GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Though a dejected Thomas Rongen credited Guatemala with a gutsy, inspired performance during Wednesday night's upset of the US U-20 team in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Championship, he pointed to the opening quarter-hour as the USA's ultimate downfall.
"I think we lost the game early on, with two or three very good chances in the first 10 minutes," Rongen said after a 2-1 defeat sent the host Guatemalans to the World Cup and the US home early. "That sometimes, or a lot of times, comes back to haunt you."
The USA — specifically Kelyn Rowe — missed a few opportunities to quiet the raucous crowd at Estadio Mateo Flores. Guatemala ran into the match and took the lead on Gerson Lima's 33rd-minute tally as the Americans failed to establish any rhythm or control.
The squad improved in the second half — equalizing on Conor Doyle's second tally of the tournament — but another defensive breakdown allowed the hosts to take the lead just three minutes after the Derby County forward found the back of the net.
[inline_node:333152]Rongen made his first substitution with less than a quarter-hour left, with Omar Salgado entering for Greg Garza. The coach said the decision to wait so long was a combination of the team on the field playing well and a lack of attackers sitting on the bench. While injuries to Bobby Wood and Eder Arreola limited the reserves, Rongen was also missing some of his best talent.
"In hindsight, if you have Josh Gatt here or Juan Agudelo, obviously your options off the bench are a little bit better," he explained. "You might make those subs a little bit earlier. At the end of the day, I don't think that was the difference in the game."
The reinforcements might have helped, but in the end the US lost in difficult, shocking fashion because the forwards missed a couple opportunities they would normally finish and their opponent executed an excellent game plan.
"We struggled in the first half to play our style," Rongen said. "It was] a combination of their aggressive, emotional play and our lack of, maybe experience, maybe occasion, although I think we have players that have been in this situation before. I think we showed in the second half that we are a good team, that we can move the ball, that we can be dangerous in the final third."
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.