., Desevio Payne, Paul Arriola, Emerson Hyndman, Gedion Zelalem, would all score, as Stanisa Mandic was the only Serbian to miss.
Then the goalkeepers faced off as Rajkovic stepped up to the spot for Serbia, but Zack Steffen stoned his counterpart to keep the United States alive.
Substitute Joel Sonora would hit the crossbar before Cameron Carter-Vickers skied his shot over the net, unfortunate as the young defender played such a strong game for Tab Ramos’ side.
Steffen would make another stop for the U.S., but John Requejo had his shot saved as Serbia advanced to the semifinals 6-5.
Serbia: Rajkovic, Antonov, Stevanovic, Veljkovic, Babic, Zdjelar, Maksimovic, Zivkovic, Sergej (Grujic, 111′), Gacinovic (Saponjic, 68′), Mandic
USA: Steffen, Requejo, Carter-Vickers, Miazga, Payne, Zelalem, Delgado, Hyndman, Arriola, Rubin, Thompson (Sonora, 103′)