U-20 World Cup in South Korea
Young Yanks Dig a Hole and Crawl Out of It in 3-3 Draw
May 22, 2017
THE UNITED STATES U-20 TEAM opened its World Cup campaign Monday with a 3-3 draw against Ecuador. The game was both highly entertaining and thoroughly frustrating but the bottom line is that this American team could be quite good in South Korea if head coach Tab Ramos is able to clean up critical mental errors.
The game started poorly for the Yanks. Ecuador clearly did its homework and targeted the right side of the American defense. Aaron Herrera got the start at right back after Fulham’s Marlon Fossey pulled out of the tournament with a groin injury.
Ecuador struck twice in the first seven minutes, both goals played through the porous right side. Just five minutes in Herlin Linon slammed a shot into an empty net that was vacated when U.S. goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann came out to stop a 1v1 from Atalanta winger Bryan Cabezas. Klinsmann appeared to have fouled Cabezas but the ball fell to Lino who converted anyway. Two minutes later, Cabezas beat Klinsmann to the near post after Herrera was again exposed.
"The first 10 minutes—that wasn't the plan," Ramos said afterward. "But we're a high-press team. We like to come after teams but unfortunately we made a couple of mistakes and we paid for that. Other than that I am very happy with the players and the team. It was a great effort."
The United States settled down after that and began to control a significant majority of possession. But in the 34th minute the Americans suffered another setback when Gedion Zelalem was forced out of the game in what appeared to be a serious non-contact injury. He was replaced by Philadelphia’s Derrick Jones who added some much-needed backbone to the U.S. midfield.
From that point on the U.S. put its stamp on the contest. Ramos' men began to climb out of its hole in the 36th minute when Jones forced a turnover and fed Luca de la Torre. The Fulham-based midfielder made a nice run and fed Josh Sargent who was clinical with this finish.
In the second half, the U.S. equalized in the 54th minute when Brooks Lennon delivered a remarkable long cross to an unmarked Sargent. The St. Louis native smashed a header past Jose Cevallos to even the score at 2-2.
With the U.S. looking like the team most likely to find a winner, Cabezas instead would give Ecaudor a 3-2 lead in the 64th minute when he capitalized on a massive Klinsmann gaffe. The son of the German great and former U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann botched a backpass and coughed up the ball to Cabezas who finished easily.
The U.S. pressed hard the rest of the way and sometimes looked vulnerable in the back. It came close to equalizing on several occasions but it wasn’t until deep into stoppage time when it leveled.
On the decisive play Lennon sent another stellar cross into the box from the right side that appeared to catch the Ecuadorian defense flat-footed. A poor clearance fell right to the feet of de la Torre who slid the ball inside the right post to complete the scoring. Just a minute later the final whistle sounded and both teams shared a point.
"This team has a lot of character," Ramos said. "Obviously having to dig yourself out of this type of hole at a World Cup is not easy. We have to give the team a lot of credit for that."
Here are my five thoughts on a game in which there was more good than bad for the United States
1. Sargent is ready for this level
Heading into this tournament, there were questions about Josh Sargent's ability to step up his game as he moved from the U.S. U-17 team to the U-20 side—in the space of several weeks. The 17-year-old Missourian responded with flying colors.
"He has a good sense for the box, being around the box, and being in the right place," Ramos said. "We have players that surrounded him and can serve him the right balls. Brooks served him a great ball for a header on the second goal. Josh on the first goal scored a great goal. He didn't create it but the ending part was all Josh."
The U-20 team struggled mightily with scoring and Ramos desperately needed to find someone who could finish after both Emmauel Sabbi and Jeremy Ebobisse came up short. Instead of turning to someone inside this age group, Ramos pulled Sargent out of the U-17 team after the teenager scored five goals in that team’s World Cup qualifying tournament in April. Smart move.
Sargent showed maturity and composure beyond his years in both of his goals on Monday. On his first tally he actually got away with a bad first touch but didn’t panic as he quickly settled down for the finish. The second goal was set up with a glorious ball from Lennon but Sargent was calm in making sure he didn’t miss the chance.
Sargent is in the spotlight and is wanted by several clubs. Yes, Sporting Kansas City can sign him to a homegrown deal but that is very unlikely. His pricetag just went up, big time.
2. Jones could be the team’s big surprise
When Zelalem went down in the 34th minute, the U.S. had already begun to play much better following its dreadful first 10 minutes. Without Zelalem, it appeared the U.S. team was done for the day and the prospects for a good tournament were diminishing.
