The U.S. Under-20 national team knew Sunday's task was an extremely difficult one, and it took exactly one minute to realize just how difficult.
Facing a Venezuelan team that had won each of its matches at the World Cup by shutout (including wins against Germany, Mexico and Japan), the Americans figured to have some trouble. Venezuela's first dangerous chance came just 52 seconds into its World Cup quarterfinal against the U.S., and for the next 95 minutes the South Americans rained shots at American goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann.
When it wasn't Klinsmann diving to make one of his seven saves — as he did on the first-minute shot from Nahuel Ferraressi that opened proceedings — it was the crossbar serving as the U.S. team's best defense, halting multiple Venezuelan chances.
It was that sort of luck that helped keep the Americans in a match in which they were being thoroughly dominated, pushing the Venezuelans to extra time after regulation finished 0-0.
Just how dominant were the Venezuelans? They out-shot the U.S. 26-7, forcing Klinsmann into seven saves, and even forcing match officials to use video assistant referee to waive off a 20th-minute goal by Sergio Cordova.
Venezuela's domination didn't result in goals during regulation though, and as chances continued to miss the mark, and as Venezuelan players hit the crossbar twice in the second half, it started to feel like maybe the U.S. would find a way to win.
Visions of a shocking U.S. victory against the odds quickly faded when Adalberto Penaranda made U.S. captain Erik Palmer-Brown pay for a poor clearance and uncharacteristic lapse by working a give-and-go with Samuel Sosa and slipping behind the American defense to score in the 96th minute.
The blown assignment capped a nightmarish late-game stretch for Palmer-Brown, who had the chance to play the hero in the dying seconds of regulation. The U.S. drew a free kick late in stoppage-time and Brooks Lennon floated a perfect cross into the area, right to the head of Palmer-Brown as he jumped in the air. Having already beaten his marker, and with Venezuelan goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez having raced off his line, Palmer-Brown had an open net to shoot at, and needed only to direct his header toward the open net.
Palmer-Brown missed, sending his shot wide to the right of goal just before the whistle blew on regulation. He watched the ball miss the mark and immediately fell to his knees and buried his face in the grass, knowing the opportunity he had just wasted.
That chance capped a brief stint of positive play for the Americans, who spent the first 80 minutes or so chasing shadows as Venezuela's combination of skill, tenacity, toughness and organization kept the U.S. on its heels for most of the match. The fact that the Americans were playing on two days less rest than Venezuela surely didn't help the U.S., and that short turnaround time may have helped lead to some players playing below their usual standard, like Tyler Adams and Palmer-Brown.
Ferraresi scored what wound up being the match-winning goal in the 115th minute, almost 114 minutes of game time after his game-opening header. In a cruel twist of fate for the Americans, Ferraressi's header came from almost the same exact spot on the field where Palmer-Brown missed his chance to secure a U.S. victory.
Venezuelan wingers Penaranda and Sergio Cordova led the dominating performance, helped by the impressive work of New York City FC midfielder Yangel Herrera and the contributions of forwards Ronaldo Pena and Ronaldo Chacon.
The Venezuelan defense was stingy once again, keeping the U.S. off the scoreboard until the 117th minute, when Jeremy Ebobisse's header off a long free kick floated in off the far post to make the score 2-1 and give the U.S. some life.
There would be no dramatic comeback though. Venezuela held on for the victory and a place in the Under-20 World Cup semifinals, and it isn't crazy to think the South Americans just might win the tournament. Meanwhile, the Americans were forced to accept the fact their World Cup is over.
Overall, the U.S. had a good tournament, winning a tough group and blowing out New Zealand in the round of 16 to reach the quarterfinals for a second straight U-20 World Cup. We saw Josh Sargent emerge as a potential future star, while Cameron Carter-Vickers showed us why English powerhouse Tottenham has big plans for him next season. Klinsmann impressed in goal, and Lennon turned heads with his consistently good performances. Palmer-Brown had a good tournament too, even if he may wind up having to deal with the stigma of his missed chance for some time.
Two years ago, the U.S. saw its World Cup ended in a penalty shootout by eventual champion Serbia. At the time, there was a sense of a missed opportunity because of how close the U.S. came to beating Serbia that year. This time around, there might be some sense of regret after Sunday's loss because of Palmer-Brown's missed opportunity, but the reality is the Americans were outplayed and were beaten by a superior opponent on Sunday.