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U.S. Under-20s 2, Haiti 1: A Look Back


The best word to describe the U.S. Under-20 National Team’s performance against Haiti on Monday is disjointed. The team did win the match, but did so in about as uninspiring a way as possible. There was no flow to their game, no midfield control, no build-ups and none of the technical quality we would have hoped for from this group of players.


The 4-3-3 formation Tab Ramos trotted out played more like a 4-1-5, leaving Will Trapp to fend for himself as waves of speedy Haitians went at a U.S. defense that was never going to be able to handle Haiti’s athleticism without better defensive contributions from the front five.

There was plenty of hand-wringing over the defensive selections. Yes, Javan Torre and Boyd Okwuonu are centerbacks for their college teams, and yes, Caleb Stanko and Shane O’Neill are more naturally midfielders than centerbacks, but the issues the defense had were far more related to the players playing in front of the back four than it did with the back four having players out of position.

Ultimately, what you saw was a group of players that looked, collectively, very uncomfortable in the system the team was playing in. The reality is that shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

The 4-3-3 wasn’t completely new to the U.S. Under-20s. They have been training with it for some time now, and have played in that system in warm-up matches, but there is a difference between being familiar with a system and being truly well-versed in a system.

For Will Trapp, playing at Akron University prepared him for the 4-3-3, but having five attackers in front of him who did a poor job of spacing and moving as a unit wasn’t something he was very familiar with, which is part of the reason he was left looking like a chicken with his head cut off as he raced around trying to cover the gaps left by his teammates.

The rest of the front six just didn’t move as a unit, and often times wound up in taking up the same spaces on the field, leaving wide swaths of grass for Haiti’s speedsters to race into, which oftentimes led to U.S. fullbacks being isolated against Haiti’s fastest players.

That doesn’t completely absolve Javan Torre and Boyd Okwuono. Both, particularly Okwuonu, could have fared better defensively, but the notion that since they play centerback on the college level they couldn’t handle playing fullbacks is a stretch. Torre is quick and athletic and could have handled left back with some more support from midfield. With Daniel Cuevas pressing so far forward, Torre was left with far too much space to cover far too many times.

As for Okwuonu, he is one of the better centerbacks in the college game, but the chances are he won’t be a centerback on the pro level. He’s an athletic 5-foo-8 defender who more likely projects as a pro right back than centerback, even if he may have looked completely overmatched at right back on Tuesday.

Ultimately, Torre and Okwuonu were left with far too little defensive support, and even natural fullbacks would have struggled under those circumstances.

What Tab Ramos needs to do is figure out a lineup that gets him the defensive quality he needs from a full 11, rather than just a back four and Trapp. That means likely breaking up the all-Latino American front five he constructed. It had the makings of a super skilled bunch, with Luis Gil’s playmaking, and Cuevas’ speed and Jose Villarreal’s attacking qualities. But the reality is it was probably ambitious to think you could play a lineup with those three and Mario Rodriguez and Benji Joya and have the proper balance necessary to defend capably.

Starting Mikey Lopez is certainly an option, and partnering him with Trapp in a 4-3-3 wih Luis Gil above them as the tip of the diamond is probably the way to go. Regardless what some may think, Lopez is more box-to-box midfielder than playmaker. He has defensive qualities that could make him the perfect partner for Trapp. Ramos may also have to consider sitting Villarreal, who just didn’t look like he had a real grasp of all the responsibilities that come with playing as a wide forward in a 4-3-3.

Sitting Joya and Villarreal for two players with better defensive qualities could help give the team better balance, and potentially allow the team to do a better job of keeping possession and controlling tempo. The lineup on Tuesday only new one gear and that frantic pace left the U.S. defense exposed far too often on the counter.

It is unclear just what Costa Rica will bring to the table when they face the Americans on Friday, but Haiti showed us (and Costa Rica) that the U.S. lineup we saw on Monday was a vulnerable one with plenty of weak points to exploit. Ramos needs to make some changes, but it shouldn’t be assumed that those changes will begin with the shaking up the back four.


  1. OC Okwuonu you might want to consider playing for Nigeria. You have a better chance of wining the World Cup with Nigerian squad than US squad. Soccer players in US have no bright future.

  2. “The best word to describe the U.S. Under-20 National Team’s performance against Haiti on Monday is disjointed. The team did win the match, but did so in about as uninspiring a way as possible. There was no flow to their game, no midfield control, no build-ups and none of the technical quality we would have hoped for from this group of players.”

    Sounds like Ramos has graduated from the Klinsmann School of Coaching.

  3. Id like this lineup for Friday. A 4-2-3-1. Have to protect the back line.





    • Poor. Missed an easy chance to make it 3-0 and make the second half inconsequential. He needed to be the guy that calmed the game down for the U.S.; instead, he looked constantly hurried, like most of the team. There was no patience and no attempt to hold possession and frustrate the Hatians.

