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USMNT U-20’s ride strong second half to clinch knockout round berth


The U.S. Under-20 men’s national team was left frustrated for the opening hour of Tuesday’s Group B showdown with Fiji, until a trio of second-half goals propelled Mikey Varas’ squad to a second-consecutive shutout victory.

Diego Luna came off the bench to deliver the winning goal before Cade Cowell and Caleb Wiley added insurance tallies in a 3-0 FIFA U-20 World Cup win over Fiji. The result sealed a knockout stage berth for the Americans heading into their final group stage match with Slovakia on Friday.

“I was really glad to come in and give the team composure and get the first goal to get the team rolling,” Luna said postmatch. “It was simple, we needed to bring a little extra quality in the final third. It was about being patient in and around the box, I just followed through on the play and finished bottom right.”

A busy first half for the Americans did not lead to an opening goal as several opportunities were left on the table. Cowell’s right-footed shot in the 17th minute was denied by Fiji goalkeeper Aydin Mustahib before Jack McGlynn’s free kick later in the half was punched away.

Sterling Vasconcellos’ curling effort was denied by Gabriel Slonina in the 47th minute before the attacker missed his follow-up chance for Fiji.

Luna came on as a halftime substitution for the USMNT U-20’s and called his own number in the 66th minute. The Real Salt Lake winger curled a right-footed shot into the bottom-right corner for a 1-0 USMNT U-20 advantage.

After the Americans missed a few additional chances later in the half, Luna set up Cowell for a long-range strike in the 88th minute sealing the victory. Cowell cut onto his right foot before unleashing a powerful drive into the bottom-right corner.

Wiley, who came on as a substitute as well, finished off Brandan Craig’s rebound after the Philadelphia Union centerback’s long-range shot. The Atlanta United winger/fullback had an easy tap in to register his first U-20 World Cup goal.

The Americans walked away with their second shutout win of the tournament after totaling 31 shots in Tuesday’s performance.

“Our boys came with the right attitude in the game, we were aggressive early on, if we’re honest with ourselves, we were missing quality in our final actions,” Varas said. However, our guys persevered and we were able to get the goals in the second half.”


  1. If you care to watch the replay, go to the Fox Sports website and click the watch tab, then scroll down to replays. If you have a FS1 in your viewing package you can sign in with your provider and watch the replay. Also set the Friday match to record like I did so you don’t forget.

  2. JR – USA didn’t look good in the 1st half at all. Varas used a 3-4-3 for the 2nd game in a row. Sullivan & Yapi were both in the 6 yard box, on the right side of the box, goal/facing and both shot with their right foot and missed wide left. If you would’ve watched it, you’d been nervous. Fiji had 2 great chances in the 1st half, though the possession and shots created was in the US favor by a long shot. Fiji players were falling out left and right all match. (The mic was picking up everything. You could hear the US players on the field cursing in the 1st half when a Fiji player was on the ground. It was happening a lot. When Craig was getting a water break when they were attending to a Fiji player. He can be heard talking about how much stoppage time there would be because of how much time Fiji was in the grass.) 2nd half -Varas changed to a 4-3-3- Luna & Tsakaris started the 2nd half (Yapi & Wolff) and we looked a lil better, not by much. Luna played a false 9. We kept the ball in our offensive 1/3 majority of the 2nd half. We were wasteful majority of the match. Cade Cowell was sloppy, shanking passes & shots with his left foot all match before he scored. No one would consider him a 9, by watching this match, most of his work was on the LW. Luna might’ve been MOTM, but it wasn’t until the 2nd goal was scored that the anxiety went away. If someone says they didn’t watch, then why elaborate on what they didn’t see? Anyway, expectations for U20s are now quarterfinals, keeping this in mind, we didn’t look like a team that could make the quarterfinals v Fiji. This win gets us into the knockout, another win and they get the group. As you know, win and advance is all that matters in a tournament. …Unless you’re one those people who wants an award just for qualifying.

    • Hopefully Pukstas can slot into Wolf’s spot and provide a little more. Paredes should provide more of a true winger than Sullivan. Would be nice to win the group to give them an easier match to get used to playing together.

    • Caught the replay, I know the graphic showed 3-4-3 but that was always a 4-3-3 unless you were counting Edelman as a CB in the first half. Ferkranus and Craig were the CBs , Halliday and Gomez the FBs.
      I think in the first 15 minutes of the second half a Fijian was receiving treatment for 10 of those. I hope Cowell was just shaking off the nerves, but he showed why I call him “Buff Arriola”. His shots and crosses are very inconsistent last year in qualifying and for SJ this season.

    • luna got the goal that broke the duck but he was as scattershot as cowell or most of the others, over time. sullivan to me was more dangerous as he took people on and when he missed it was an inch wide and well struck as opposed to sloppy and yards.
      personally the one i’d yank was yapi. unlike the others he missed a ton but never did make it right.

      the keeper couldn’t catch so they should have just cranked more.

      i generally agree with your mentality. this might be a weaker U20 in terms of future. this might be an easy draw and perhaps an easy crossover game. but ultimately in tournaments it’s about getting to the next and the next and the next. i may complain about tactics and aggression looking down the road but for now they are getting it done.

