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USMNT U-20s 2, Nigeria 0: The SBI Breakdown

The path to the Round of 16 has gone from tricky to more than manageable. All thanks to a bounce-back performance in which there was plenty of progress and one major but necessary tactical adjustment.

Monday’s 2-0 win over Nigeria has the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team in good position to reach the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup. The Americans are currently in third place in Group D with three points, but a win over Qatar on Thursday should be more than enough to ensure a longer stay in Poland.

Here are some thoughts on the U.S. victory:


Plenty of people will talk about the goals (and with good reason), but Sebastian Soto’s introduction to the lineup was about more than just bringing in a more traditional center forward.

Tab Ramos seemed to realize one of his mistakes from the 2-1 defeat to Ukraine, inserting Soto into the lineup in place of midfielder Brandon Servania and having him be the spearhead of the attack. The move helped put players like Tim Weah (on the wing) and Paxton Pomykal (at the 10) in their best positions, improving their chances to succeed and thus optimizing the Americans’ shot at pulling out the three points.

Neither Weah nor Pomykal were overly influential (Weah was pretty poor once again), but the group as a whole looked much more comfortable playing off a true No. 9. Part of that was because Nigeria played less organized and more open than Ukraine, but another part is because this possession-based U.S. team had a player up top capable of creating space for himself and others with his movement in the penalty area.

Soto’s second goal was an example of that. The young forward made a short diagonal run behind the shoulder of the unsuspecting Valentine Ozornwafor, and he was rewarded with a well-weighted pass that put him in on goal. The end result (though he got some help from some juvenile goalkeeping) was an insurance tally that killed Nigeria’s momentum.

If the Americans are going to have a shot at making a deep run in this tournament, Soto has to lead the front line.


Soto’s 46th-minute strike may have come from some good passing and movement in the attacking third, but the Americans as a whole struggled once again with the end product.

For all the possession the U.S. had (finishing the game with 59%), it still did not manage to create an abundance of clear-cut chances. The Americans only managed to put a total of three shots on frame on the day against a Nigeria side that did not throw numbers behind the ball in the way swarming Ukraine did. What’s more, one of those goal-bound attempts on Monday, Soto’s headed opener, came off a set piece.

Mustering just two shots on target from the run of play when you have the ball that much is not a recipe for consistent success. Not unless your defense can play lights out, which the U.S. back line has not proven to this point.

The Americans need more from their wingers and attacking playmaker, especially from Weah. The 19-year-old speedster not only missed a golden chance to make it 2-0 in the first half, but he was also largely a non-factor for the second game running.

While more has to be expected of Weah, he is not the only one that needs to do better with his play in the final third. Konrad De La Fuente needs to learn to be more decisive and aggressive after creating space on the dribble, and Pomykal has to better mix up his range of passes and hit a few through balls in behind to test opposing back lines.

Do that and this American attack will have an added dimension, which will surely be needed against the tougher opponents in the tournament.


There is no denying that Soto was the key figure in Monday’s victory, but the two U.S. players that have had the best showings through the first couple of World Cup games are De La Fuente and Alex Mendez.

While De La Fuente could certainly do better with his decision-making after creating some separation on the dribble (he tends to cut back or slow down too often), he has demonstrated over his 180 minutes that he is very willing to go at defenders. His qualities on the ball are why so many attacks went through him on Monday, as he routinely made himself available for the outlet pass before confidently testing the opposition with his craftiness and cleverness. The one first-half play where he rounded his mark on the dribble was filthy, and something not many other players in the pool can pull off.

Mendez, for his part, continues to be the most forward-thinking player in this group. He was at it again against Nigeria, taking turns (accurately) giving it a go from distance, spraying a range passes to teammates, and delivering pinpoint set pieces like the one that Soto nodded home.