      A lot of the blame, for me, has to go to the coaching. Few of the players looked like they understood their roles; like Ives said, disjointed. Haiti played off each other as a unit, as a team. The U.S. looked like a collection of players who had no interest in working together. They looked unprepared and completely shocked that Haiti had decent players. Confusion reigned supreme, and they were lucky to escape with 3 points.

  4. So guys, im hearing that klinssman has been in contact with argentine players rogelio funes mori, and michael hoyos about possibly playing for the usmnt

  5. Id go with






    Its funny I keep hearing how we need more professional players yet the more pro the teams get the worse we look. I think Ramos has fallen into the trap of well this player is a professional so he must be better than this player even if I play the pro player out of position. Yedlin should have been with this team especially when there is no natural RB on the squad. It was highly unlikely that Pelosi, Packwood or Brooks (I’ll bet he plays for Germany) would get released anyways so its not like Ramos can really complain about them. It shouldnt even matter anyways as even our best domestic players should be able to handle Haiti with ease. Ramos should have looked deeper in the CB pool but instead he is stuck playing two CM’s in the middle of the defense.

    We should stop this 4-3-3 crap right away. You can play attacking soccer in a 4-4-2. Making all our youth teams switch to a 4-3-3 has done more harm than good. We have kids that grow up only playing against one system. USSF should be preaching diversity but instead we’re trying to force kids into one system

  6. I know one thing for certain. Cropper is keeping the tradition of American bald GK’s alive. The guy is already starting to have a receeding hairline at the age of 20.

    • Not really. They had slightly more possission and a few more shots. Most of those shots were taken 25 to 30 yards out and never truly worried Cropper in goal. The US had a bad opening game, and still won. Thats what happens with good teams.

      • NOPE…! We all need to say that “the US was lucky to win that game”. This US team was very weak technically with regards to the Haitians…! We must recognize that the Caribbean region has no small nation of Soccer. “Haitian teams have made great progress”. The referee was very lenient to team USA to have missed at least a Penalty for Haitians. I fear the worst for USA against Costa Rica.

  7. Is it me, or is this the smallest US team we’ve seen at any level in a while?

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we’ve always been dangerous on set pieces and strong in defending them. This group doesn’t have that same look.

      • We all need to say that “the US was lucky to win that game”. This US team was very weak technically with regards to the Haitians…! We must recognize that the Caribbean region has no small nation of Soccer. “Haitian teams have made great progress”. The referee was very lenient to team USA to have missed at least a Penalty for Haitians. I fear the worst for USA against Costa Rica.

    • They are completely fine. Torre 6’3″, Stanko 6’0″, Oneil 6’2″, Rodriguez 6’1″, Keisewetter 6’2″, Ocegueda 5’11”. There is plenty of height in this team. They were just fine on set pieces yetserday, and actually Villareal 5’9″, and Luis Gil 5’9″ were out jumping taller Haiti players.

  8. Right now at all of the top levels of US Soccer there is a serious issue with defending. At the senior level Bocanegra, Cameron, Gonzalez, Johnson, Chandler, Churundolo are our weakest spot and many of them frequently play out of position. The fullbacks loose their marks and the centerbacks look disjointed, either because they are out of position or unfamiliar with each other. The days of Gooch, Boca and Dolo in their prime are past and we haven’t found anyone to take their places the way that they were rock solid for years.

    What I am most worried about is that the U-20’s and Olympic teams seem to look very similar. A lot of exciting attacking prospects but a disjointed and unfamiliar back line. Playing Perry Kitchen, CDM, and Ike Opara, plus some unlucky goalkeeping, in the Olympic Pre-Cup was the death of that run. This U-20 team looks very similar to the Olympic team with two players O’Neil and Trapp, both CDM’s, playing CB and two talented but out of position and unfamiliar fullbacks to their sides.

    The attacking strength and the fact that the out of position defenders are probably good enough for this tournament hopefully will get us through but I see it as a more long term issue for US Soccer. Hopefully its just that some of our most promising defenders have not been available for the U-20’s and U-23’s…. we will see… big game friday.

  9. It also must be kept in mind that this is a tournament, and you have to play multiple games with only a few days rest in between. Two of our better defensive players- Lopez and Ocegueda- didn’t start. Perhaps Ramos was trying to keep them fresh for the Ticos, who generally have more to offer in the attack than does Haiti?

  10. The only thing that really needs a fix is defense. those back four couldnt defend for sh*t. if is is hos its gonna be we better start hoping for 2015 because we arent gonna make it playing like this.