      • Yeah Diego should have scored a minute later. Cowell did look a little better in the last 30 so fingers crossed. I thought Sullivan was fine I just think he’s wedged into a position that doesn’t perhaps suite him. I think he’s more a striker in a 4-4-2 like in Philly. He just doesn’t have a lot of ideas, it’s either shoot right away or dribble into 3 defenders and he’s not a great dribbler. I think he might be a starter in Philly for 10 yrs but that might be his ceiling.
        In theory everyone should be weaker most of these guys were 15-16 during Covid and likely missed 6 months to a year of development. Hope we win Friday but would take a draw and win the group either way. You never know in these youth tournaments, the big boys usually don’t have top squads, I heard France is missing most of the guys that played us in March.

      • JR: depending who they crossover with they might not get a tough contest until the quarters, where last time we opened with champion ukraine then hit 2 straight tough knockout opponents. it’s hard to get a read without that. i am being harsher on the offense because this is a soft schedule and they still struggle to finish. that doesn’t translate well. like i am always saying, it’s how they handle a tough game that really says something. if they can barely handle fiji while spraying a bunch, meh.

        in terms of defense last time, i thought richards was great but was not a keita fan. i also had dest’s ukraine mistake seared in my brain in a way others didn’t seem to. but i feel like the whole bunch is a little clunky like the last U23 team that didn’t qualify.

        i personally think the U20s in 2019 underperformed relative to talent. with the benefit of hindsight, they had about half a future NT worth of starters. dest, mckenzie, richards, weah. akinola ended up with canada, araujo and ochoa with mexico. few others have trialist caps. that’s a lot of “net” from an age group where you sometimes have to remind people “they don’t all turn out.” what became clear from ramos’ stint here in houston was they were a little soft on defense, struggled to shut out teams, and the story of the tournament was good teams could get goals on us. too many.

        last time, france had won their group while ecuador was a third place group finisher. we just beat the same ecuador U20 team who sent us home last time, with far less talent (mind you, new set of talent for them as well). and their senior team bombed out of the group round and splits games with australia. i personally think we should have won at least the ecuador game last time and probably been in the final with ukraine again. anyways my point is for all the excitement that bunch gathered, i thought ramos still undercooked it. the team defense wasn’t good.

  3. i thought the scoreline was underwhelming. we deserved a win but missed many chances. slovakia beat fiji 4-0. our game was 0-0 through half, took a sub to score 66′, barely got the second just before regulation, third was well into 11′ of injury time.

    personally i thought the U20s suffered from the same disease as the senior team. endless tentative perimeter passing. they did less crossing than the seniors and more diagonals over the top, but nothing came of them. i thought they thrived when they got the striker involved but they rarely bothered. first goal they try to feed the 9, defender pokes it, finish the loose ball. second goal they work the ball in on the floor, almost identical finish far post. (third goal is then a poacher’s goal when the keeper poorly handles the post ricochet on our free kick.). i thought we pinned them in and liked sullivan taking people on and going to goal. but too much of that was farting around the edges and possession for the sake of possession. i want to see us take risks and go to goal more, trade more chances for less possession. we only seemed aggressive when we won the ball in their half pressing. i thought we were often tentative for a weak opponent, and more generally i thought the snobs’ idea of where we needed to go was getting more individually technical, where we could go after teams and combine into the box, and we’re instead getting nervous keepaway. i can’t believe this is what we asked for. i feel like it’s a bait and switch.

    that being said i think this U20 bunch is less talented than the 19 team, i want to see pukstas and they miss aaronson. if they can stay first, a crossover game with A or C would likely see us through the first round, a crossover with 3rd in D might be tough.

    • Listened to the Scuffed match report from what they said the match was pretty similar to Fiji vs Slovakia. Fiji made more mistakes in their first match, but then they tempered it with but we didn’t capitalize on all the mistakes either. It’s tough when the opponent puts 10 guys in the box. Just need a draw with Slovakia to top the group.

      • to me you’re doing a bunker a favor when you’re passing around it rather than trying to break it. i’ll send you a gift basket if you play tentative 0-0 keepaway around the edges of my parked defense. try some pinball, hit a bunch of 30 yard shots, some crosses, see if you can thread some balls in. make me work. i don’t like that. personally i’d be playing keepaway up 2 or 3 and not in a scoreless game. that’s too controlled. i mean, they’re out there in a hyperaggressive 343. play like it.

        i say that, personally it looked to me like they’d have been better off with a 2 striker formation. sometimes we do a good job of isolating our own strikers with these 3 forward lineups. 2 guys in the middle is easier to feed than a single guy against 4 backs. and then you have someone to combine with a la the first goal.

        my personal experience you have to do something aggressive to break down a bunker, like try high tempo wall ball, take some low wormburners and see if they ricochet, take some people on and see if they step out and commit, cross to head. run them side to side a few times. go all the way back to keeper and see if they get egged out where there’s some space. make them defend and run. i even kind of liked instead of the diagonal that runs away from the wing, push the ball up a little bit and hit an outswinger over the defense. becomes like a switch. you can’t just sit there and pick around the edges all day. go at them, over them, through them,

        what’s the worst that can happen? you blow a chance and they get the ball and try and outlet and we win it back. that’s the way the day generally went. i didn’t understand the tentativeness. maybe once or twice they got a jailbreak and maybe a shot. they were so pinned back take some risks. use the 343 like you’re as nuts as the formation is.

