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USMNT U-20s 3, France 2: The SBI Breakdown

Incredible. Remarkable. Impressive. Exciting. Stunning.

The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team pulled off one of (if not the biggest) upsets of this World Cup on Tuesday, combining the traditional American grit and determination with a dose of efficiency in front of goal to come from behind and shock France, 3-2. The rally took place in the final 16 minutes of the game, and pushed the U.S. through to the quarterfinals for the third time in as many competitions.

Here are some thoughts on the victory:


Tab Ramos caught some flak last week, including here on SBI, for not rotating his squad enough in that flat performance vs. Qatar. On Tuesday, however, he deserved plenty of praise.

Ramos pushed all the right buttons after the U.S. went down 2-1 in the second half, particularly with his substitutions, and that made the world of difference as the Americans mounted a memorable comeback. The U.S. head coach inserted Ulysses Llanez and Justin Rennicks for an ineffective Konrad De La Fuente and exhausted Richard Ledezma, respectively, and both reserves made an impact.

The most significant contribution obviously came from Rennicks, who did just what you’re taught when you’re learning the game as a kid by following up a shot, in this case Sergino Dest’s effort from distance

Nine times out of 10, that shot is swallowed by the goalkeeper or parried wide, which is why making that run can seem pointless and tedious. Rennicks, however, alertly realized the chance for a rebound as the ball was getting to goalkeeper Alban Lafont — who, it came out afterwards, was playing with an injured wrist — and his dogged determination to get to it first had him and the U.S. reaping the rewards.

In Llanez’s case, it was the second straight match in which he brought an injection of energy and a willingness to go at defenders. Llanez also moved the ball well, with his finding of Tim Weah in the lead-up to Sebastian Soto’s equalizer notable.

Llanez looked so good in his 27 minutes of action on Tuesday, and in his previous cameo vs. Qatar, that you have to think Ramos is considering starting him against Ecuador. It is not clear if Llanez is fit enough to go the distance as a starter, but if he is or if he is close to it, then he should get the nod over De La Fuente, who has started every game on the right wing thus far despite struggling with his decision-making and final ball.


One of the main characteristics that have long been a staple of U.S. Men’s National Teams, though not as much in recent years, is resiliency. It was on full display vs. France and pivotal to orchestrating the comeback.

The young Americans demonstrated that never-say-die attitude — against a more talented opponent, no less — throughout the game but especially after falling behind 10 minutes into the second half. Rather than look out of sorts and out of answers after Nabil Alioui fired home to put France up 2-1, the U.S. stuck with it and kept trying to find a way.

Ramos’ first two substitutions obviously provided a big boost, but the group as a whole just did not seem all that fazed or ready to throw in the towel. The Americans’ response to going down was just what you would hope for from your team if you’re a coach, as the players kept on playing and pushing for an equalizer that eventually came.

Seeing that mental fortitude, grit, and heart on display should be a welcome sign for U.S. fans, especially after witnessing the senior national team fold multiple times in recent years when faced with adversity. The young Americans may have gotten smacked in the face by France shortly after halftime, but they punched back and ultimately landed the knockout blow.

It should also be noted that the U.S.’s efficiency in front of goal, especially that of the clinical Soto, was a key factor in advancing. The Americans put just four shots on target against France, but three of those were taken with aplomb.


While there is no denying that the U.S. put forth a heck of a fight to claw back from 2-1 down against a superior opponent, the late push and final result should not blind anyone of the Americans’ poor performance over 90 minutes. Yes, the result matters most, but the overall showing is also worth taking into account.

In that regard, analyzing the totality of the match and not just the result, it’s clear the U.S. was the worse of the two sides on the balance of play on Tuesday. The Americans looked outmatched and struggled largely for much of the first 60-65 minutes, allowing France to dictate the tempo and create good looks (one in front of the net was headed off target due to a poor cross and another off a nice sequence kissed the post before rolling out of play) while misfiring on plenty of their passes themselves.

The U.S. only managed to look threatening on the counter in the first half and things got worse early on in the second stanza after France made the halftime adjustment of getting back into its shape after losing the ball rather than pressing immediately like it did in the first half. It seems the French learned their lesson as to how deadly the Americans can be in transition after conceding the 25th-minute opener via a well-taken effort from Soto.

