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U.S. U-20s 4, New Zealand 0: The SBI Breakdown

Gedion Zelalem U.S. U-20s 68


Being on the positive end of a rout usually means that several players turned in strong performances, and you’d be hard pressed to find even one U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team member who did not have a good game on Tuesday.

The U.S. remained perfect at the World Cup by playing a near-perfect game against tournament hosts New Zealand. Thanks to goals from Bradford Jamieson, Emerson Hyndman, Paul Arriola, and Rubio Rubin, the Americans handed the Kiwis a thorough 4-0 thrashing at North Harbor Stadium in Auckland to clinch a spot in the knockout rounds of the competition.

While the U.S. attacking trio of Rubin, Hyndman and Arriola helped make up the difference in the Group A showdown, several other players delivered big contributions as well. Gedion Zelalem was as effective with the ball as he was graceful, Cameron Carter-Vickers once again looked rock-solid at the back and Bradford Jameison impressively stepped in for the injured Maki Tall for the second straight game.

It was a dominant and overall great performance from the Americans, and one that showed the attack-minded U.S. team that many were expecting to see at this World Cup.

Here are SBI’s biggest takeaways from the U.S.’s 4-0 rout of New Zealand:


A nutmeg, elastico, rabona, dizzying turns and a smooth assist. Gedion Zelalem was a one-man highlight reel against New Zealand.

There were several standout performers for the U.S. on Tuesday, but none wowed the crowd quite like Zelalem. The Arsenal youngster pulled off a number of flicks and tricks over the course of his 90-minute shift, demonstrating the type of skill that American fans had heard he possesses but hadn’t really seen.

More important than the aesthetically pleasing moves he pulled off, Zelalem also showed a level of comfort on the ball that was quite impressive. He was pressured high up the field by New Zealand on a number of occasions, but managed to turn his way out of those situations before passing to a teammate.

Zelalem’s smoothness on the ball also led to his assist on the Americans’ third goal. He carried the ball high up the field and slipped in a neat through pass to Paul Arriola despite having a defender marking him tightly. It looked simple, but was a rare moment of vision and technique, two qualities that aren’t always packaged together in the U.S. player pool.

It might be a good thing that this game was played so late at night (U.S. time) and not as many people got to watch it. If they had, the hype train might be going full-steam ahead.


Just as Zelalem sparkled with his contributions, the three other players that head coach Tab Ramos inserted into the lineup also delivered.

Jamieson, Arriola and Desevio Payne all earned their first starts of the tournament against the Kiwis and none of them disappointed.

Jamieson was especially strong in filling in for the injured Tall, scoring the opener with a low driven shot, and impressively flicking on a goal kick from Zack Steffen that paved the way for the game’s second goal, scored by Hyndman. Jamieson’s speed and willingness to go at defenders was also on full display, making a strong case for why he should continue to start up top.

Arriola was given the nod on the wing and added a different dimension. Arriola took his goal – which came on a shot from the top of the penalty area in the second half – well and was also constant threat with long-distance shots and surging runs. Just as important was his work rate, as he consistently contributed on the defensive side of the ball as well.

At right back, Payne was trusted to stymie the Kiwis. He accomplished that feat and also got into the attack on occasion. He was an improvement over Shaquell Moore, who started and struggled in the opener vs. Myanmar, and looked sharper and more comfortable on the ball. There were a few times where Payne had his hands full defensively, which bears watching, but all in all it was a solid showing.


Carter-Vickers might be the youngest player on this U.S. squad, but you wouldn’t know it based on his performances thus far.

After setting up the equalizer vs. Myanmar with a header on a corner kick, the 17-year-old centerback proved to be a threat on set pieces once again Tuesday. Carter-Vickers won aerial balls easily and it was his nodded effort that smashed off the crossbar and fell to Jamieson in the build-up to the first U.S. goal in the sixth minute.

