U-20 analysis

U.S. U-20s control the game but are forced to rally for a 2-2 draw vs. Canada

In its second game of the CONCACAF U-20 Championships, the United States controlled its game against Canada, had most of the chances, but were forced to rally twice for a 2-2 draw wtih Canada after defensive mistakes allowed the Canadians score twice against the run of play. ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks down the game. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 20, 2022
3:10 PM

THE UNITED STATES drew Canada 2-2 in its second game at the CONCACAF U-20 Championships to determine qualification for the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. The game was certainly a frustrating one for the U.S. team that controlled nearly the entire game and had loads of scoring chances but had to rally for two equalizers after conceding two very preventable goals.

In the early parts of the game, it seemed as if the United States was going to win easily. But the first goal never came despite the chances. Then in the 15th minute, Canada struck against the run of play with a goal from York United’s Lowell Wright who moved through the U.S. team’s defense easily before poking a shot past Chris Brady.

That made things considerably more difficult for the United Sates as Canada then shifted into a low-block bunker which gave the U.S. team less space in the attacking third. It worked, the U.S. team’s game plan has been built around pressing but now it was forced to shoot from distance, dribble into traffic, or try to cross – which isn’t easy given the U.S. team’s lack of a No. 9.

The U.S. finally drew even in the 53rd minute on a fantastic strike from distance from Jack McGlynn.

"It's a play designed for Diego and Paxten, but I am always at the top of the box if they need me," McGlynn said of the goal. "I was ready for it and it was a good goal."

From there, it looked as if the U.S. was in a good spot as it had confidence and continued to have loads of possession. But in the 69th minute, Canada had a rare possession in the U.S. team’s half and a cross, that didn’t seem dangerous, was accidentally deflected by Michael Halliday into his own net.

Fortunately for the U.S. team, the did not have to wait nearly as long for the second equalizer as Cade Cowell pulled the team even three minutes later in the 72nd minute.

The U.S. team was not able to find a winner. It hit the woodwork once and then was denied several times from Canada’s Ben Alexander, who had a terrific game.

""The message was that we needed to be better in the box," head coach Mikey Varas said of what he told the players after the game. "We created chances, but we really didn't ask enough questions of the goalkeeper with our shots. Our shape needed to be better to make sure the team that is sitting deep doesn't get into counter attack situations as well. The last is that you've gotta believe. You have to believe in the process, believe in each other, and believe that you're going to get a response to get the game back in our favor."

Here are some thoughts.


Central defense is a bigger concern


Even at the start of the cycle, central defense was pegged to be a big area of concern for the U.S. team. Now it is a bigger concern. Both of the goals scored in this game were entirely preventable, but the first goal was alarming because the U.S. had four defenders in the box in good position. They just couldn’t stop Wright.

The U.S. team should have won this game comfortably, but the fact that Canada scored first changed everything.

The U.S. team can very well rebound against Cuba and do well in the Round of 16. The problem for the central defense is that when watching Honduras rattle through Jamaica easily on Monday night, the task ahead is going to become much harder.

For Mikey Varas, he is going to have to continue to shuffle through the Craig, Neal, and Ferkranus combinations to see what works best. There is still time to adjust and improve.

"I think the way Canada put together their game, they were sitting a little bit deeper," Varas said. "It allowed us space. It allowed us to get on the ball. In the end of the day, the boys pushed the game, they responded well, but we needed to be more efficient in both boxes - defensively and in the attack."


The U.S. moved the ball well


Even with Canada sitting back, the U.S. team moved the ball very well. Most nights, the U.S. wins this game comfortably. The U.S. outshot and out-possessed Canada by wide margins. Even in Canada’s bunker, the U.S. team still got shots. It just needs to be more clinical with its finishing.

The players all had classy first touches, and good decision making with the ball. It wasn’t a poor performance from many different perspectives. Sometimes, the results don’t always reflect the performances.

"Overloading the wings - they couldn't really keep up with Cade on that left side," McGlynn said. "That was our game plan going in. We just have to execute better going into the final third."

"We got into the box a lot of times," Diego Luna said. "Everything was right except for the final pass or the final touch. That is something we need to get better at but everything else was good. Not being clincal was the thing that hurt us... No matter what the score is, we play our game. We keep doing what we do. I think things will come out. Like [Monday], if we were more clincal in both boxes, we win 4-0. We're going in the right direction, and that's good."

If the U.S. team scored first, it could have been way different. Canada would have had to come out of its low block and the U.S. team would have had more space to exploit. The U.S. team just had the wrong things happen at the worst time – and at least they still didn’t lose.


Luna, Aaronson, McGlynn impress


The three best players on the field for the U.S. team over the course of the game were Diego Luna, Paxten Aaronson, and Jack McGlynn.

Luna, the new Real Salt Lake playmaker, played on the wing but often cut centrally to create chances. He was the best dribbler on the team and showed a lot of skill. If Canada didn’t have almost its entire team in the box, he probably would have had a goal. He should be a real weapon for the U.S. team heading into the knockouts.

Aaronson has impressive vision and is smooth. He should also be a starter in the big knockout games ahead.

Finally, McGlynn is a very good left-footed No. 8 and he was strong in possession. His 52nd minute goal was special.


Alexander was the MOTM


Even with the U.S. team conceding preventable goals and having a tough time with Canada’s bunker, the chances were still there. Part of the perfect storm the U.S. team ran into was Ben Alexander, who had a great game for Canada. The goalkeeper, who is based out of Vancouver Whitecaps organization, made a several close-range saves that the U.S. team would normally hit the back of the net.

Alexander clearly was a huge part of preventing the U.S. from getting control of the game.


Cuba game decides Group E


From a perspective in the standings, the U.S. team’s situation isn’t too adversely affected. Instead of needing a draw against Cuba on Wednesday to win the Group, now the U.S. team will need a victory. Due to its high goal differential, the U.S. team is unlikely to fall to third place even with a loss to Cuba as Canada would need to defeat St. Kitts by 10 or more goals to overtake the U.S. team.

What does winning Group E mean compared with second place? Quite a bit.

If the U.S. team wins Group E, it would face Nicaragua in the Round of 16. Then, if it wins, it’s quarterfinal game (to determine a U-20 World Cup spot) would likely come down to the winner of Costa Rica and Haiti/Trinidad & Tobago. Costa Rica would be favored in that.

If the U.S. team finishes second in Group E, then it would likely face Guatemala in the Round of 16. If it wins that, the U-20 World Cup berth could come down to Honduras – who is playing very well through two games as the host nation.

If the U.S. team is going to attempt to qualify for both the U-20 World Cup and the Olympics, it’s going to have to go through Honduras at some point. Winning Group E likely means that the Honduras game would be in the semifinals as opposed to the quarterfinals. It’s far better to face Hondruas later in the tournament than earlier.

The Cuba game is very important in that regard. Here is how I think the U.S. team will line up.

Predicted U.S. U-20 roster vs. Cuba: Carrera; Allen, Craig, Neal, Cuevas; Pukstas, McGlynn, Aaronson; Cowell, Wolff, Sullivan

"It's final. Cuba has six points, we have four," Varas said. "It's going to be a final and the boys will be ready to go."

"The midset is to take three points," McGlynn said. "That's it."

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