What followed was the U.S. struggling to inflict any damage on France, which won the possession battle on the day by a 62-38 mark. Making matters worse was that France’s attack did well to create space to exploit against the Americans, outshooting them by a 15-7 margin.

The back line had avoidable breakdowns, too, primarily on the second France goal when left back Chris Gloster was caught out of position, Aboubacar Keita torched, and Dest ball-watching. The first goal was due more to Ramos’ poor instructions to press high on a goal kick rather than get organized and in shape, but the U.S. as a whole could not find a way to slow down France up until playmaker Moussa Diaby suffered what seemed to be at least one knock midway through the second half.

Of course, the Americans overcame all of that thanks in part to their heart and a high efficiency in front of goal, but that should not mask their overall showing.

Yes, the the end result for the U.S. was superb. The overall display, however, was subpar.


  1. IMHO, the name of the game in Soccer is scoring goals, and the team which takes the best advantage of its opportunities is typically the team which wins. Team USA gave the best demonstration of this winning technique, I have seen, in quite some time. The “thru-passes” were spot on and demonstrated a “deft touch” by the originators. Hopefully, these skills will continue and become a main-stay of USA Soccer at all levels. Only then will the USA begin to erode the European dominance in men’s Soccer. If the USA can continue this level of play here, they can come home with the W/C!!!

  2. Disagree with this analysis. U.S. looked dangerous, quick, and crafty with the ball. France was fouling them, starting with their forwards, like a bunch of hackers in the first half to slow them down. I’m amazed the forwards didn’t both have yellows in the first half. If France’s forwards hadn’t hacked the U.S. to stop 4-5 attacks, the possession and shot stats look a lot different.

    France had a fast player and a big defender, but the U.S. looked like a better team, hacking aside.

  3. People really tend to be harsh critics of US teams. The “we won, but had less possession and didn’t dictate tempo” take is overused. We scored more goals than France!! We don’t have the talent pool that they have. But, we had enough talent to execute a plan that resulted in a victory. Enjoy the result.

  4. Franco, gotta watch the game closer and understand the modern game, my man.
    Looking at stats does not paint a full picture in soccer.

    Watch the Champions League lately?

    Tottenham possession: 65%, shots 16
    Liverpool possession: 35%, shots 14

    Furthermore, Liverpool vs. Barca. Result: Liverpool wins 4-0.

    Barca possession: 70%, shots 13
    Liverpool possession: 30%, shots 7

    • haha have to apologize, my liverpool vs. barca stats were completely wrong. hahaha.

      Barca had 58% possession. to Liverpool’s 42%.
      Liverpool did outshoot Barca, 13 to 8.

      My bad – the original stats were from an International Cup game couple of years ago by the same scoreline. haha.

      But my point stands. Tottenham completed 510 passes in the final. To Liverpool’s 272.

  5. They went up against the tourney favorites (a UEFA team playing in Europe at that). How much possession is expected of the US in that scenario? They absorbed the pressure when needed, struck back when opportunity allowed, and finished their chances reasonably well. End of the day, the goal of the game is to put the “biscuit in the basket” more often than your opponent by whatever means available … and they did.

  6. “In that regard, analyzing the totality of the match and not just the result, it’s clear the U.S. was the worse of the two sides on the balance of play on Tuesday.”

    Absolutely NO ONE believed that the US weas the better team before the game started or while the game was going on. There may be a day, in 20 years, where the US national program instills fear in every other country. But that day has not arrived and is still decades away. France has been producing world class players by the bushel (and winning World Cup and European titles) since the early 80’s.

    So let’s drop this phony “reality check” that we are disappointed the US was not the better team. You’re not telling us anything we all didn’t know

    • While I agree the French team was better man for man, the gulf while significant was not immense and it tended to be in terms of the top range talent. Several US players were comparable to the bottom and mid tier French players. The number of very talented US players coming out of Academies is rapidly expanding. What does not exist yet are the really elite players. For me this suggests the time frame for fielding a top level team is more along the 5 to 15 year range and not the “decades” stated.