The Tottenham prospect also nearly scored on another opportunity. While in the penalty area for another set piece, he hit a curled effort that New Zealand goalkeeper Oliver Sail stopped with a flying save.

Defensively,the physically-imposing Carter-Vickers was just as solid. He and fellow centerback Matt Miazga held down the fort once again, showing good positional awareness and doing well to deal with almost every ball that came their way. There’s still plenty of room for Carter-Vickers to grow, but the early returns are promising and mouth-watering.


Even with the centerbacks showing well and the attack repeatedly overwhelming New Zealand, there were times when the U.S. defense looked vulnerable – primarily on counter-attacks.

With so many numbers aggressively pushing forward, New Zealand found loads of room to operate when it won the ball. The Kiwis mostly tried to exploit the flanks, but their inability to combine quickly often left their attackers isolated and in one-on-one duels that the Americans won.

While Ramos’ offensive gameplan played a part in that, the U.S. simply has to be better in thwarting threats. There were several instances where players failed to track back or did so halfheartedly, leaving defensive midfielder Marky Delgado and the back line to put out the fires all on their own.

The Americans were not exposed, per se, but a more skilled team will be able to punish them if they don’t make improvements in transition. The U.S. has quality in the attack, that much is obvious, but limiting opponents will be just as important as finding the back of the net as the tournament goes on, matches get tighter and opponents become tougher.


For the second straight match, two of the best performers were players who have been capped by the senior U.S. Men’s National Team.

Rubio Rubin and Emerson Hyndman not only continued to demonstrate the skill that has them listed among the hottest prospects in the American pipeline, but they each found the back of the net against the Kiwis. Rubin was opportunistic on his goal on Tuesday, alertly stabbing in a trickling ball that the ball-watching New Zealand defense failed to deal with. Hyndman, meanwhile, scored for the second straight match after making a trailing run.

The goals may have garnered much of the discussion in the game’s immediate aftermath, but the duo’s demonstration of confidence and skill also deserved to be lauded. Hyndman was again his polished self when in possession and distributed well and Rubin was a huge threat in the final third, at one point evidenced by a series of impressive stepovers that set up a hard shot just wide of the frame.


  1. “There were several standout performers for the U.S. on Tuesday, but none wowed the crowd quite like Zelalem.”

    yet Rubin was this site’s MOTM?… lol

  2. … That was the most complete performance I’ve ever seen from any of OUR national teams, and i’ve been watching for a while.

  3. Pardon Me, but we haven’t won a thing yet. Having smooth technical players, one who can nutmeg, back heel and rabona is all well and good. But unless they lead to a score, are all “mustard on the hotdog” You can lose just as fast with technical players as well as without.

    The US must concentrate on winning against the Ukraine to win the seed for group A and get the best pairing it can. With the luck of the draw, it may get a weak team or it may draw a Uruguay or Mexico. The US will need to win 4 straight games to get it’s best pairings and reach the finals. We have played only 2, and against teams we are supposed to beat. We have a long way to go and the US record so far shows we have only a small chance to get there. This is only a “good” team should it get to the finals, otherwise its only as good as every other US team who has never made the finals.

    Does this team have what it takes? We’ll see. When we beat an Argentina or Germany to get to or win a finals, we can then say “it’s a good team.”

    A lot of comments on this board are reflecting a sentiment that we will go far and maybe win.
    I would be a bit more pragmatic in saying that if history is a yardstick, then no, we will not go far.

    But maybe, just maybe, we have a team that can surprise.

    As Winston Wolf once said” Well let’s not go sucking each others d****s quite yet.!

    • The goal for you is the trophy. The goal for me is identifying players who understand the game, can read it at a high level and have the technical skill to keep the ball along with the creativity to create chances and the ability to finish them. I look at this event from a development standpoint. Mexico has won plenty of youth world cups but they have yet to life the world cup that really matters. Excuse me for being excited that we finally have some players who love the ball and can play the game through the midfield.

