The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team’s draw with Saudi Arabia was enough to push the group into the knockout round, but the result didn’t come without consequence as the Round of 16 looms.
Due to a controversial red card, Cameron Carter-Vickers is set to serve a one-game suspension for Thursday’s Round of 16 clash with New Zealand, depriving the U.S. of a defensive star. Add in yellow card suspensions to Derrick Jones and Aaron Herrera and the U.S. defense and midfield faces a major reshuffle ahead of what will certainly be a difficult match.
Given the trio of suspensions, and injury to Gedion Zelalem, the U.S. is extremely short-handed with just 17 players eligible to dress for the match. Tab Ramos will need to manage some shuffling and some difficult choices as he looks to assemble a team capable of knocking off New Zealand.
With that in mind, here’s a look at a potential lineup Ramos could lean on for Thursday’s match:
Heading into Thursday’s match, Ramos will need to make three key decisions. He’ll need to figure out how to replace the team’s best defender, and, arguably, best player. He’ll need to manage a fullback position that has always been this group’s weakness. And, finally, he’ll need to figure out a midfield that is suddenly very, very thin.
Starting from the back, we can at least all but guarantee Jonathan Klinsmann is safe, but what happens in front of him is anyone’s guess. With Carter-Vickers suspended due to his dubious dismissal, the U.S. is without their backline anchor. Centerback is likely the team’s biggest strength, giving Ramos a few options.
He could continue to roll with Erik Palmer-Brown who has, to his credit, been spectacular. The Sporting KC defender could be paired with either Justen Glad or Tommy Redding, two players plenty capable of stepping in. Or, given the absence of a defensive midfielder like Jones, Ramos could push Palmer-Brown up to the No. 6 role he played in qualifying, taking advantage of the centerback depth.
Tyler Adams and Eryk Williamson should both be in the lineup, but neither is a pure No. 6. The ramifications of playing without a pure defensive mid were felt early against Ecuador via an early blitz. Jones’ introduction calmed all of that down. He won’t be there on Thursday, but the lessons learned from his early absence should surely be felt. Does it hurt the backline to move Palmer-Brown up? Sure, but it’s better than the alternative of tying one of Adams or Williamson down to a position that doesn’t truly fit them.
Then there’s the fullback position. Without Herrera, the U.S. is missing a starter at a position with virtually no depth. Adams is a player that has played the position, but he’s been too good in a box-to-box role to shift back without major consequences. Ramos could move one of the centerbacks out wide or drop one of the wingers back and hope for the best, but starting Auston Trusty is the best bet as the Philadelphia Union defender goes from injury replacement to Round of 16 starter.
The rest of the lineup is pretty straightforward. No one is taking Josh Sargent’s place atop the field, and the service from Luca de la Torre and Brooks Lennon has been too good to break up that trio. Sebastian Saucedo becomes a valuable bench option if the U.S. is in need of a goal, while Emmauel Sabbi and Jeremy Ebobisse could also be potential forward subs if the U.S. is chasing.
Adams and Williamson remain the midfield stars and the two will need to continue to balance play from their box-to-box roles. Adams has been one of the team’s top players, and he’ll have to have to be on again to help push a shorthanded U.S. team into the quarterfinal round.