CHICAGO (Aug. 2, 2012) – The way U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team forward Victor Pineda sees it, the U-20 MNT was just a couple missteps away from being the top side at the 2012 Northern Ireland Milk Cup.
The USA finished in fourth place at the prestigious, invitation-only annual competition after suffering a 1-0 loss in its opening match against Denmark and a 4-3 loss to Chile in the third-place match on July 26 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
“I think every game we played, we were the better team and maybe the results didn’t show it,” said Pineda, a member of the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer. “In the first game, we were better than Denmark. We had a lot of chances and we didn’t finish them.”
Pineda, who was a part of the 2011 Milk Cup with the U-18 MNT, said the biggest difference between last year’s tournament and this year’s event was the team’s style of play.
“Last year, we were a little more defensive minded,” Pineda said. “This year, we played a lot better in the games. We were the better team. It feels good as a player to be on a better team even if we didn’t get the results right now, but I think the results will come.”
A 1-0 victory against Turkey in the second match, in which Pineda provided the game-winning goal in the 73rd minute, allowed the U.S. to advance to the tournament’s third-place match against Chile – a team the U-20s faced during their South American tour in June and lost 2-1 in Santiago.
Against Chile, the U.S. took a 2-1 lead into the 65th minute and saw that advantage evaporate as La Roja scored three goals in a five-minute span to go up 4-2 after 70 minutes. Pineda converted a penalty kick in the 82nd minute after Daniel Cuevas was fouled in the box to cut the deficit to one goal, but the U.S. couldn’t come up with the equalizer.
“We gave up three goals in five minutes and that’s not acceptable,” said Pineda. “Other than that, I thought we did well.”
Building team chemistry was one important point U-20 head coach Tab Ramos touched on before the start of the tournament, as he felt the team was making good strides with on-field communication after the South American tour.
In the Milk Cup, the U-20s introduced four new players into the fold as Dillon Serna, Holden Fender, Kendall McIntosh and Mario Rodriguez all received their first call-ups to the U-20 MNT. The roster also featured several U.S. Soccer Development Academy members. Serna (Colorado Rapids), Fender (Concorde Fire), Alfred Koroma (Solar Chelsea SC) and Collin Martin (D.C. United) are all products of the Development Academy in addition to Pineda, who has risen through the ranks of the Chicago Fire Academy and signed a professional contract with the club as a 17-year-old in 2010.
“We had a couple new faces on the team and I thought we helped them get to know the team and how the team wants to play,” Pineda said of integrating four first-time call ups into the fray for the Milk Cup. “After that, I felt we kind of picked it up from our last game down in South America.”
The tournament served as one more brick in the path to the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship that will be held Feb. 18-March 2 in Puebla, Mexico, where the team will have the chance to ultimately achieve the final goal of qualification to the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
“We’re not going to get away with breakdowns on goals or giving up goals easily,” Pineda said. “I think we just gave up too many easy goals and the other teams didn’t really do anything to deserve the lead in those games. We just put ourselves in a hard spot. In the (CONCACAF) qualifying games, if we can keep it 0-0 or be up a goal at the half, we’ll be fine.”