      • Exactly, Devin. It should also be noted that one of the brightest lights for the US — Tall — was extinguished at halftime in the first match. That kid looked absolutely special with a very nice goal and several brilliant plays — its a credit to our squad that we have missed him so little.

        As an Arsenal fan who has been talking up the possibility of Zelalem for over a year now I am so excited just to watch how the potential of how special he can be — but I really feel that way about so many of our players. You can see the possibilities in Arriola, Rubin & Hyndman as well imo. Sure, like everyone I want the US to win but more importantly I want to see the hope for the furture of the full USMNT. In just 2 matches — I’ve seen it.

  4. at the risk of having the usual suspects yelling ‘pump the brakes!’ and ‘stop the hype!’, a few words about zelalem:

    when you see him play, you get why he’s considered a top prospect. “smooth” is what people keep saying about him, and it’s because it just jumps out at you. his movement is incredible, and he makes difficult actions look effortless, which is telling, no matter the level of competition. i don’t think it’s that crazy to say he could be our very first world-class player.

    that said: the world is littered with “top prospects” who didn’t pan out–some for external reasons, some for self-inflicted reasons. for zelalem to reach the top level, he’s still got a huge amount of work to do. but the point is that he pretty much just has a head-start on all these other kids, which is what the scouts are paid to find.

  5. 4 paragraphs of how awesome Zelalem is and then this;
    “It might be a good thing that this game was played so late at night (U.S. time) and not as many people got to watch it. If they had, the hype train might be going full-steam ahead.” Who’s doing the hyping? So freakin hypocritical….

  6. I agree with the Carter-Vickers assessment. He looked like a man among boys even at a young age. Can anyone comment on his full commitment to the US?

    • He has always played with us but, he is a dual citizen holder and hasn’t publicly expressed his desire to ONLY play for USA.I think we have the lead but until he either publicly says or plays in a cap tying game we won’t know for sure.

    • He’s very composed for an 18 year old. Same with Zelalem,Rubin and Hyndman. They are all a cut of the rest. Also saw some flashes from Payne and Jamieson.

    • He does look pretty damn good. So young, but definitely has all the tools – he’s one of the most complete players I’ve seen at this level in quite awhile. Which is saying something, I suppose, since I think he’s still technically eligible for the U-17’s.

      Re: his US commitment, American Soccer Now did a profile on him a little while ago where he was talking about it. Sciaretta asked him about being called up by England and he said he’d have to think about it for awhile, but that he feels more loyalties towards America, he likes playing for us and couldn’t see himself playing for England. I know that amounts to a non-committal committal, but the sense I came away with from reading that interview is that he genuinely does love playing for the US, but that he’s also still very much English.

      I think the reality is that no one, probably not even CCV himself, can really give a solid answer at this point. England has showed zero interest in him so far, so the decisions have kind of been made for him. If he continues to put on displays like this and starts to make more waves in Tottenham’s set-up (he’s already the captain of the U-21’s at 17), can’t imagine England will keep ignoring him. Anyway, definitely something to keep an eye on.

  7. Kellyn Acosta was also much improved. He wasn’t required to bomb up the flank as much, but he was tidy and energetic. He played DM in the last 5 minutes when Requejo came on and after Delgado was subbed.

    • I would like to see Acosta at D-mid and Requejo at left back for most of the Ukraine game. I think that might actually create an even stronger lineup. Basically what we saw against New Zealand with those two changes for the knockout phase.

      • Agreed, you can tell Acosta isn’t comfortable with his left foot or playing as an outside back. When he has played centrally for FC Dallas, he has looked really good. I think a central midfield of Hyndman, GZ and Acosta would be quality. Acosta also has more pace than Delgado, so transition defense should improve drastically with him sweeping in front of the back 4, or covering for one of the outside backs.

  8. Completely agree about Zelelam. Even during his cameo during the Myanmar game, I watched him off the ball. He is extremely smart in space. Despite not being in sync that game, you can tell he is a special player.

