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U.S. beats El Salvador to book place in Under-20 World Cup

U-20 USMNT El Salvador


Despite a tumultuous start to the CONCACAF U-20 Championships, the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team completed an impressive tournament by posting a fourth straight shutout win to seal a spot in this summer’s U-20 World Cup.

Led by goals from Ben Spencer and Paul Arriola, the U.S. picked up a 2-0 victory Saturday over El Salvador in a one-game playoff . With the victory, the U.S. will head to New Zealand for the U-20 World Cup, which is set to take place from May 30 – June 20.

Struggling to move the ball on the ground due to field conditions, Spencer and the U.S. took to the air to score the opening goal in the 37th minute.

Spencer’s height proved too much for El Salvador on the opening goal, as he headed a long free kick off the goal frame and followed up by heading home the rebound to make the score 1-0 in the 37th minute.

El Salvador had a chance to level the scoreline early in the second half through a penalty kick, but goalkeeper Zack Steffen made a stunning save on the penalty attempt, diving to his right to deny El Salvador’s Jose Villavicencio, parrying the ball wide on what was El Salvador’s first legitimate chance of the night.

The U.S. added some much-needed breathing room in the 68th minute through Arriola, as the substitute tapped home a rebound to double the U.S. lead.

Substitute Junior Flores started the sequence, darting past the El Salvador defense before centering a pass to Bradford Jamieson IV. The ensuing shot was saved, but Arriola pounced on the rebound, banking a shot  off of an El Salvador defender for an insurance goal the Americans sorely needed.

El Salvador never mounted much of a threat after that, and faded after an 80th minute red card reduced the underdogs to 10 men.

What did you think of the match? Who impressed you for the Americans? Who are you hoping to see on the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team this summer?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Dr. K, Paul Kennedy would probably say that west ham have one of the best youth programs in all of England. West ham play attractive attacking football, and their players are very technically sound. Andy Carroll is not even their top striker this season, and even so, it’s not like he didn’t have a wicked game assist in the FA cup this weekend.

  2. This website is so full of A wierd type of conformational bias that it is hard to rationally criticize the USA team. Paul Kennedy of Soccer America was on target. These USA kids vs, ElSalvador were very poor. Please, no excuses. TOO big (Spencer), too athletic ,Too poorly prepared technically, playing too much like WestHam ( Do we really want Andy Carroll types in the center forward position?). Let us all admit there is a problem here. Leave the denial for addicts. Lets get together to demand improvement and a change of direction.

    • That was a much more rational post- most are dismissive, use name calling and repeat the same 2 points in every post whether or not the points apply to the story or not.

      If your comments were all stated in the same manner as this, you’d likely have disagreement, but a better response.

    • I thought both him and Carter-Vickers were good centrally. Miazga is a big dude and uses his size well. Won a lot of headers and I thought he was also good positionally. Was also very active on U.S. corner kicks; he almost scored against El Salvador from a header that hit the bar after a great save. Like many other young center backs, he needs to work on his overall focus and passing out of the back. But the tools are there, I think.

    • On his way back up the field, an El Salvador player pushed him for no reason. Spencer turned and said something, and both players got a yellow; Spencer got it for a reaction to a cheap shot, which is often the case in CONCACAF. Thought the ref made some questionable decisions overall, and that our ‘bigs’ were often punished for just that: being big. I felt the foul on Spencer that negated Thompson’s early goal was serious embellishment by the El Salvador player, but oh well. Also thought if our player gets called for that hand ball in the 2nd half, the El Salvador player should have gotten the same treatment in the 1st. Finally, I felt the yellow on Carter-Vickers that led to the late free kick shot was extremely harsh; but then again, I ultimately feel the red on El Salvador was questionable, though he was making no attempt at the ball and just kicking at Flores’s legs. Probably should have been a yellow and a stern talking to, but CONCACAF refs are so inconsistent, I am no longer surprised by anything.

