Top Stories

U.S. Under-20s gain confidence after grinding out win vs. Colombia

Gedion Zelalem U-20 USMNT 13



The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National has shown during the World Cup that it can play free-flowing, attacking soccer.

On Wednesday, the Americans showed they can also grind it out when necessary.

The U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup on Wednesday by pulling off a hard-fought 1-0 win over Colombia. The Americans were outplayed for large stretches of the game and needed a late penalty kick save from goalkeeper Zack Steffen to preserve the result, but their overall strong defending combined with Rubio Rubin’s opportunistic finish were enough to see the U.S. through.

“We died for each other on the field,” said midfielder Paul Arriola after the match at Wellington Regional Stadium. “We saved each other. When someone was down, we helped them up. When someone was out of position, we got into position. I think that’s the way our team is built.

“Not only are we good with the ball and can keep the ball at times, (but) there’s going to be times when other teams are better than us or having a better game than us. Today we just showed the hard work and dedication and we stayed in it.”

The Colombians sure did not make it easy on the Americans. A more physically-gifted side full of technical players, Colombia pressured the U.S. into a litany of mistakes seemingly from the onset. The U.S. failed to keep the ball for much of the first half, and the defense was constantly under siege.

Things improved slightly after halftime for the U.S., as the midfield was able to keep the ball better. The Americans still did not do a great job of creating chances, but having more possession helped them take some of the sting out of Colombia’s attack and opened the door for Rubin’s well-taken winner in the 58th minute.

“That’s something that we thought we were lacking,” said U.S. head coach Tab Ramos, referring to possession. “We’re a team that likes to have the ball, and one of the things we said to the players at halftime was to play with more confidence, to play into traffic, and to play the ball into the middle of the field and to our good players, who can hold it.

“I think we did a much better job in the second half. Once we did that, the game opened up for us and it became a little bit easier.”

The Americans still had to sweat it out late. Left back Kellyn Acosta was sent off in the 81st minute with a second yellow card for a foul inside the 18-yard box, and Colombia was given a golden opportunity to tie via a penalty kick.

U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen came to the rescue, however. Steffen dove low and to his right to block Jarlan Barrera’s shot from the spot, sending the Americans into a fierce frenzy and immediately evoking memories of his similarly clutch penalty kick save in the decisive World Cup qualifier against El Salvador in January.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I thought he was going to save it, and I thought the same against El Salvador,” said Ramos. “We have that type of confidence in our goalkeeper, and I thought that he would come up big. He always does, and it’s kind of expected at this point, so I’m very happy for him. Obviously it’s very difficult to save a penalty and he did it.”

Added Steffen: “It’s always nice to make the big plays for your team. They’re doing most of the work the whole game, so when a big opportunity comes to me like that, you welcome it and just try to stay focused and hope that you can make the big play. Luckily I did.”

Up next for the U.S. is a Sunday quarterfinals date with Serbia, which dispatched Hungary, 2-1, in extra time on Wednesday. The Serbs benefitted from a late own goal in that one, and also scored in the 91st minute to force the extra half-hour of play.

Ramos and his players know Serbia will provide another difficult challenge, but they believe they are more than up for the task after squeezing out a victory over a talented Colombian side.

“I feel like we’re not done,” said Ramos. “We have a game coming up and we’re looking forward to the next one and getting through to the next round.”


  1. The defense has been outstanding when Miazga, Carter-Vickers, and Payne have been on the field together. Hopefully, Requejo can step in and play left back without a problem. He showed well in qualifying, so I have confidence that he can. Anyone arguing that Moore should start on the right and Payne on the left has clearly not been watching this tourney; Moore has been shockingly bad and doesn’t need to see the field again.

    The big question is whether or not the midfield can hold up better than it did against Colombia. If I were Ramos, I might be tempted to start Donovan at D-mid to add more of a physical presence in the center of the park. Another change I would consider is Thompson over Allen; Allen has been fairly disappointing so far, so I would like to see what someone else can do if Jamieson is not available (I am assuming he won’t be).

    • I think all three players on the back line you mentioned are potential starters for the senior team in the future. I was thinking about this, this morning. For the senior team we have at center back Besler and Gonzalez who have worked together a lot and done well, now Alvarado and Brooks are blossoming and then in the future we have Carter Vickers and Miazga who may end up as good as any. And Payne looks really good too. Our defense looks like it could be solid for the next decade. Like you, I would like to see more of Thompson out there. I think he brings a lot of energy and he seems to cause more problems for the defense than does Allen.

      • Agreed about the back line, CCV in particular has made every single play that has come his way, seemingly. My main concern is that with Jameison and Tall both out, we’re forced to proceed with, what, Rubin up top again running his ass off opportunistically? He needs to be playing off of a striker, not as one in this set up. This is very troublesome to me. Reminds me of how we were forced to deploy Dempsey in Brazil. The team is crying out for Tall, what a shame he had to go down.

Leave a Comment