Derrick Jones, however, came into the game and put on a first-rate performance in the defensive midfield. He added some physical strength but also provided technical skill. He forced turnovers and made nice passes that initiated attacks—including one that led to the first American goal. The U.S. turned the tide of the game quickly after he came on.
The Ghanaian-born Jones only recently became an American citizen and was not eligible during qualifying. But he made a big statement in his debut in an official youth competition. It is very easy to see why the Philadelphia Union are so high on him.
3. De la Torre and Lennon shine
Aside from Sargent and Jones, the other two top performers Monday were Brooks Lennon and Luca de la Torre. Lennon did not always succeed in his efforts to take defenders on but it was clear that Ecuador had its eye on trying to contain him. Despite that, Lennon was dangerous and got himself into positions to deliver very good crosses. His cross on Sargent’s second goal in the 54th minute was one of the finest crosses you will ever see at the youth level. His cross on the late equalizer clearly caught Ecuador’s defense offguard.
De la Torre proved to be a handful for Ecuador's defenders. He was the best American player with the ball at his feet. He read his teammates' movements well and his assist on the first American goal was the best indication of his talent. He held the ball until just the right time and then was able to perfectly feed Sargent. His late equalizer came after he correctly judged the bad clearance.
4. Herrera, Redding, Klinsmann struggle
Several Yanks struggled mightily in South Korea. Aaron Herrera was chiefly responsible for the first two goals as he allowed the Ecuadorian attackers to get behind him. He also offered very little going forward. Even after the first few minutes he continued to be a weak link in the backline. Looking back on the game, it is clear Ramos might have to explore other options at right back and that the loss of Fossey really hurts.
Tommy Redding was also a step behind in the game and looked especially shaky in the second half. The Orlando City homegrown player was seeing action due to the uncertain status of central defender Cameron Carter-Vickers. If the Tottenham product is healthy, expect Ramos to make a swap. The problem, however, is that Carter-Vickers has not played in more than two months.
Jonathan Klinsmann, however, is the biggest concern because he is the hardest player to replace. Ramos has established his former boss' son as the starting keeper throughout this cycle. Every successful U.S. U-20 team needs strong goalkeeping and Klinsmann needs to be better. On the second Ecuadorian goal he was beaten to the near post. His mistake on the third Ecuador goal cost the team a chance to win. He made a decent save in the second half but that does not offset his mistakes.
5. Zelalem’s injury forces changes
We don’t yet know the official diagnosis on Gedion Zelalem but his injury did not look good. Non-contact knee injuries tend to result in bad diagnoses.
Coming into the tournament, Tab Ramos said Zelalem is going to be a big part of whatever the team was going to do. That might not be the case anymore. While the team succeeded with Jones coming on for Zelalem, it would have been interesting to see Zelalem play alongside Jones.
As of right now, however, Ramos is going to have resort to Plan B—and we don’t exactly know what that is. Will it mean Jones and Adams behind Eryk Williamson? Or will Sebastian Saucedo move to the central attacking midfield role? Or will de la Torre?
Next up: Senegal
The U.S. will next face Senegal, which easily defeated Saudi Arabia 2-0 in its opener. It's safe to say Ramos will make some changes. Jones will surely keep his starting spot but it is unclear what else will be done. A lot has to do with the health of Justen Glad and Carter-Vickers.
If Glad is able to go, it is possible to see him move into right back for Herrera. If not, perhaps Ramos shifts Acosta from left back to right back and lets Auston Trusty play left back. Either way, Herrera was overmatched Monday and will likely sit. If Carter-Vickers is healthy, he will probably replace Redding in defense.
The last remaining change will probably go the central attacking midfield spot. Williamson is probably not going to get replaced right now given that the U.S. generally played well. Still, shifting de la Torre into that role while putting Lagos Kunga or Sebastian Saucedo on the wing is certainly possible.
Will Ramos make the call and sub out Klinsmann? That is a fair question to ask but the answer right now is probably no.
Predicted starting XI vs. Senegal
Goalkeeper: Jonathan Klinsmann
Right back: Justen Glad
Central defender: Erik Palmer-Brown
Central defender: Cameron Carter-Vickers
Left back: Danny Acosta
Defensive/holding midfielder: Derrick Jones
Defensive/holding midfielder: Tyler Adams
Right midfielder: Brooks Lennon
Central midfielder: Eryk Williamson
Left midfielder: Luca de la Torre
Forward: Josh Sargent
What did you think of the match? What changes would you make to the team or the tactics? Share your take in the Comments below.