Tab Ramos knew that his team would be challenged once again on Thursday. Facing off with group leaders Senegal, the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team was set to have their mettle tested in their second group stage match against a team that had the ability and the speed to batter them.
Ramos was right. They were challenged and, much to the coach’s pleasure, the young American team passed each and every test with flying colors to jump atop their World Cup group.
Josh Sargent’s first half goal proved just enough for a U.S. team that shined in defense in what turned out to be a 1-0 victory. It was a performance that saw none of the mistakes or miscues that headlined their World Cup opener. The effort was largely straight-forward, calm and, most importantly, consistent as the U.S. strangled a talented Senegal attack.
“I think this was an amazing effort from the team,” Ramos said. “When you play an African team at a World Cup like this and physically you run them into the ground like we did in the first half like we did by pressing them and not allowing them to play, I think it shows a lot about the character and the type of players we have here.
“I’m very happy with the team. It was a complete effort for 90 minutes and this, I think, gives us wings looking forward to the rest of the tournament.”
It was Sargent who, once again, played hero on the attacking end by firing his third goal of the tournament. It was a cultured finish preceded by a wonderful turn, a sequence that showed just how far along Sargent is despite his age.
But Thursday was a day for defense, good defense. Led by a returning Cameron Carter-Vickers, the American backline batted away each and every Senegal attack. Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown rarely look threatened as they put out fires well before they even started. Aaron Herrera and Danny Acosta both put in improved performances, manning the wide areas much better than against Ecuador.
In front of them, Tyler Adams and Derrick Jones bossed the midfield. Adams, in particular, was everywhere. The New York Red Bulls midfielder truly went box-to-box, helping lead a midfield battling back from the loss of Gedion Zelalem.
“I think, as a team, we defended really well,” Carter-Vickers said. “All the guys in the back four and the midfielders, all the guys dug in deep, especially in that second half, to keep the clean sheet.”
The win pushes the U.S. to the top of the group with a match against Saudi Arabia all that stands between the team and a spot in the knockout stages. A draw will do just fine, but a win would be even better. Winning the group remains a priority and the idea of sealing a more favorable route through the knockout stages is surely at the forefront.
Ramos, though, faces decisions. Knowing the group scenarios, the head coach could certainly opt to make some changes for Sunday’s group stage finale. Thursday’s match was a physical one, especially for Sargent, and it would make sense to give some fresher legs a run out in pursuit of those final points.
No matter who starts, Thursday’s effort should serve as a benchmark. It was a match that showed everything the U.S. can do. It showed a team that can defend and a reliable goalscorer that continues to look like the missing piece. It made an impression, one that certainly could help carry the U.S. to an extended tournament run.
“On two days rest and traveling, we have to stay focused and prepared as much as possible,” Adams said. “With our technical staff, we know we’ll be prepared. We’ll watch video and regenerate and be ready for the next game because it’s a must-win game as well.