For the first 10 minutes of its Under-20 World Cup opener, the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team looked shellshocked. After recovering from a series of blunders, though, the U.S. should have plenty to takeaway from what turned out to be a match full of lessons.
Tuesday’s draw with Ecuador certainly wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t the best case scenario. In the forgiving format that is the U-20 World Cup, Monday’s draw was certainly valuable, though. It gave the U.S. a hard-fought point and a foundation for what could and should be a push towards the knockout stages.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of it, though, is what Tab Ramos can now build off of. There were plenty of negatives, mistakes to correct as the tournament continues, and there were also several positive performances from players scattered throughout the U.S. roster.
“I wish I had the answer for the first 10 minutes, that wasn’t the plan,” Ramos told the Associated Press. “We are a high-press team and we like to come after teams. 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.”
“We know the kind of team that we are,” Ramos added. “We’ll continue to move forward playing as hard as we always play. I think this was a good learning experience for us and I think we’ll get better from here.”
From the offset, the U.S. seemed a step slow. Just seven minutes in, Ecuador’s Herlin Lino and Bryan Cabezas had each fired a goal, leaving the U.S. stunned as the game suddenly looked out of reach. Now chasing, the U.S. looked towards its youngest member, Josh Sargent, who certainly stepped up.
Called up fresh off a U-17 qualifying campaign, Sargent fired two goals, leading the U.S. back into the match. Throughout qualifying, goalscoring was the team’s primary problem and, when the team needed it most, Sargent provided an answer. Just several weeks ago, Sargent was making his name as the unquestioned leader of the U.S. U-17s and, on Monday, he continued to assert himself as a vital member of this U-20 group.
Late in the match, though, it was de la Torre who tied the match following another U.S. blunder, leaping onto a loose ball to fire the U.S. level with a 94th minute equalizer. It was the latest goal the U.S. has ever scored at the U-20 World Cup.
“Giving up those two goals, it was really tough for us,” de la Torre said, “but to come back and get a point from that, it shows how good we are and that we can go far in this tournament.”
“Obviously our fight is always there, so we expect that,” Ramos added. “We have been able to see this team for the last year and a half, this team has a lot of character. Having to dig yourself out of this type of hole in the World Cup is not easy. So I obviously have to give the team a lot of credit for that. I think the players did a great job.”
It wasn’t just Sargent and de la Torre, though. Brooks Lennon, who shined at points in qualifying, played a majestic cross on Sargent’s second finish. Erik Palmer-Brown and Danny Acosta put in smart performances, helping lead a defense still without Cameron Carter-Vickers and Justen Glad due to injury.
Derrick Jones, inserted for the injured Gedion Zelalem, helped the U.S. take control of the midfield, using his athleticism, speed and ability to read the game to stifle to Ecuador attack. Even if Zelalem is healthy enough to play in Thursday’s second match, Jones made a very strong case of his own to earn a start.
Still, it was far from a perfect performance following the 10-minute mark. Aaron Herrera was repeatedly beaten down his side, leaving his defense helpless early. Jonathan Klinsmann was having a solid game before the costly turnover that led to Ecuador’s third goal.
All things considered, though, the Americans did what was necessary. They earned a point from a game where they likely had no business earning one, considering the early issues and Klinsmann blunder. It’s a match that teams tend to lose but, on Monday, the U.S. did just enough to battle back.
With matches against Saudi Arabia and Senegal looming, the Americans are in a decent position. The U-20 World Cup is generally pretty forgiving, as 16 of the 24 teams in the competition advance to the knockout rounds. One win should certainly be enough to lead them through to the next stage.
A match with group leader Senegal looms as the African side looks to build on a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia. Knowing that, Ramos feels that Monday’s match, for all its faults, gives the U.S. something to build on as they look to move on from the early jitters.
“We know the kind of team that we are,” Ramos said. “We’ll continue to move forward playing as hard as we always play. I think this was a good learning experience for us and I think we’ll get better from here.”