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

The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team’s World Cup dreams are over.

Ecuador handed the U.S. a 2-1 defeat on Saturday in the quarterfinals, and it was a subpar performance on both sides of the ball that did the Americans in and ended their run in Poland.

Here are some thoughts on the loss and tournament in general:


For the second straight match, the U.S. clearly struggled with the physical aspect of the match. Ecuador’s players were on average noticeably bigger, stronger, and faster, especially in the middle of the park.

What that resulted in — as it did in much of the Round of 16 showdown vs. France — is the U.S. midfield being overrun and overmatched, particularly in the first half when Ecuador was pushing for goals. The Americans could not and did not win many 50-50s or second balls, which allowed Ecuador to dictate the tempo with repeated possessions.

The threat of getting beat for speed on the dribble also took its mental toll on Chris Durkin (and to a lesser extent) Alex Mendez. In fear of getting burned, they each began to back off Ecuador’s attackers to try and contain them instead of pressuring the ball.

That led to acres of space to shoot from distance, which the Ecuadoreans realized and how they found their opener.

Look at Durkin on the play. He hustles back from ways away, but then makes the mistake of setting into his defensive position instead of harrying the ballcarrier.

The interesting thing is that the U.S. is traditionally known as being a physical side. Tab Ramos clearly sacrificed some athleticism this time around in order to have more technical players on the field, which is not a bad thing but something that we’re not used to seeing.


A repeated criticism of this group has been an inability to create clear-cut chances with frequency, and that trend continued on Saturday.

Even when Ecuador began to throw numbers back at the start of the second half to try and protect the lead, the U.S. could not muster up enough quality in the final third. There was one play early on in which substitute Ulysses Llanez found Sebastian Soto gloriously inside the penalty area, but the striker made two poor decisions:

  • first, by taking a touch instead of shooting a one-timed effort
  • second, by forcing the shot with his right foot instead of his left.

Soto should have done better on the play, but the Americans as a whole should have done better at generating more of that type of high-quality look on goal in order to improve their chances of finding an equalizer. They didn’t, repeatedly appearing out of ideas and solutions in the final third and settling mostly for hopeful hits from distance.

Even the U.S.’s opener came from a deflected corner kick that fell to Tim Weah (who finished exquisitely).

For all the improved technical abilities on the field and good stretches with the ball at this World Cup, the U.S. did not not make the most of it. It was possession without production.


For the third straight U-20 World Cup, the Americans’ run ended in the quarterfinals. Compared to the last two teams, however, this side showed it could play a bit more. The players were more comfortable on the ball, better at keeping possession, and combining with one another, all of which we have not seen much of with recent national teams at any level.

It is true that the performances on a game-by-game basis were inconsistent, but that is expected when it comes youth teams. The biggest takeaways from this tournament, though, should be that the U.S. as a whole showed positively and that there are players with good enough starting points that could one day make the jump to the senior national team.

Does that mean we should start crowning players and making them out to be the next coming? No. Absolutely not. Nothing in this tournament showed that any of these youngsters are going to be guaranteed difference-makers on a consistent basis at the next level. Not even Weah, who was the only player to routinely make plays but had large stretches where he was invisible.

What these players are is promising and some of them certainly have potential, but what they do next at the club level will be more important than what they did this summer.


If Tab Ramos still wants to test himself as a head coach at the pro level (and he said before the tournament began that he would like to at some point in his career), now is the time.

Ramos has led three successful U-20 World Cup showings and looks ready to to move onto a higher level to see how he does. Yes, he still has some things to work on as a coach, including his in-game management, but Ramos has demonstrated with his youth teams that he can get the most out of his groups.

Obviously, coaching a club side every day and a youth national team every couple months is different, and we do not know yet how Ramos will handle a pro locker room filled with distinct personalities and a range of players. Still, he has proven himself worthy of getting a chance to make the jump.

If he wants to keep coaching the U-20 team, U.S. Soccer would be hard-pressed to say no to him. If he wants to seek out other opportunities, though, then now is the perfect chance.


  1. I’m not sure how many of you were watching the same game I did–the USA actually looked like the better team–and the one that generated repeated attacks for their opponents to weather–and Ecuador’s win was against the run of play as I saw it.

