Tab Ramos couldn’t have asked for much more. He entered Thursday’s match shorthanded as three vital members of the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team served suspensions while another remained away with a tournament-ending injury. He needed to reshuffle, rethink, ahead of a vital knockout round match.
What happened was a demolition, a complete beatdown of an opponent that posed little threat for even an understaffed U.S. team. It was a 6-0 mauling, one which sets a ridiculous tone for the knockout stages.
Thursday’s mauling of New Zealand was as impressive a World Cup win in recent memory. It was one that featured a variety of contributors, some familiar and some tasking the limelight for the first time this tournament. It was a nearly flawless effort from a team that suddenly looks like a team that does have the talent and willpower to push on to a massive run.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the biggest takeaways from Thursday’s 6-0 win:
SECOND HALF BLITZ
It wasn’t just the goals. Well, of course it was. There were six of them and it’s pretty hard to look past that. But the real takeaway from Thursday’s match? How those goals were scored.
It was a combined team effort. It wasn’t just Sargent, who is now tied with some major names atop the all-time American U-20 World Cup leaderboard. It wasn’t just Lennon or de la Torre creating. It was wave after wave of attack from a complete unit.
Somehow, it came out of nowhere. The first half was largely straight-forward, but not quite dominant as the U.S. had possession but little else. The second half was an explosion as each and every member stepped up at the exact same time to completely batter a New Zealand team that needed a white towel two or three goals in.
It’s a positive sign. The U.S. didn’t rely on one or two players to carry them, but rather a complete group effort featuring six different goalscorers. This type of effort likely won’t happen again, but it gave Ramos and co. plenty of confidence heading into the quarterfinals.
GLAD STEPS UP
Justen Glad was played out of position on Thursday. It was a necessary measure given the rash of suspensions as Tab Ramos opted to play the Real Salt Lake defender at the fullback position.
It was a gamble that paid off in a big way, one that could give Ramos ideas for the rest of the tournament.
Glad scored a second half goal, much like seemingly everyone else on the U.S. team, to highlight his efforts on the day. It was a match that included what should have been a second goal if not for a minuscule Sargent deflection. In the attacking end, Glad looked plenty comfortable on those set piece situations, as to be expected from a centerback.
On the defensive end, he was as strong as ever, too. Yes, it was against a New Zealand team that was relatively toothless and, yes, he wasn’t challenged much. However, you can’t fault his efforts given the recent issues that have plagued the U.S. defense out wide.
Given Aaron Herrera’s performances to open the tournament, Ramos could be tempted to keep Glad in the starting lineup at fullback going forward. It’s a move that looked like a gamble but suddenly seems to be a very, very real option following a standout effort from the RSL defender.
FORMATION SWITCH PAYS OFF
Given the personnel absences, Tab Ramos had some different choices to make. In the end, he opted for a formation switch, and it paid dividends.
Forgoing his usual 4-3-3- for a 4-4-2, Ramos opted for a different look on Thursday. He added Jeremy Ebobisse as a second striker up top alongside Josh Sargent. Rather than jamming someone into a shorthanded midfield, he trusted Tyler Adams and Eryk Williamson to balance each other out and hold down a two-man central midfield.
It worked. Adams and Williamson controlled midfield play, even without someone like Derrick Jones alongside them. Brooks Lennon and Luca de la Torre held their own on the outside with the former in particular looking dangerous throughout. Ebosisse had his moments, the best of which came during his goal.
The switch worked, at least for the time being. With the returns of Carter-Vickers and Jones in particular for the next match, a switch back to a 4-3-3 seems inevitable, but kudos to Ramos for adapting to the situation at hand.
Whether you love them or hate them, set pieces have always been a part of the American soccer DNA. It’s a fundamental part of the game that Americans have long exploited, using scenarios to take down teams much better and much more skilled.
On Thursday, the U.S. was much better and much more skills, but the use of the set piece helped further assert dominance.
The U.S. absolutely bullied New Zealand on set play after set play with Justen Glad in particular proving dominant. Each and every time the U.S. had a dead ball situation, they either scored or looked likely to score as they repeatedly battered New Zealand from set play scenarios.
Part of that is because the U.S. had three centerbacks on the field. That certainly helps. But it was also just how they attacked the ball and, when the did win it, how they handled it. Glad’s juggling act was spectacular. Auston Trusty’s left-footed finish was forward-like before he dabbed his way through his celebration.
Set pieces will be a big part of the team’s going forward, and it must have been nice to see them pay off in such a big way.
A LOOK AHEAD
New Zealand earned their way to the Round of 16. There’s no debating that. They topped Honduras, a tough CONCACAF opponent, to book their spot in the knockout stage.
But New Zealand was overmatched. There were very few scenarios or moments where the U.S. even looked threatened on Thursday. That won’t be the case on Sunday when the U.S. faces a much, much better Venezuela team.
Venezuela will be rested and they will be confident. They’ve been among the best teams in South Korea thus far, and they’ll have two extra days rest on the U.S. team. The battle in the midfield between Tyler Adams and Yangel Herrera will be wonderful to watch while the return of the Americans’ suspended trio should provide a boost.
But make no mistake, Venezuela will be the Americans’ toughest opponent yet, and rest and recovery will be vital to their chances of pushing on to what could be a more memorable run through the U-20 World Cup.