Four thoughts on the U.S. team's 2-1 loss to Ukraine at the U-20 World Cup
The United States fell to Ukraine to open it's U-20 World Cup campaign. How did this happen? What's next? ASN's Brian Sciaretta takes a look
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedTHE UNITED STATES U-20 national team opened its 2019 U-20 World Cup campaign with a disappointing 2-1 loss to Ukraine on Friday evening in Poland. The loss now sets up a very tricky path for Tab Ramos’ team to advance to the knockout stages.
May 24, 2019
May 24, 2019
The U.S. team came out strong with most of the possession but fell behind in the 26th minute Serhiy Buletsa got behind Sergino Dest after a poor defensive effort from the Ajax right back. Buletsa made no mistake and beat goalkeeper Brady Scott with a shot to the near post.
The United States responded quickly with an equalizer in the 31st minute when a long spell of possession saw Dest, Konrad de la Fuente, and Paxton Pomykal make a nifty combination in the box that sprung Tim Weah on the right flank. Weah sent in a perfect low cross that found a well-positioned Brandon Servania for a close-range finish.
The second half saw the U.S. team push forward but fall behind in the 51st minute when Denys Popov beat Chris Richards in the box on a corner and headed home the ball from close range.
For the rest of the game, the U.S. team pushed forward but was not very dangerous. Alex Mendez hit the post with a shot with 10 minutes remaining and Mendez also forced Andriy Lunin to make a few good saves.
The loss put the United States in a dangerous situation where it will likely needs at least a win and a draw from its final two games. It next game, on Monday, might be its toughest test of the group stages against Nigeria.
Here are some thoughts on the game
Ukraine was superb
While American fans are understandably disappointed with the result, full credit must go to Ukraine which executed a highly intelligent game plan to near-perfection. Youth national team soccer typically has a lot more errors than at the senior level. Defensively, Ukraine made absolutely no mistakes. For the U.S. team to score, it had to successfully complete a very difficult combination of passes. That was more to the credit of the U.S. than a mistake by Ukraine.
Ukraine stayed compact and beautifully absorbed pressure. The U.S. had more possession but was rarely dangerous. To not make any significant mistakes against a talented U.S. team is a remarkable feat at the youth level.
Ukraine was willing to bet the U.S. team would make more defensive mistakes (despite controlling more of the ball) than it would. And when the U.S. made a mistake, Ukraine was confident it would finish its few chances. It absolutely did. A poor handling of a long-ball by Dest and a poor marking on a corner was all it took.
For the U.S team, it likely won’t face an opponent who can flawlessly defend and ruthlessly finish like Ukraine did today.
Too many struggled in possession
The defensive mistakes weren’t the only reason why the U.S. team lost. Ukraine was exceptional defensively but the U.S team was not nearly as dynamic as it could have been.
Chris Durkin was poor with his passing in the second half. He wasn’t able to play the ball into dangerous attacking positions. Durkin was asked to be the main link between the defense and the attack but that is where the U.S. team struggled the most.
Tim Weah had an assist but was disappointing for most of the game. He rarely bothered the Ukraine’s backline. Alex Mendez was dangerous with the ball at his feat but his off-the ball movement lacked and he disappeared for too many stretches. Servania was serviceable and scored the goal, but wasn’t great either. Konrad de la Fuente shows a lot of promise but it’s worth remembering that he is still extremely young for this tournament – eligible for the 2021 U-20 World Cup as well.
The best U.S. player in the game was Paxton Poymkal who was comfortable in tight spaces, smooth with his passes, and effective with his movement. He is an exciting prospect, indeed.
From the fullbacks, Chris Gloster looks very exciting and it’s hard to remember a U.S. left back at this age with as complete of a game as he has. Segino Dest is obviously comfortable with the ball and can blast forward into the attack but his defense needs a lot of work before he can take the next step. It wasn’t just this game where he was poor defensively, he hasn’t had a great defensive season at Jong Ajax either (which often gets overshadowed by his highlights of outstanding offensive plays).
Looking at Nigeria
Nigeria is historically very strong at youth World Cups and this team looks solid. It is coming off a convincing 4-0 pounding of Qatar today.
Tab Ramos will have a few big decisions to make.
- 1) How will he use Weah? Weah wasn’t a consistent threat and that might also be due to the fact he didn’t play for the team this cycle until now. He could play on the wing or as a No. 9 but what will get Weah more involved?
- 2) Cerrillo or Durkin at the No. 6? Durkin didn’t have a great game but will Ramos thinking about going with the very physical Cerrillo who could handle Nigeria’s athletic attacking midfielders and shield the backline?
- 3) Will Ledezma get involved? Richard Ledezma missed most of the past year due to injuries and a transfer abroad to PSV Eindhoven but he is one of the best No. 8 midfielders on the team (while also being able to play out wide). Can Ramos find a way to get Mendez, Ledezma, and Pomykal on the field at one time? It’s possible if Ledezma replaces Servania but who will play out wide? Pomykal or Ledezma? That also might be harsh on Servania who brings a good defensive game as well.
The path forward
There is certainly a path forward for Ramos. A draw and a win from its final two games would certainly send it through. When looking at the past few U-20 World Cups, even three points can offer a path forward. In 2015, one of the two third place finishers with three points advanced. In 2013, two of the four third place finishers with three points advanced. In 2011, all four third place finishers with three points advanced. But two years ago in 2017, neither of the two third place finishers with three points advanced.
But right now the focus should be finding a way for the players to make the big plays that win games. That was absent against Ukraine, despite some pretty spells of possession. The team is capable of it but it can’t come up empty.