The 18-year-old central midfielder needs to work on his positional awareness (he lost a ball in a dangerous spot late in the first half that could have led to a goal). He could also do a better job of chipping in defensively, too. That said, he is the biggest scoring threat from distance, a solid dead-ball specialist, and has impressive vision. His first-half through ball into space for Weah, for instance, was a thing of beauty and deserving of a better finish.

Don’t be surprised to see those two continue to excel vs. Qatar.


  1. The team played well as a whole. The issue with Weah is that he wasn’t PSG-starter good, so we need to pump the brakes on the expectations. De la Fuente was good, but looked out of sync with teammates. Hopefully the next game helps them gel and start working as a team that can go deep in the tournament.

  2. Pomykal has been good but I don’t think anyone has really been bad at all. I think this is a good solid team all around. Everyone has had better good than bad moments. Expectations were probably to high on some players than others. Lets hope they make it through group and reevaluate after that.

  3. Agree with the general sentiment of this analysis. Ramos was correct to bring in Soto and shift to a 4-2-3-1. This young side continues to move the ball around the park with a level of confidence and purpose not generally associated with the US mens program.

    Disagree with the comments about Weah and Pomykal. Pomykal was dynamic and a constant thorn in Nigeria’s side.

    Pomykal really excites me for two reasons. First, he has a great center of gravity and understanding of the game, so his positioning and ability to take the ball on the turn in small pockets of space is top class. Second, he gives passes with his left foot that are filled with technique. They not only arrive to the right target but contain the correct amount of pace or spin to enable the person receiving the ball to actually do something with it immediately. The following analogy is unfair to the young FC Dallas player because of the expectations it places on him, but Pomykal’s game reminds me of David Silva.

    I thought Weah looked very good yesterday, despite having room to grow. With Soto able to lead the line and effectively link-play, Weah stretched the game, worked his sideline defensively and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet. Did he make the wrong decision in the final third a few times? Yes. But I attribute that mostly to a young man overburden by hype and trying too hard to impress. Hopefully, Weah will continue to settle himself and realize that if he lets the game come to him, he will continue to demonstrate why he earned a contract at P$G.

    I wanted to conclude with a comment on Konrad De La Fuente, because I have seen people questioning his talent in other threads. What impresses me most about Fuente is not his dribbling, or ability to beat players in the final 3rd, but his decision making in the midfield. This is particularly clear in incidents when possession is undefined and contested along his wing. De La Fuente routinely made decisive one touch passes to the correct US midfielder, enabling the team the time to settle, switch play, and retain possession. In the course of a 90 minute match, these small plays build team dominance. This knowledge of the game is light years ahead of a handful of current MLS and USMNT first team players. It shows why Konrad is in the team despite being on the youngish side for this u20 tournament.

    • Yeah I agree, his vision on the ball is excellent and works back more than enough to cover for dest and gloster, I actually though mendez was the one who struggled, especially after his head injury.

  4. I don’t understand the negative description of Weah. He has been very good over two games and is clearly the US’ top player. Pomykal has been influential too. There’s no sense in over criticizing.

    It appears as though the US team is still working things out. This is a tournament…I’d expect the team play to improve and for the confidence to grow.

    Weah is doing well.

    • It’s all about expectations. I’d say expectations for Weah have gotten a bit out of hand. He’s just another of our promising youth prospects right now but nothing more.

    • He was good against Nigeria but was pretty poor in the first match, but I view him a lot more as a winger. If you play him up top youre just looking to play behind constantly, which didn’t work, he provides little in the way of hold up play. I will say I don’t think he’s clearly our best player, that’s either pomykal or Richards for me.

    • I agree and I might go so far as to say I actually thought Weah added more to the attack than De La Fuente, but that might just be me? I also thought Pomykal was one of the best on the night.

      • I’m a barca fan and I wasn’t really impressed by Konrad, extremely raw, not great in possession (how at barca?), and he doesn’t track back the best. I would like him better as a sub when needing a goal. I would start llanez against Qatar and see if he can be an improvement.

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