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U.S. U-20s 2, Myanmar 1: The SBI Breakdown

Rubio Rubin Myanmar (Getty Images)


It was not a dream performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was enough to start the World Cup off on the right foot.

The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team kickstarted its tournament run in New Zealand by picking up three points on Saturday, coming from behind to defeat World Cup newcomers Myanmar, 2-1, in a Group A opener that was as tight at the scoreline indicated.

While the U.S. got the job done and now sits in first place in Group A, its performance in the match at Northland Events Center in Whangarei left a lot to be desired. An early mistake by goalkeeper Zack Steffen allowed Myanmar to take a shock lead, and an overall sloppy and nervy first half from the Americans raised a few eyebrows.

U.S. head coach Tab Ramos made some adjustment shortly after halftime, and the Americans looked much improved. Emerson Hyndman also turned from facilitator to scorer, following up Maki Tall’s 14th-minute goal with one of his own in the 56th minute to ultimately decide the match.

Here is what SBI is thinking about following the U.S.’s 2-1 win vs. Myanmar:


Some were caught by surprise to see Ramos leave Gedion Zelalem on the bench at the start of the match, but the midfielder’s unfamiliarity with his American teammates and the fact that tougher opponents await in a quick few days always made it a real possibility.

Once Zelalem entered the match in the 55th minute, there were good and bad things on display. Zelalem had a composure and smoothness to his game that several of his compatriots lacked against the energetic Myanmar players, and he initially moved the ball well with quick passes.

He then looked lost for the next 15-20 minutes. Zelalem was constantly not on the same page with his teammates, which is understandable given his recent introduction into the U.S. setup. He hit a few stray passes to no one, and also was caught dribbling for far too long on one instance.

Zelalem has the tools to help the U.S. at this World Cup, but chemistry takes time to develop and he might not be able to really show how good he can be until later in the tournament.


While the U.S. as a whole was not up to snuff in the first half, a big problem for them was the play of Marco Delgado. Used in the No. 6 role in the diamond midfield, Delgado was unable to consistently stop Myanmar from penetrating the U.S.’s defensive third. He was also sloppy with his passing in both halves, hitting a few unforced turnovers that killed attacks before they could truly build up.

Delgado likely would not have been starting had the rangier Russell Canouse not suffered an injury last week that ruled him out for the tournament. Still, Delgado should have been able to perform better than he did against Myanmar. The U.S. desperately needed its defensive midfielder to slow down the buzzing Myanmar attackers and build up passing sequences, especially in the first half, but Delgado was overrun and not sharp enough far too often.

Ramos will have to reconsider who he deploys there for the upcoming game against New Zealand, but Kellyn Acosta – who served as the initial destroyer in World Cup qualifying – is really the only other natural option on the roster. Even so, it’s hard to see Delgado getting the nod again at the base of the diamond after his rough initial showing.


Another reason the Americans had a rough first half was that their spacing in the midfield was all wrong. The diamond midfield requires the front six to be more compact when in possession and to move the ball with quick combination play, but often the Americans were too far apart.

This resulted in forced, longer passes, and the results on those were mixed. It’s also why Myanmar was able to so effectively press high up the field. The Americans were constantly  on the ball with no options nearby, and the pressure from Myanmar rushed the U.S.’s decision-making.

While there is some validity to the argument that the Americans did not look comfortable or on the same page for large stretches, things improved dramatically at the start of the second half. On one sequence just three minutes after the intermission, the U.S. played some neat one- to two-touch passing that carved open Myanmar’s defense and led to a good-looking chance that Rubio Rubin headed wide.

More of that type of build-up and play will be needed not only in the next game against New Zealand, but also throughout the tournament.


Rubio Rubin and Maki Tall were not very involved in the first half, but a lot of that was due to the midfield’s inability to get them the ball. When they did have it at their feet, they made things happen.

Tall was the more active of the two forwards in the opening 45 minutes, causing problems for Myanmar defenders with his willingness to attack them on the dribble and ability to pick up fouls. He made the most of his limited touches, and also had the clutch acrobatic finish that allowed the U.S. to not have to dwell for too long on the fact that it was trailing. That was a vital but largely overlooked contribution for the Americans’ psyche given the pressure the U.S. is facing in this tournament.

Rubin took some time to get into the game, but also wound up making an impact after a largely invisible first half. He found himself on the ball more after the break, and showed creativity and quality by teeing up teammates with passes that marked some of the most dangerous scoring opportunities for the U.S.

Substitute forward Bradford Jamieson contributed to the U.S. cause with a key run off the ball that helped create space for Hyndman on the winner, but Ramos will likely want to stick with Rubin and Tall as the pairing up top against New Zealand. They both showed on Saturday that they can make a difference. They just need to see more of the ball to do so.


Acosta got the surprise nod at left back in this one, and Shaquell Moore started on the opposite flank. Neither impressed.

Apart from failing to get into the attack with any regularity, both Acosta and Moore struggled defensively. Acosta’s troubles were especially glaring, as he was beaten too easily on the dribble on a couple of occasions. He has been used more in the midfield as of late with the U.S., but still is familiar with playing at fullback and should not have had as rough an outing as he did. His point-blank miss in front of an open goal was symbolic of his day.