  11. I agree that this was a disjointed and unbalanced selection. So much looked bad it’s hard to know where to start. Where was the skill? Cohesion? Movement off the ball? It hasn’t been mentioned much, but Cody Cropper certainly didn’t command his penalty area well enough. Most often he was rooted to his goal line and didn’t appear to communicate enough with the back four. Perhaps Ocegueda will start at left back on Friday and move Torre into the the middle. Stanko and Trapp can be the shield in front of the back four with Gil ahead of them. I would then have Cuevas, who I thought played really well, on the left and Kiesewetter (guessing on the spelling as this is off the cuff) on the right and Carlos Martinez up front. That’s just my guess based on seeing this team last night. Ramos had better know more than me or this team will be the next flop out of the US youth system.

  12. I totally agree with Ives on all his point and I think the formations being used for the Men’s teams are an issue at every level including the senior team. You could see the problems in Honduras. Our lads are best suited for 4-4-2 alignments. Jozy Altidore is an example of someone who would benefit from a 4-4-2 bc he would face less defensive responsibility and have a partner to attack with. The same examples could be used for the U-20 side. They played so much better when they went to a 4-4-2 in the second half. I had one question, does anyone else feel like the ref blew a clear penalty against Haiti in the 80th minute or so? I don’t recall but I think Cuevas was the player that was basically assaulted in the box.

    • Yeah, I think the ref blew it there. It wasn’t like they were pushing each other for the ball, the Haitian player basically just hit Cuevas …and hard. You could hear that hit reverberate around the stadium. Not sure why they didn’t red card the Haitian

  13. I’m not sure if I’ve ever hear a case for why we’re committed to a 4-3-3. I get we’re trying to cultivate a higher line, increased comfort on the ball, maintaining possession, etc. but I would imagine this could happen in any number of formations. Am I missing something?

    • more to the point, can’t the above mentioned skills be cultivated in a formation hat best suits the players we have in the pipeline, rather than force the players into a lineup hat maybe we don’t have the personnel for?

      • Like you said “skills be cultivated in a formation hat best suits the players” But that is the problem here with the USA system trying to play a 4-3-3. First of all when you play that system you need CM that can play attacking and defending, pass to the Wingers and know how to spread out the game so the LB&RB can go forward plus you need true winger that can take one on one or run over defenders open up and send good passes. and what I saw yesterday is was awful no control of the ball, passes that were either too short, too far or to behind the players or passes were done too soon that the other players were out place. No one had the guts to be creative or take on defend except for Gil, and Cuevas, second half was Jerome he did try to create something on the right side. But is true get the formation that truly fits our players.

    • I think the formation must fit the players, not vice versa, especially so if the players cannot adapt. There are times when you want to challenge players so playing a 3-4-3 for youth teams can make some sense, it forces the back 3 to be full accountable and it puts 5 players in good spots to attack, but it is hardly the plan that fits a tournament where the point is to win or advance. There a more defensive posture like a 4-4-2 or even a 5-3-2 makes sense to avoid giving too much away defensively. A 4-3-3 can work if you have outside mids who are fast, can support a wide attack and can play some defense and at least one of the forwards must be willing to track back into midfield to help out. All that said, when your team is keeping possession and attacking, the 4-4-2 might look more like a 3-2-5 and when it is under pressure more like a 6-3-1. If the players cannot adjust to what the game presents, but try to maintain some rigid formation, effectively saying “it’s not my job”, it will be a long day.

      • I’m certain we have technically skilled U20 players that are capable of playing a 4-3-3 well against Haiti. Year after year, Caleb Porter was able to put together sides that were impressive and successful in this formation. The difference is that he recruited players he knew could and would do what was necessary to be successful in a 4-3-3. It appears Ramos picked the players he wanted regardless of whether they were suited to playing a 4-3-3.

    • While starting points do matter, it is mostly in assigning duties to players rather than some fixed location. No matter the starting formation, when the other team is attacking in numbers the formation better look a lot more like 6-3-1 and when we are attacking, it should look more like 3-2-5. If the players stick to some rigid “formation” they are effectively saying “it’s not my job” and the result will look like various players standing around waiting for “their job” to be needed and not helping out as needed. It will not be pretty. Sure sometimes players need help to see how their role should expand as the game develops and that is the coach’s role to communicate effectively.

    • That’s the weird thing I’ve seen Joya play on the wing several times for Santos.For some reason Cuevas is deemed behind Joya and not really ready.I know they played different positions but based on what we saw yesterday that doesn’t make sense.

      • It’s quite hard for youth team forwards to break in Mexican teams since attacking wingers and strikers are the top import from South America; unfortunately he is way behind Herc in the depth chart.

      • So the talent of american soccer only from Mexican player just look at that starting line up, i see 6 and another 3 that came in as subs, i think something needs to change fast at the usa level cuz there not picking up talent its about race and its getting worst!!!!

      • It’s about race and it’s getting worse??? it’s about having a ball at your feet from the time you were 2 as opposed to playing the rich kids suburban soccer mom style of play that has been synonomous with American Men’s soccer since the miracle on grass

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