By FRANCO PANIZO
U.S. Men’s youth national teams have come up short and disappointed greatly in recent years. The Under-20 team failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup, the Under-23 side failed to reach the Olympics in 2012, and the Under-17 team failed to reach the World Cup in 2013.
If the current U.S. Under-20 group wants to avoid being remembered for suffering a similar fate, it will need to do what the previous teams couldn’t and come up big in the clutch.
The U.S.’s Under-20 team’s World Cup ticket will be on the line on Saturday, as the Americans take on El Salvador in a do-or-die playoff match (5pm, Fox Soccer Plus/FoxSoccer2Go.com). Both teams failed to secure the automatic berth that came with finishing first in the tournament’s two qualifying groups, and now they both face the reality that a loss on Saturday will end the dream of a place in the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand in May.
The pressure is squarely on the Americans. Not only was this team touted as being very talented, but the stigma of recent U.S. youth team failures will only serve to amplify the pressure to produce a positive result.
The U.S. goes into the decisive match in Montego Bay, Jamaica riding a three-game winning streak, posting three shutouts along the way. The Americans mauled Aruba, 8-0, toppled Jamaica, 2-0, and closed out group play with a 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.
Although the results have improved from the team’s poor start to group play, the U.S. Under-20s have struggled to play at the high level expected before the tournament began.
Ramos has mixed and matched attacking players in an effort to solve that issue, but inconsistency has persisted.
Ramos could insert Paul Arriola back into the lineup after seeing the Club Tijuana attacker provide a spark off the bench vs. Trinidad and Tobago, when Arriola helped set up the game-winning goal.
Starting Arriola would mean another tactical shift for a team that has tried a variety of looks. Ramos started the tournament in a 4-3-3 but switched to a 4-4-2 after settling for a draw in the opener against Guatemala and losing to Panama in the second match. Ramos has opted to go with Ben Spencer and Bradford Jamieson IV up top as of late, but the combination has not produced many goals.
El Salvador should provide the toughest test faced by the Americans since the group-stage loss to Panama. The Cuscatlecos netted nine times in five matches, scoring at least once in each match.
The U.S. defense should remain intact with Zack Steffen in goal, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga in central defense and Shaquell Moore and John Requejo out wide.
That American unit has looked solid for much of the tournament, but the accumulated fatigue from playing so many matches in such a short span could come into play, especially against a potent El Salvador attack led by Juan Barahona and Jose Villavicencio.