    Let’s pump the breaks on the big hype on Zelelam right now. My biggest criticism is that he avoids his left foot like the plague! I had watched highlights at Arsenal and noticed that. But after watching these two games, that is a weakness.

    On a few occasions, he had the ball in the attacking third and slowed up play or missed a run because of his lack of using his left foot.

    On play, I think he had Arriola running into the box and instead of a slicing through ball on the ground with his left, he decided to try a flick with his right.

    That will not fly on the senior level for either the USMNT or Arsenal.

    For him to raise to the next level, he will need to at least get comfortable with that left. Reality is that players at a high level, like in the BPL, find it more efficient sticking to a strong foot for most of the time. But they have that other foot at their disposal when needed. To unleash a shot, pass, etc. Dempsey is a great example of that – he seemed to have picked that up in the BPL.

    At the u20 level, Zelelam is confident, has the time/skill to get himself out of pressure situations, and his size is not a big weakness yet. He is a star for our u20 team.

    He is a very high level soccer player. He has a left foot. But I hope he develops it so that he is unpredictable. If I was a defender right now, I would make him go left until he made me look stupid.

    • “Let’s pump the breaks on the big hype on Zelelam right now.”
      Let us be exited! Don’t show us your American football pessimism.

      • Love the enthusiasm, Darwin.
        I am excited. Very excited. We all should be watching kids like Hyndman and GZ (for example) growing up through this u20 WC.

        Please do not take my post as pessimistic. Just realistic.
        For anyone that did not watch the game, this article painted GZ a bit like the next Messi. Little hyperbole going on in this article and that is why I said “pump the breaks” for now.

        As I said and completely agree, very good player. Excited to watch him. Excited to watch this team – admittedly, more so than the u23s.

        As an American Soccer fan, I enjoy watching players at all levels both with an optimistic and critical eye.

        Over the years, Ives has done a great job of this – staying even keeled and realistic with the team and players. I admire that.

      • My observation is he won’t be able to get away with a lot of the tricks at the next level. We always here about the speed of the game and a lot of kids can do these tricks at the lower levels, but eventually give them up at the higher levels. Only a few special players can routinely pull these off (i.e messi, CR7). I don’t see GZ having quite the same talent, so he will have to adapt as he moves up and pick his moments to pull out the tricks. (IMHO)

    • Zelelam has IT. His soccer IQ is phenomenal and I agree that his movement off the ball is stellar. He most certainly favors his right foot, but he is so deadly with it, it won’t matter for some time. I’m sure he’s been told numerous times about it.One player for the US that is similar is Agudelo. He is all right foot, but makes it work with confidence and shiftiness.

      I was excited to see the link up between Zelelam and Hyndman throughout the game. Their decision making and quickness showed their experience. It’s exciting to realize that they both work on their craft in England. If they both can grow physically, the future of the midfield in the US is bright!

    • They have been making him go left and they still cant stop him. Myanmar pressed him hard and he was able to use movement and body position to wriggle out of trouble and deliver the pass. NZ backed off and tried to play some kind of zone and he picked out the passes. I thought as a possession mid he was better in the Myanmar game but he was more spectacular and creative during the NZ game. I think if he plays vs Ukraine they will try to get physical with him but that will fail too. If the right is working for him then he can slowly build the left up but I have seen enough X footed players have great success to know that it isn’t necessarily a weakness. I think he saw some of the runs you mentioned but chose to slow things down sometimes and go for the higher probability pass than the potential key pass. He only took any real risk on through balls when he knew he would be the assisting player.

    • “That will not fly on the senior level for either the USMNT or Arsenal.”

      If you’re good enough it will fly anywhere.

      I’m not sure Mesut Ozil has a right foot. He’s incredible, but he’s also one of the most one footed players in the game, and his importance to Arsenal’s first team is increasing every match.

      Perhaps his one footedness is offset by Santi Cazorla’s two-footedness. I’m not sure I’ve seen many players as comfortable with both as Santi.


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