The Busan tournament is an annual four-team invitational under-20 competition, doubly important for the US considering there are only five months to go before qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup gets underway in Panama and Mexico.
The Americans have qualified for the last five instalment of the U-20 showpiece - FIFA's second-largest global competition behind the much-lauded FIFA World Cup™. And having qualified for 10 of 15 tournaments since the biannual event's inception in 1977, there is a lot riding on the upcoming CONCACAF regional qualifiers .
That said, a disappointing string of performances in Busan will not have the North Americans or their Dutch-born boss Thomas Rongen brimming with confidence. With a host of his University and professional players unavailable, the coach was forced to use a raft of young and inexperienced lads in the Far East jaunt.
Their first match on 29 August saw them thoroughly outclassed by powerful host side, Korea Republic. And without ace striker Freddy Adu and a whole host of star performers, the new-look side struggled mightily in a 5-0 hiding at the Busan Asiad Stadium in stifling heat and humidity.
With jet lag a significant factor, the US seemed to lose their foothold in the match early and conceded a Skin Kwang-Hoon goal in the 34th minute. The hosts went on to add four more in a dominant second half after the US boss had made no less than six changes at the interval. On the strength of their performances (three straight wins), Korea Republic will now surely be considered one of the favourites to qualify for Canada 2007 when Asian zone qualifying gets underway in India on 29 October.
Slovakia shock, Argentine revival
Well rested, the Americans next took on FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003 debutants Slovakia. But despite putting up a good fight, they were once again unable to score and went down 1-0 on 31 August.
After what was a very even contest, Slovak substitute Peter Matia came on and scored with his first touch in the 87th minute to put the match beyond the struggling Americans. Rongen will have been heartened by some good attacking play from his team, especially in the first half when they hit the woodwork twice and were unlucky not to score.
With two losses already under their belts, the Americans must have been dreading their final match against defending world champions Argentina on 2 September. But rather than drifting through another disappointing performance, they mustered their best of the lot and salvaged a win for pride.
Josmer Altidore drew first blood for the Americans before Dax McCarty added another just before the break. Three minutes after the interval Miguel Gonzalez made it 3-0 for the Americans, but a red card for Nik Besagno saw them under heavy pressure for the remainder of the match.
But US 'keeper Brian Perk - who was stretchered off after a heavy collision in the opener with the Koreans - put in a masterful display, only conceded one goal in the 84th minute from Diego Buonanotte.
The host Koreans went on to take the trophy after winning all three of their games while Argentina, Slovakia and the US all finished with three points. Unfortunately for the Americans - who only scored in their win over Argentina - they finished in last place by virtue of their poor goal difference.
Rongen will be hoping he can improve performances and get full access to his first team before CONCACAF qualifying for Canada 2007 begins in January. The FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 will run from 30 June to 22 July in six venues across the country.
Canada, as hosts, and European powers Spain, Scotland, Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and Portugal have already booked their places in the tournament.