"It is great to open the tournament with a win, especially against a great soccer nation like Italy," U.S. head coach Wolfgang Suhnholz said. "Naturally, I was very happy that we were able to come from behind. It is a sign of a good team to be able to turn it around during the game."
After playing to a scoreless draw in the first half, the U.S. fell behind just three minutes into the second half. But the U.S. exploded for two goals in three minutes to shock the Italians and the Stade Mayol crowd. Casey, who was involved in physical battles with the Italian backline the whole game, was instrumental in both U.S. scores.
The United States equalized in the 60th minute on a brilliant set piece after Casey was fouled 40 yards from goal while receiving a ball. Kyle Martino and Brad Davis stood over the dead ball before Martino flighted a ball to the back post that Onyewu headed across the face of the goal and into the far-side netting. Onyewu was a force in the first half for the U.S., as his ability to get forward from his right back position caused Italy early problems.
Casey and Eskandarian played together up front for the first time against Italy and tested the Italian defense throughout the game. The big, physical Casey and the smaller, quicker Eskandarian proved to become more dangerous as the game wore on, and they combined in the 64th minute for the gamewinner.
Casey controlled a long ball from the back and, with an Italian defender draped all over his back, laid the ball off into the path of Eskandarian. With a defender approaching from his left, the University of Virginia forward cut the ball back to his left foot and was able to slide it past a stunned Nicola Barasso. Eskandarian's goal completed the huge comeback for the U.S., who have fallen behind in each of their last three internationals.
Casey almost netted a goal of his own in the 68th minute with a highlight-reel run that ended with a U.S. corner kick. Davis played a brilliant bending ball behind the defense that Casey ran onto. The Borussia Dortmund striker chested the ball down and, while holding off and Italian defender, used the outside of his right foot to flick the ball into the air. Casey attempted to chip the goalkeeper, but the ball was pushed over the bar for a corner.
The Italians dominated the end of the first half and the opening of the second half and three minutes into the second period they scored the opener as proof of their efforts. Marco Ferro received the ball in the box and tried to hit a side volley that deflected off of Nelson Akwari and fell to Andrea Capone 11 yards from goal. Capone made no mistake with his shot, hitting the bouncing ball into the lower left hand corner past a diving D.J. Countess.
Countess and made five saves in the match and made four of them look routine. His most difficult save came in the first half when he gobbled up a Simonluca Agazzone free kick from 28 yards out.
After scoring three goals in the United States' last two games, Kelly Gray moved back to play as a defensive midfielder, allowing Casey to play up top. The versatile Gray, who has spent time as a defender for Suhnholz, was invaluable in the middle of the field for Suhnholz, controlling play for the U.S. throughout much of the first half.
While Italy had the better of the chances in the first half, the U.S. did have two wonderful opportunities to go ahead early. Just four minutes into the game, Onyewu launched a long throw in from the right side into the penalty area that fell to Gray. Gray's shot seemed to have the goalkeeper beat, but bounced off an unsuspecting Luca Del Chiaro at the six-yard box and was cleared into safety.
The best chance came in the 38th minute when Davis floated a diagonal ball into the left side of the area that midfielder Brian Carroll did well to bring down. His shot beat the keeper and rolled across the face of the empty net, but Casey was unable to reach the ball as an Italian defender ushered it over the goalline.
The United States will face two-time defending champions Colombia on Saturday at 4 p.m. local (10 a.m. ET) at Stade Fargues in Le Pontet, before ending group play against the Netherlands on Monday, May 28, at 7 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET) at Stade De Lattre in Aubagne, France. Both U.S. matches will be shown live on Fox Sports World and Fox Sports World Espanol. The top two teams from each four-team group advance to the semifinals on May 31 in Toulon. Group B starts its tournament play Friday, as Japan faces Poland and France battles Portugal.
The U.S. is using the Toulon Festival as a final warm-up before to the FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina. The World Youth Championship will run from June 17 - July 8, and the U.S. will begin the tournament in Group C in Mendoza, Argentina. The U.S. opens against China PR on June 17, before playing Chile on June 20 and Ukraine on June 23. The majority of the players will come from the American squad currently in France, but the U.S. team that plays in the World Youth Championship is expected to be supplemented by Landon Donovan, Bobby Convey, DaMarcus Beasley and Edson Buddle. The four MLS pros stayed in the U.S. to train and play with their club teams this week.
%=macroPart|font/arialBlue3=%Notes: Italy placed third in last year's Toulon Festival ... The U.S. wore their all-white kits and will do so for the remaining two first round matches .... Dr. Joao Havelange, the former FIFA president, was in attendance at the U.S.-Italy match ... All matches in the Toulon Festival will be played as two 40-minute halves ... Casey and the Italian goalkeeper collided just outside the box in the 27th minute and although no foul was called, the Italian 'keeper Nicola Barasso did receive brief medical attention ... As the Italians celebrated their goal in the 43rd minute, Italy captain Simonluca Agazzon lay on the ground in the middle of the pitch, and he was replaced shortly thereafter.
2001 U.S. UNDER-20 MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team vs. Italy|
|Competition:||29th Festival International Espoirs de Toulon - Group A|
|Venue:||Stade Mayol (Toulon, France)|
|Date:||May 24, 2001 - Kickoff 6:00 p.m. local (12:00 p.m. ET)|
|Weather:||78 degrees (Cool, Sunny)|
ITA - Andrea Capone, 43.
USA - Oguchi Onyewu (Kyle Martino), 61.
USA - Alecko Eskandarian (Conor Casey), 64.
USA - 1-D.J. Countess; 2-Phillip Salyer, 4-Nelson Akwari (capt.), 5-Alex Yi, 3-Oguchi Onyewu; 9-Brad Davis, 6-Kelly Gray, 10-Kyle Martino, 15-Brian Carroll; 12-Alecko Eskandarian (8-Seth Trembly, 78), 17-Conor Casey.
ITA - 1-Nicola Barasso; 5-Roberto Cardinale, 6-Luca Del Chiaro, 4-Marco Mugnaini, 13-Sergio Carnesalini (14-Dossena, 41); 8-Angelo Palombo, 7-Federico Balzaretti, 10-Simonluca Agazzone - capt.(16-n/a, 46) , 2-Christian Maggio; 9-Marco Ferro, 20-Andrea Capone (11-n/a, 66).