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Llanez penalty winner lifts USMNT past Costa Rica in 2020 opener

Ulysses Llanez enjoyed a national team debut to remember, and the U.S. Men’s National Team saw its very busy 2020 start in winning fashion with a promising victory for its young squad.

Llanez converted a 50th-minute penalty kick to cap an energetic first USMNT cap and help the Americans post a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday.

Fielding the youngest starting lineup every deployed for a January camp friendly, the USMNT outplayed a more experienced Costa Rica lineup in the first match of the year for both squads.

The Americans created the bulk of the opportunities on the day, but Costa Rican goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado made several impressive saves to frustrate the USMNT and cover for his teammates, who were thoroughly outplayed by their younger counterparts.

Jesus Ferreira was another of the Americans to make his national team debut, and he nearly set up an opening goal in the 14th minute when he sprang Paul Arriola with a perfect pass, but Alvarado denied Arriola’s chance to keep the match goal-less.

Costa Rica had the best chance of the first half, but wasted it when LA Galaxy defender Giancarlo Gonzalez blasted a free header off the crossbar in the 24th minute.

That was the only real chance the Ticos were able to generate, while the Americans continued to test Alvarado in the first half. Sebastian Lletget came close to his own goal just before halftime, but had his deflected shot saved by Alvarado.

The second half saw the Americans continue to control the match, with Arriola leading the charge with his work on the right wing. Arriola helped spring Reggie Cannon with a well-placed layoff pass on the right wing that helped draw a penalty foul by Costa Rica’s David Guzman.

Llanez, the youngest player in the USMNT lineup, stepped up to the penalty spot and converted the penalty attempt with a hard shot that gave Alvarado no chance.

The USMNT returns to action in March, with a pair of friendlies in Europe, facing Netherlands in Eindhoven before taking on Wales in Cardiff.


  1. Gotta say every time Yuell plays he impresses, especially w/ positional sense and passing. Can he cut it against top teams? Not sure yet Cannon made Arriola look good. Lots of overlaps.

  2. The kids looked good and I would stop calling in a fair number of those GB has been using. These kids showed way more than many of the others have. GB needs to go young NOW…. no more Bradley, Jozy…. Ream…. and many others that have not showed well

    Of concern to me is despite all the possession, good buildups and good passing …. no goals during the run of play. Took a PK to get the win. This has to be a concern

  3. Llanez looks legit AF. Vines was a revelation! (A good American left back in MLS??) And Aaronson was solid too.

    Trying to keep my expectations realistic but saw several good additions to the player pool, so this game was a surprising success.

  4. Llanez has great ability 1 vs 1 and on the wing. Looking forward to him being a part of the team also looking forward to ledesma getting a call and reyna as well the pressure of criticism for ussoccer from fans was heard they seemed to hear our criticism about incorporating the youth specifically U20. Don’t forget DE LA fuente. The fact that barcelona is pressuring him to stay is a very good indication that he is very good and he showed he has tremendous talent on the right wing. Very pumped and excited with very promising talent pulisic ledesma llanez pomykal adams Mendez dest antoinne robinson hyndman Lynden gooch Dwayne holmes Luca de la torre.

  5. There were positives and negatives on display during today’s game.
    Llanez looked confident and was good in tight spaces. Both outside backs did well defensively and got forward well when opportunities presented themselves. Yueill was composed and made smart distribution. Ferreira found nice pockets of space between the lines where either the CB’s weren’t confident to step up, or the CDM’s weren’t paying attention.
    Costa Rica did not put much effort into the game. They sat deep and let the US send wave after wave at them. Arriola & Lletget’s finishing was dreadful. Both had some positive moments, but overall were pedestrian. Was hoping to see Cappis, but he didn’t make the field.
    Overall a win is a win…and when you consider that this was basically an under strength
    U-23 squad (Missing M. Robinson, Richards, Pomykal, Weah, Ledezma,) against an experienced Costa Rica side, I think it was an acceptable performance.

    • I so want to see Arriola “find it.” He’s smart, tough, works hard, puts himself into great positions, pressures high well. Unfortunately way too many great opportunities to score are left wanting.

  6. Hard to tell too much from such a slow paced game. The big positive was how comfortable on the ball our young players looked, and there were some impressive passing sequences and buildup play. But Costa Rica sat back and didn’t pressure at all, so who knows if we can do that against even token pressing. Transition defense and set piece defending was not good. But yeah, our u23s outplayed Costa Rica B team.

  7. If I were a Costa Rican fan, I would be very disappointed by the lack of energy and near refusal to pressure an very young US team.

    For the US, I thought Yueill did a very good job of staying open to help teammates most of the time. He also showed lots of energy helping out with the high pressure the other mids, fullbacks and forwards applied, while being careful to not get caught too far forward.

    Clearly, Llanez’s skill on the ball in tight spots was the highlight of the game. (The PK was sweet, but you are supposed to make those.)

    The high pressure strategy the US employed clearly surprised CR in the first half and they had no effective answer for it.

    It will be interesting to see how well these US players can perform if they are put under higher pressure. I suspect that would show which players really are as good as they looked today.

    • Considering the bulk of our team today are age eligible for the Olympic Tournament where we have to face Costa Rica in the teams 1st match. I’d say today’s win went a long way towards reducing some of the concerns many of us had about our Olympic Draw.
      Add that our Olympic team could be reinforced by some players who weren’t able to be include this camp (Weah, Pomykal, Ledezma, Richards, & M. Robinson), and I’m liking our chances.

      • I am confident the CR U-23s will not play as passively as this team did. It is unknown how well the US U-23s will respond to high pressure.

  8. I like Llanez and think he has real promise, but we shouldn’t go overboard. I’m reminded of a US game in South Africa a number of years ago. Two late game substitutes came on and combined for the winning goal. They were both very young and many of us thought , wow, these kids can be really something. Those two were Aguedelo and Diskerud.

    • Tim Ream also made his first cap that day. Agudelo played in 14 out of the next 15 US matches and then has played 13 total in the 8 years since. It just seemed with Juan there was something else going on. He moved to Chivas was then traded to the Revs then tried England but couldn’t get a permit so was in Holland. Just never really seemed to get better.

      • Yep, but even the move to Holland it seemed like he found a home. The club wanted him back the following season but Agudelo turned them down and also turn down a couple of offers from bundesliga 2. From what I remember he was trying to get back on Stoke City but that never happen and he missed out a whole soccer calendar season. I think it was a whole season but I could be wrong and he never recovered from that mess.

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