  7. USNT weakness: Keita was not very solid, Konrad got worn out and out muscle, Pomykal was not very creative or controlling the tempo, Gloster being beaten many times. But Ledesma was pleasant surprise and I would love to see Ledesma start again, seeing Ledesman using his vision vs. more physical Opposition. Dest hold the ball and could deal against more bigger and faster players.

    • Yea and not to mention Soto going 1v1 with the keep, tried to get around. Should of put it away. A 4-2 result would dramatically change the tone of this article!

      We had a clear game plan to counter. Were never going to out possess the french. The author here saying we played poor despite result didnt watch the game closely. Yes, our D needs to firm up in order to progress.

  8. Sure, France dictated tempo and had more possession, but I never felt like our team was overmatched. I actually thought we had the perfect mix of pressure and patience defensively. Yes, Diaby torched our left side at times, but that is going to happen to every team that has to face him. Our attackers have the skills to counter, and we did that perfectly. I maintain this team plays better soccer than I have seen from our senior men’s team in many years. This is the best result for US soccer since the women won the world cup. Congrats u20s!

    • Agreed! Our up tempo defensive pressure cause many turnovers in the french half. It was great. You can tell early on that we had a counter game plan. They looked fearless and took it to them.

  9. This team is different – sometimes very poor and inconsistent, sometimes brilliant. Very much a mix. But they are finding a positive team spirit, and that can turn into wins. What I liked was the effort. Even when the 1 v1 matchup favored France on most chances, and there were a lot of them, these were fiercely contested. With this player pool, the chance of someone making a difference is higher because many of these players have that potential. Do they deliver consistently? Not yet, but the odds are good someone will do something very well. I guess we will see.

  10. If berhalter starts struggling tab ramos should be the next U.S coach this time we shouldnt wait long like we did with klinsmann by the time arena came there wasn’t much to fix players were a mess.

    • Haha wow. Look, we can celebrate Tab today but this team should be expected to make it passed the quarters.

      He got to the quarters before with less talent. Tab needs to get experience managing adults first.

      This is the most talented u20 team we’ve ever had. Expectations should be high.

    • Agree on Ramos was thinking the same thing last night. Why is it Weah can’t make Hold Cup roster he’s young could easily switch camps after 20’s finish in Poland. Berhalter seems to want to give MLS guys every chance to succeed.

  11. “The result shouldn’t mask the performance “

    I don’t get this statement. They played the odds on favorite of the tournament. I’m sure the US team and Ramos were under no illusions as to whether they’d dictate the play of game. France’s pool of professional players under 20 years olds playing top level soccer is leagues deeper than the US. It was evident from the get go that France plays at a higher level.
    In the end it’s who wins that matters most. The US knew the points of battles that they needed to win in order to beat France and they did just that with a bit of luck of course.
    Credit to them. Go USA!!!

    • What I wrote after the Qatar game is still true. SBI has been unduly harsh on this team. They are so much more skilled than prior US youth teams, but few teams at this level has as many players starting in top European leagues as this French team. The US wasn’t subpar, France is just that good. In any tournament you want to survive and advance. The US is currently farther along than a lot of top teams. That is all that matters at this stage. You worry about how well a team plays in friendlies. In tournaments it’s all about the winning.

      • Tab Ramos does have to address Keita’s lack of foot speed issue though. Both France goals did expose Keita’s lack of speed.

    • Totally disagreed with Franco Panizo’s “Results don’t Mask Performance” assessment. France U20 was a good team. Our young lads’ performance was not subpar at all today. The author’s expectation was just unrealistic.Go USA!

  12. USAs most recent game against France, before today, was a 2-2 draw back in march. Last year, these two teams each won once against the other. Today was the rubber match, and USA came out on top. Counter attacking football has become all the rage. If a team, lets just call them Leicester city, can win the EPL, it seems like it would be most wise, to know how they did it. I can assure you, it was not controlling possession for large stretches, or even dictating tempo. It happened because they played outstanding defense, and countered with lethal accuracy. You think Klopp cares about possession? No he does not!


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