  2. This criticism seems a little harsh considering how this team performed. We beat the tournament favorite in a world cup knockout game, showed technical skill on par with the best u20 teams, and had plenty of that old school American fight. We had our chances against the SA champions. Overall, I always felt we had a real shot at winning the tournament, something I have never felt for the senior team at a world cup. Let’s save the picky criticism for the senior team, which has more than earned it over the last few years. But this u20 team played very well and repped us well, congrats to them.

    • The team also looked like the lesser team against France and Qatar, so let’s not go too far the other way either.

  3. Overall, Ecuador was a better team as evidenced by the US failing to win its share of 50-50 balls. I don’t think you can really fault the US effort or its quality, they just played a better team but managed to hang in and be competitive. It will be interesting to see which players improve in the next few years; there were some obvious things the players could have learned from this tourney and some will learn from those moments.

    I did think that Weah had the best game I’ve seen him play; not because of the goal, but because he was nearly always available for a teammate’s pass and he did not fail to defend when called upon to do so. In short Weah’s soccer brain has developed in the last year at a good rate, if he continues that mental improvement coupled with his physical attributes and skill, he will become a special player.

    I have a feeling that the Ukraine and Ecuador will meet in the final.

    • Hang in there and manage to compete? LOL!!!! They had their chances to win this game. Did you see the game?. The US played well. It could have gone either way.

  4. Tab got bailed out versus France when Mendez and Durkin couldn’t play. It is predictable they couldn’t handle a fast and strong team. Tab shows his weakness for roster construction and over the top loyalty to some players despite them not being as good as other option. Thank goodness the last of Sunil’s political buddies will be gone. Thank goodness a top notch youth director fell into our lap, Wicky, and will take over… damn lucky and a bigger deal than most understand. If Tab gets an MLS gig he will fail miserably. Count on it. It’s obvious. Onward. The last of the political cancers, appointed by the in over his head academic, is being removed. Hooray!

  5. I’m not sure you can just say it is because Ecuador was physically better. Were Alvarado, Alzacaba and Plata physically dominant in the midfield? Not really. They were more skilled and made better decisions at a faster rate over the course of the game than the US midfield. Although Polmykal looked good for the last 70 minutes. The US did not look a bad team against the South American champions. Reading this, one would think they were played off the field. The defense was very poor on the first goal. Everyone backed away and the Ecuadorian hit a pile driver of a shot. It was well taken. The second goal actually started when a midfield player made a very poor decision to slide the Ecuadorian player coming in late and whiffed. It created an attacking lane 40 yards long. These are the types of decisions that separated the teams. I’d like to think if the USA finishes a couple of those golden opportunities in the box, you see a different game. When it was 1-1, Ecuador looked a little tighter and arguably ripe for the taking.

  6. Totally agree with “OVERPOWERED PHYSICALLY” as the first problem in this game. The players are much improved with ball handling and passing but we need a few good linebackers out there with those ball skills and speed.

  7. I’ve been following US soccer since 1990. I can remember when US players couldn’t even control a hard pass and rarely had a good first touch. I find it refreshing that we can put out a youth team that has enough skill to hold its own with the best in the world. This team was better than the last one that was better than the one before that. We have a record number of young players on the rosters of teams in top European leagues. I like our upward trajectory and this large arc should be foremost when evaluating this team and our youth teams in general. Also, I think that some of these kids are 17 or 18. I hesitate to criticize individual players who are high school or college freshman age. Teddy Roosevelt defined success as doing the best you can with what you have where you are. If a young player gives it his all and tries his best, you can’t really expect more than that. As in any aspect of life, some will be found wanting.

    • In what year do we finally win a tournament? This crapola of playing good or great despite losing is not working here anymore.

  8. This is finally an accurate assessment. The midfield defensively speaking, were too casual and constantly being overrun.
    But it still took 2 amazing plays for Ecuador to score. One a golazo, and two an amazing almost golazo that rang off the crossbar and put in.
    The US played ok and there is a sense that this tournament brought many more positives than negatives as an assessment of the progress of the US program. The real standouts to me were Weah, Llanez, Pomykal, Mendez, Dest, Richards, and Soto. Looking forward to seeing them grow into the full national team.
    Some were either overhyped or just simply underachieved.
    Statistically speaking, usually in the powerhouse nations in tournaments like these only about 20% of the youth national team roster end up being pivotal players for their respective full national teams.


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