      • He was a wonderful ref compared to the one calling the Uruguay-Venezuela match in the SAYC on Friday. It was a match that didn’t matter, but he and the crew let the Venezuelans get all in their face for a couple of minutes when he red carded a player and then reversed a 90+ minute equalizer for Uruguay after calling it a goal and then being rushed by a half dozen Venezuelans.

        He absolutely lost control of that match.

      • wait, there are inconsistent refs outside of concacaf? please say it aint so. I know the best refs are in Europe, at least that’s what they say.

  3. Hi Ives,

    I hope you and the writers get a chance for more analysis.

    Some questions I wish were answered:
    What did the stats say about possession and chances created?
    Who did not impress?
    What’s the basis of the statement that the Panama team had a talent gap with the US team?
    What’s the chances that new players (J. Green & G. Zelalem) get added to the team?
    Why did the switch from a 433 to a 442 help the team so much?

    If there is time, I would love to understand the bigger picture. Such as:
    how have US u20 teams in the past been at graduating players to the USMNT?
    Which US u20 teams had the most players move to the USMNT?
    Was it due to the coaches or just some good players coming through?
    Which are the top 5 countries in terms of developing players from their U20 teams to their senior national teams?
    How does the US compare to them?

    Hopefully sometime after this tournament or right before the U20 WC, you guys will be able to answer these questions.

    • SR, USA has played in 9 out of 10 u/20 world cups. The number is something like out of 180 players, 60 have been capped by the senior team. The 07 under/20 team had adu, Bradley, and altidore. That was a good squad that beat Luis Suarez and Uruguay, but went on to lose to Austria in the quarter finals.

      New players wil be added for this summer. Gideon and Rubin are possible additions, but green is not. There are other players that could be added as well. Offensive minded players that could be difference makers.

      The formation switch saw Ben spencer added and that took some pressure off of BJIV. Flores was injured early on, and that may have played a roll in everything as well.

      When all is said and done, the benchmark for this team is really getting beyond the quarterfinals. This is a good collection of players and it is hard for me to say where the weak link is. BJIV had a game winner, but come the summer, he might be one of the players left out for more superior talent.

  4. I watched the match. It should be said that USA had the game well in hand. The scoreline could easily have been 4-0. SLV simply wasn’t going to win. This group has real potential to win U20 WC.

  5. No big surprises in CONCACAF qualification, ultimately. The four teams most would have predicted before the tourney got through. The rest of the field for U-20s so far is, how should I say, nontraditional. Here’s a few: Myanmar, North Korea, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Fiji, and Hungary. I am guessing some power nations take this age level more seriously than others.

    • Good point. Steffen looks every bit up to his press clippings. He looks insanely calm and confident back there. He OWNED Villavicencio on that kick. His body language the whole time was basically, “Don’t worry. I got this.” This kid is as cool as the other side of the pillow (RIP SS).

  6. Kinda wish that the tournament format would change into something that would give the runners up in each group a shot at the finals in the second round. Even though we qualified for the U20 world cup, I would have wanted our boys to face the strongest team (likely Mexico) in the final to see how we measure up if we got the chance. Welp, there’s the U20 WC in New Zealand to look forward too!

    • The top 3 teams in each group faced teams in the other groups (with the #1 team in each group guaranteed passage to the WC). Do you want another round? Seems like a more fair way than the 3 groups of 4 and then knockouts from there.

  7. I wish I could have watched it…FOX sheet!
    Anyway the earlier games were on unplayable fields, reminded me of our sunday morning league, well maybe not as bad. Its incredibly difficult to get some rythm when the ball is bouncing all over the place, more of a crap shoot.

      • The U.S. controlled huge portions of the game, created way more scoring opportunities, and won 2-0. Yet El Salvador was the better team, according to you. Believe what you want. The squad has some issues, but they are not the garbage that you claim. Troll.

      • We have decent ball handlers like Hyndman on the team. Without the true roll of the ball the game gets chopped up. Route 1 football (getting stuck in) is the answer which apparently they did. Not pretty and ‘aint gonna’ beat the good teams they will face at WC but in CONCACRAP it gets the job done.

