US Advance, Win Group F of FIFA U-20 World Cup

josh-sargent-usa-u20-world-cupBy: Kartik Krishnaiyer

Thanks to Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Saudi Arabia the United States advanced to the knockout stages qs group winners from Group F in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Tab Ramos’ side has been solid if unspectacular throughout the tournament.

The United States tends to put more emphasis on youth tournament performances than most major soccer playing nations. For years performances in qualifying tournaments and under-20 and under-17 World Cups have been a standard that players, coaches and ultimately the entire US Soccer program is judged by.

Youth tournaments have had high water marks in 1989, 1999, 2007 and 2015 that generally correlated to future success for the program. The dips in youth tournaments most notably in the 2009-2013 period where the US’ results resembled that of the mid-1980’s when the sport wasn’t even close to being developed in a professional manner throughout the country foretold the senior national team struggles between 2011 and 2016 when the national team underwhelmed in so many ways.

This US U-20 team is one of the most talented ever. With several players already plying their trade abroad and others having come through MLS Academies or USL clubs, the growth of infrastructure for the sport thanks to the financial investment of the USSF and the pro leagues, MLS and USL is paying off. Additionally, this pool of players has more guys that have come through youth academies or youth squads of big European clubs than any US team in memory. That includes the trio of Americans at Schalke 04 of the Bundesliga not released for this tournament. One of those players, Weston McKennie has already worked his way into the first team of Bundesliga giants at the age of 18. McKennie made his Bundesliga debut last week for the Gelsenkirchen-based club.

Down the road about 25 miles in Dortmund, Christian Pulisic has become a first-team stalwart with one of Europe’s best attacking sides – Borussia Dortmund. Pulisic also 18 has been so effective that he was long ago promoted to the Senior National Team wand is effectively out of the youth national team selection permanently.  

But the big revelation of the tournament for the US isn’t a player who has come from MLS or USL. He isn’t a player that went to Europe at a young age and featured in youth squad of a big continental powerhouse. Josh Sargent from the vaunted youth club St Louis Scott Gallagher is just 17 and had never played at the U-20 level before this tournament. But US Manager Tab Ramos felt he needed an instinctive scorer, and Sargent’s U-17 record of success was similar to that of Pulisic’s. After starring at the CONCACAF U-17 tournament in Panama earlier this year, Ramos decided he needed to have Sargent jump an age group – it was an inspired decision as the young man scored three times in the Group Stage.

Similarly effective going forward have been a duo of Real Salt Lake players – Luca de la Torre whose stoppage time goal against Ecuador rescued the US and Brooks Lennon whose crosses and finding of space in midfield have given the US a trio of lethal attacking players when Sargent is factored in. Sargent has grabbed the headlines but a case could be made that any of three has been the player of the tournament thus far for the US.

Cameron Carter-Vickers who has repeatedly made the bench of Spurs this season, but whose opportunities have been limited since Tottenham has one of the best centre back duos in Europe. Carter-Vickers return to the US U-20 team following Spurs 7-1 win over Hull City to close out the Premier League season. Carter-Vickers missed the first group stage game, a defensive nightmare in which the US escaped with a fortunate 3-3 draw against Ecuador. But the US captain’s presence for the second group stage match a 1-0 win over Senegal made all the difference as the defense looked poised and in control of the match. But Carter-Vickers final group stage game reignited the age-old debate about the type of officiating the US tends to get in big tournaments.

The US captain was sent off right before halftime versus Saudi Arabia with the US leading 1-0 thanks to a controversial second yellow card. Carter-Vickers should have been more careful carrying a yellow but the challenge he made on the Saudi player was innocuous. He led with his elbow but it was a soft challenge, that still drew a second yellow card.

Down to ten men for the remainder of the match, the US played it safe, but the Saudi’s pushed men forward and eventually equalized off a set piece. The match played out as a 1-1 draw allowing both teams to advance to knockout stages.

Pedro Heizer

The founder, editor and publisher of 90 Minutes Stong, Pedro is credentialed member of U.S. Soccer, Orlando City Soccer Club, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and others, as well as a member of the North American Soccer Reporters.

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