Moore also had his hands full, but did a slightly better job in his one-on-one battles. Still, there were a few instances, including late in the second half, in which he was troubled by Myanmar’s aggressive attackers. That does not bode well for later on in the tournament when the level of the opposition is expected to raise.

Ramos has other options at the fullback spots, including Desevio Payne, and it might be worth seeing how they can do in order to avoid a repeat performance.


  1. I think we’re about to start seeing some major retaliation from FIFA. Expect a boatload of VERY questionable calls to start coming our way. The women are probably going to be facing that next week.

    FIFA voted today to allow Europe to bid for 2026. This is huge…because the USA, until Blatter went and changed the rules again, was basically a lock to host in ’26, with both Asia and Europe out of the running. Africa, aside from South Africa, has zero nations remotely capable of hosting a Cup, and from Brazil – who just had 2014 – South America had no nations with the infrastructure either. Today’s ruling makes it likely the USA will never see another World Cup in our lifetimes.

    This is the kind of petty revenge we’re going to see from here on out, as long as we’re a member of FIFA.

    I do not have high hopes for the rest of the tournament. FIFA, I strongly suspect, is about to start sending the USA some very audible messages who’s boss.

      • My man, Blatter, as a first order of business after being re-elected, just casually changed his own rules on the rotation cycle, and basically yanked away the World Cup from the USA for 2026. After selling it to Qatar in 2022 in a bid we were firmly favored to win.

        If you think that’s an accident…I really don’t know what to say.

        Blatter is not done Sending Messages, either. Just wait. I think I’ve got a pretty good bead on the guy…and so do a lot of other people. He almost has this gleeful sort of Crisis Maker mentality, almost seems to revel in surfing on the very chaos he creates. And I was already fearful what Russia 2018 was going to look like…I can’t even imagine what kind of calls we’re going to get there.

    • I have a sneaking suspicion you are onto something. The ref ruined Mexico’s U-20 WC. They will be missing two stars now on soft reds and went from being up a man to being down a man in the span of a grasshopper’s fart..

    • We’ve received questionable calls for as long as I can remember, so its nothing new going forward. It seems other countries are tired off FIFA’s bs so hopefully others will take a stand against the status quo of Blatter.

  2. A strange analysis that doesn’t even mention Hyndman and his impact on the game. BTW, I went to the website for the tournament and read a comment by Ramos. He was pretty critical of the team and said he couldn’t repeat what he said to them at half time. Considering how the US played much better after the tongue lashing, perhaps they will perform better in future games. Still and nevertheless, in a WC, only results matter, not how well you play. NZ looked to me to have an anemic looking offense and I think our team is going to be athletically superior, so we really should qualify out of this group.

  3. They really need to address the giant gaps in the midfield. It didn’t really play like a diamond at all last night. This is basic stuff. Should have been sorted out before.

  4. Lineup for next match should be
    Moore Miazga CCV Payne
    Hyndman Allen
    Zelalem (too talented to not start)
    Rubin Tall

    • Sonora will get another chance I believe. New Zealand tied Ukraine, the other favorite, so I’d half to think Ramos wont risk being overrun because of a lack of chemistry.

    • ————- Steffen —————
      Miazga CCV
      Moore —————— Payne
      Hyndman ———— Zelalem
      Rubin Tall

    • Like a proper CM tandem they rotated a lot when Hyndman would come deep to collect the ball. When in the opponents half it was Hyndman who was further up the pitch.

  5. I watched both group A games and the USA was hands down the best team of the group even with the USA having a sub-par performance. Myanmar was gassed by the time the 2nd half started and they had very few chances the whole game. U20 games are fickle so anything can happen but I am not worried about the group stage matches and look forward to rematch with Panama in the next round.

  6. Slowleftarm, re our conversation before, still feeling as confident about how easy this group was going to be for the U.S.?

    Dare I saw Myanmar actually looked better than us for stretches of the game. Also, some of their players looked technically superior to ours.

    • Really? We had 3 or 4 chances we should have finished. The scoreline was flattering for Myanmar, but they were much better than anticipated. I think they’ll cause NZ and Ukraine problems.

      • I do believe that Tab Ramos and the US team were simply out coached. The Myanmar team were well disciplined, held their shape well and saw openings and opportunities the US should have had covered,

        I was in Burma in the 70’s before it was taken over by the military, and begun a process of isolation from the rest of the world. When I was there. football was played everywhere as well as a lot of cricket. This were due to the big British Empire influence since the turn of the century. The fact that we due not see Myanmar attend (qualify or compete) many international tournaments does not mean that the country doesn’t play football. It does. And with a “good” German coach, you can expect to see Myanmar compete and challenge the far east footballing powers in the next decade. I wish them well

      • Bottlecaps, thanks. All true, except for cricket. The country is not very favorable about things British. They left the Commonwealth decades ago.

    • That’s a harsh analysis in my book. The US is still the strong favorites to win this group.

      As the article above suggests, this team should get better as the tournament develops.


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