    • As i write this Fox is showing the Mexico v. Panama game, but they put the US game on Fox Soccer Plus which most people don’t get. At the same time as the US game they had some UFC crap and some car competition. Not happy at all with their programming.

  8. Often times, posters comment about the weakness of Concacaf teams, but I think we should not overlook the great equalizer that some of these fields really are. Yes both teams have to play on the same field, but if it does not allow you to pass and move the ball on the ground, it becomes what we saw this week, an ugly game of chance. You hope that if you have enough chances eventually one or two will go in, but sometimes that just isn’t the case. Concacaf is not full of super quality teams, but it is improving, and it has its own set of pitfalls that many other regions don’t have.

    • Concacaf is just plain weak, There is no way around it. The fact we have difficulties means we are weak also. One must accept reality to go forward. Bad fields are NEVER an excuse. That is just a copout! One must adapt. The field is the same for both. So how come EL Salvador has better technique than USA? whether it snows in Denver or rains in Jamaica, who the hell cares. Bad is bad!

      • El Salvador had better technique? I could tell, all those great passes and dribbling exhibitions led to no scoring chances. I’m not saying the US looked outstanding, but to say El Salvador was great… Need to find some finishing up top, that was the biggest missing component.

      • We are coming off a World Cup where three of the four CONCACAF teams made the knockout round and one made the quarterfinals. Your point is asinine.

      • Plus the fact that Mexico has won several youth tournaments. I also remember one about 8 or 9 years ago when Argentina had this young phenom named Messi on their youth team. The only team they didn’t beat in that tournament was the US which drew with them. Dr. K is very ignorant.

      • Agreed. Too many people seem to judge “strength” by numbers. The reality is that there ARE more teams in Europe which play on the same level as the top 3-4 CONCACAF federations. There are about twice that number in South America also.

        Part of the reason is that CONCACAF is made up of a whole bunch of poor, small nations. There is a reason that the minnows also get knocked out in CAF and UEFA too (Latvia, Malta, San Marino, etc.). CONEMBOL is a bit of an unfair comparison because it is only 10 nations, in all of which football is king. CONCACAF has 31 Caribbean federations alone (none of which besides Jamaica and rarely T&T have anything competitive to offer). At the other end of the spectrum, the US and Mexico are competitive in the top 10-20 teams worldwide year in and year out. Central American federations rise and fall but generally the 1-2 best of them are also at that same level. Am I arguing that we are equals with UEFA or CONEMBOL? Of course not … but you can’t judge CONCACAF by the Caribbean. If you dumped all of those except for 1-2 teams and just kept the “Continental” 10 others would it suddenly be “stronger”? Of course not – those are the only teams who make it deep into CONCACAF tourneys anyway so people need to stop judging by the bottom and the middle of the 41 CONCACAF teams and look at the top third like they do with every other federation.

      • Dr K.

        Bad fields are the equalizer?

        .So how come El Salvador didn’t score on the US? How come they did not beat or tie the US?

      • Because we were better. His point is that it’s harder than it seems because the fields are awful. A a top-tier youth European national team would have more trouble than usual on these fields, and would whine and complain about it like the weather during the WC. My high school team had a miserable field, then when we finally got the funds to redo it and put down new grass, playing any sort of attractive soccer was easier. We don’t want to make excuses, but it does play a factor. Still, our play was pretty ugly, but we got it done and that’s what matters.

      • You must be insane if you think bad pitch conditions doesn’t matter. El Salvador would have lost by more than 2 today if not for the pitch.

  9. Great job by Tab and these guys. The horrid field conditions really brought play down to a lowest common denominator. But our team adapted and overcame adversity.

    By comparison this highlights the very poor job an arrogant Caleb Porter did last time around. This time there are no questions about playing guys in unnatural positions, and no real questions about tactics. (Maybe so at the start – but the mark of a good coach is adapting and refining.)

    • They were awful. They played El Salavador for god sakes! Big , fast athletic with little skill. the calling card of The USA. I have seen this bad movie before. Nothing better yet.

