ASN's Josh Deaver tells you everything you need to know ahead of Sunday's Dallas Cup final featuring the United States under-20 men's team and the youth squad from River Plate.
DESPITE A SECOND-HALF
April 20, 2014
SHARE THIS STORY
red card and conceding a gut-punch stoppage-time equalizer, the U.S men’s under-20 national team seized a spot in the final of the Dallas Cup U-19 Super Group with a 3-2 overtime win over Fluminense on Friday night.
The Americans grabbed an early lead on the strength of goals from Rubio Rubin
and Ben Spencer, but Erik Palmer-Brown was sent off shortly after intermission, giving the Brazilian squad the opening it needed. For 40-plus minutes Fluminense assaulted the U.S. defense, and it tied up the contest just a few moments before the end of regulation.
Rubin's second goal of the match, a penalty kick in the 103rd minute, provided the margin of victory.
The win sets the stage for an Easter Sunday rematch with River Plate, which advanced to the finale with a 2-0 win over Cortiba earlier in the night. In the first clash between these two squads, the U.S. won, 3-2, but a disputed offside call on a late River Plate strike shrouded the result in controversy. Passions will no doubt be running high for the final.
Tab Ramos told ASN earlier in the week that he wanted to see how his players perform under pressure, and Friday's match delivered beyond his wildest expectations. In fact, the entire tournament has been a wild ride, but what does success in this tournament mean for the future of U.S. Soccer?
In truth, it’s difficult to quantify. Rather than facing off against other national teams in, say, World Cup qualification—scheduled to begin in January 2015—the American are prospering against players who might not be the best a country has to offer, but do train together constantly. It’s a luxury that is rarely afforded the U.S. squad, whose split-squad nature influences every aspect of its operation—including the decision to participate in this prestigious tournament.
Still, the competition is tough and wins are wins, and the U-20s push to the final is an encouraging sign for Ramos. The tournament has revealed that even with limited preparation between players drawn from around the globe, these young Yanks possess the inherent qualities to make waves next summer at the 2015 under-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
WHO ARE THE STANDOUTS?
The Dallas Cup has historically served as a coming-out party for talented young players from around the world—including the likes of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robinho, Wayne Rooney, Chicarito Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Adnan Januzaj, and even NBA Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon. This year, for the Americans at least, the true standout has been FC Utrecht attacker Rubio Rubin. With four goals in four matches, including the game-winner on Friday night, the 18-year-old is not only making his case as an automatic first-team selection for Ramos, but is transmitting signals across the Atlantic to his parent club that the young winger, who only just inked his first professional deal, may be ready for a shot at primetime.
Rubin is far from the only bright spot however. Both Shaq Moore and Sunderland’s Lynden Gooch
, who have started every match for the Americans, have have anchored the squad amid a heavy dose of roster experimentation. Both have had their shaky moments, but have no doubt solidified major roles going forward.
Former Hoffenheim winger Zack Pfeffer has likewise provided an undeniable spark for the American attack. In three appearances, the Philadelphia Union homegrown signing has contributed one goal and three assists, including this well-placed pass to set up Rubio Rubin for his 14th minute strike against Fluminense.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE U.S.
The choice to continue to liberally rotate his lineup suggests that Ramos is using the tournament as an extended audition, a laboratory experiment to continually evolve the picture of the U.S pool rather than a simple competition in which his best XI would be needed.
Against River Plate, however, his best XI will be needed. The problem is, several of his top players would have played a taxing 110 minutes just 48 hours prior.
Zack Steffen should get the start between the pipes, continuing the play-one-rest-one pattern between himself and Santiago Castano. Steffen has looked sharp throughout the tournament, and while Castano has performed admirably he has made a few mistakes.
At this point, the back four is pretty well solidified. Moore and John Requejo should reprise their roles on the outside. Though culpable for the Fluminense stoppage-time equalizer, Moore has more than earned his fifth consecutive start on Sunday night. If Ramos goes with his best pair in central defense, Matt Miazga and Michael Amick may well get the nod after pairing together for the last two U.S. wins. However, don’t be surprised if Trevor Haberkorn is given another chance considering the mileage put on Amick and Miazga in recent days.
In the midfield, Ramos has yet to use the same combination twice, having so far paired Kellyn Acosta, Luis Felipe, Paul Arriola and Palmer-Brown with the midfield mainstay, Lynden Gooch. Acosta performed exceptionally well against River Plate in the tournament opener, but his status is unknown, having not dressed since making a brief cameo appearance against Eintracht Frankfurt on Monday. With Arriola back in Tijuana and Palmer-Brown suspended, the likely choice is Cruziero’s Luis Felipe, who has only been used sparingly. Then again, Ramos did start a center back who has never played in midfield during the semifinal.
With a plethora of attacking talent it’s hard to identify the most effective pairing. Each player has had bright moments over the past week. Up top, target man Ben Spencer has scored three times, good enough for second on the team. Rubin will no doubt reprise his role, while Pfeffer is partly responsible for four of the team’s 10 goals so far.
PROJECTED STARTING XI
Although Ramos’ best XI has likely not been used in concert, the grueling extra-time semifinal may require more squad rotation than he would prefer with the title on the line. Here's how I expect them to line up Sunday night.
Steffen; Moore, Miazga, Haberkorn, Requejo; Gooch, Felipe; Rubin, Gall, Pfeffer; Spencer.
The finals of the Gordon Jago U19 Super Group will kick off at 8p.m. ET at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The match will be streamed live in select areas on TWCSportsChannel.com.
ASN Contributing Editor Josh Deaver is a former academic turned soccer obsessive. Follow him on Twitter already.