      • Gall, Hyndman, Thompson, Arriola, Flores…all these players are known more for their technical skills than their size and speed. Only big guys that were big influences were Carter-Vickers, Jameison, and Spencer…what games were you watching??

      • Only CCV, Miazga, Spencer and Jameison have height on this team. Perhaps your lack of ability to gauge size stemmed from our opponents. either way, it begs the question if you actually watched the match?

      • Dr. K just says the same thing no matter what happens. He doesn’t watch the matches. He just sits under the bridge and does his thing.

      • It’s very debatable. I can see both perspectives. He did adapt his tactics successfully and the bottom line is to qualify, which he did. On the other hand, for a side with more pro players with impressive affiliations than we’ve ever had in qualifying, we cut it way too close and, for long stretches, they appeared much more of a collection of individual talents, rather than a cohesive team. It’s so hard to tell whether it’s poor managing with the insanely bad pitch, horrific and biased refereeing, CONCACAF sides fouling every time we get the ball going forward, and the simple fact that these are 18 year old kids who don’t play regularly with each other AND the fact that we are SUPPOSED to be emphasizing individual play, individual talent, and individual development moreso than teamwork and fitting guys into roles. That’s kind of been our problem in the past. We’ve bred a ton of role players and team guys, but very few stars. It will be interesting to see these kids in the Cup against sides that are playing them straight up, not bunkering and fouling, on a decent pitch and with decent refereeing. I’m willing to give them a chance.

      • Ramos stated before this tournament that it wouldn’t be pretty. He was fully aware of what the field conditions were going to be. Why would CONCACAF let tournaments of this importance take place on pastures?

      • Not sure if Rubin is the answer (1 goal this season so far, playing major minutes at forward in a goal scoring league), but this side is in desperate, desperate need of a clinical finisher. Spencer and Jamieson were INCREDIBLY wasteful this tournament. The only guys on the team with good shots are Gall, who disappears for vast swathes of each match (and has his head up his butt for many other stretches), and Hyndman, who generally plays too deep to score a ton of goals. Rubin may not be a clinical finisher, but he does have a much better first touch than BJ and BS and seems a very calm head in the box. These 2 qualities are direly needed for the U-20s who blew chance after chance after chance. Yes, the field conditions were absolutely awful, but BJ and BS pretty clearly showed worse touches than their teammates. I’d still like to see them on a decent pitch, but it seems like they need a lot of work. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Rubin with Flores underneath him in the Cup if they play 2 forwards. That may yield an interesting spine of Hyndman as the d-mid, GZ as CAM, and Junior underneath Rubio. That’s a ton of ball skills up the middle of the pitch. We may also see a 4-1-2-3, with Gall – Rubin – Thompson up front and Hyndman – GZ as the 2 in front of Acosta or Canouse.

      • He also has played all along the forward line and even in midfield. Not all of his games have been as a pure forward.

      • He’s an enormous talent, no doubt. I’m just not sure he’s a clinical finisher at this point. The facts seem to indicate no.

  10. I am happy for these guys.
    This is huge.
    They showed a lot of character to come back from being 0-1-1 at the start of the tournament.
    Subsequently they did not allow another goal, and outscored their opponents in 4 games 13-0.
    As Ives said, “It wasn’t pretty.” Apparently the pitch was rather shabby and lumpy, the youngsters had to tame some nerves over eh course of the tournament, but in the end a great result for US soccer.
    Go USA!
    U20 World Cup here we come!

    • +1 Agree 100%. I did not expect much out of this competition as far is it being “easy on the eyes”. And it wasn’t.

      But the goal was achieved, and I thought our players showed the character I really wanted to see it the last few games. Slow, ugly playing surfaces, shoddy refereeing, and cynical play are something all these kids need to get used to when going on the road in CONCACAF. It doesn’t matter what these kids achieve in their fledgling pro careers , be they in Europe, MLS, or wherever. If they are going to be USMNT players, they always will need the basic ability to come back home claw results out of games like these as a group. Nice to see it’s still in the DNA.


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