      • We were never in 3-4-3 the graphic was wrong at the start. Now in 90th I still only saw about 10-15 minutes of the indecisiveness you suggested . Sounds like you, It’s, and I are the only people who were able to watch so we’ll have to agree to disagree. Better finishing and we’d be talking how it didn’t mean much because it was Fiji.

      • to me formation is usually defined by offense. when we had the ball it was 3 backs, 3 forwards, 2 CM, 2 wings. i feel like what happened you were seeing was fiji might push a wing forward and our wing would track back with them as opposed to hand it off to the more central backs. that looks like 4 backs but really isn’t as our wing goes as far up or back as he’s pushed. i used to play wing in a 352. same story. i might be parked on your end or if we’re struggling it looks like 5 backs. part of how i got played wingback by school teams was they had seen me play more of a 352 wing in select and confused the fact i always tracked back deep. but if you don’t track back wide in a 352 (or 343) that’s open green space. which is what little breakout fiji could manage……..catch us up and get after the 3 backs who generally stay middle……

        and to me all that matters because when we start playing good teams — like holland was for the senior team — those jailbreaks will turn into island defending if you get caught up. so it’s probably good practice that they stayed home enough it looked like 4 backs.

    • In the first half at least I’m not seeing what you saw. There wasn’t possession for possession sake. They were always looking to play the ball in behind as soon as we got across half and when Fiji was set we’d use combinations to get between the midfield and backline. The issue was the front three were always taking one more touch than they should have. Somehow on every set piece we’d hit a beautiful diagonal to the back post where Edelman would try to bring it down instead blasting it first time. He’d get it blocked or tackled off him each time. Did you just want blasted shots from 25 yards out? Not having Clark or Aaronson hurts this squad against a low block for sure.

      • Ok see some of what you’re talking about in the 2nd I think. Two things I see is Fiji definitely started sitting deeper (6-3-1 I swear inside 30 yards) so there was no space between the lines. With Tsakiris and Luna in there they were much more likely to try to dribble their men where as Sullivan and Wolff tried to play quicker and just put there head down and go.
        For me the big difference from 2019 to 2023 is Weah and Soto over Cowell and Yapi. Soto hasn’t figured it out as a pro but he could finish with the best of them at the youth level for RSL, Hannover, and US. Richards is better than any of the CBs but the whole of CBs is better (McKenzie was just back off injury, Keita had to play most of it) and Gaga is better than Scott or Ochoa. Too early to tell on the FBs. MF seems similar especially given Ledezma and Llanez were coming off injury if memory serves correct. There certainly doesn’t look like anyone from this group is going to be starting for Ajax or Lille this fall.
        I think the ref was ready to call a penalty if Luna hadn’t buried that first one. His body position looked like he was ready to blow his whistle. I think JoGo got fouled in the box on his last play but the ball was probably already out.

      • you make fun of just taking some shots but how did the 3rd goal go. their keeper didn’t seem to pick much of anything clean ie catch it as opposed to parry it.

        to me a lot of the first hour was them trying to work the ball up the wings and then backing out and passing to half line. like i said, a lot of the aggression and getting behind was off the press and not in the offense. i wanted a little more like sullivan where we’re running our offense and they occasionally just dribble some people. you know, what the folks who wanted out of bradley ball advertised. some virtuosity and brazilian daring as opposed to dutch/barca keepaway ball.

      • re soto, i see pukstas as his analogue on this team. he will risk his body for goals a la twellman. i actually think he’s more technical than soto based on what i’ve seen. he’s an interesting player and my only question is does a sub 6′ striker with a physical part to his game translate to adult pro ball or does he end up wide or mid. he’s like vazquez in the sense he can flick a header to a corner. but can he do that against skyscraper tall backs. or does he end up emphasizing his technical game which might be similar to sargent but with foot speed.

        i do see the point of cowell struggling to finish but the deal becomes relative creation wide. he does create some wide. do we have enough polished people producing he can be cut.

      • Pukstas doesn’t play striker he’s an 8 or wing. Was used in qualifying as a 6 but Vargas was hurt. I don’t think he even has taken a false 9 turn for US or Split. Not saying he couldn’t just he never has from what I’ve seen and read.

      • people always point to analytics on me. where has the team played him. i approach stuff more like a scout. what does his actual toolkit fit. sometimes players are being mis-cast. eg, i watched a highlight reel of pukstas where he was in the box a lot getting flicked header goals and giving up his body to knock stuff in. some of the stuff i had seen his combination play looked more like a striker holding the ball then dishing it out and less like a mid turning in tight space and taking people on.

        if he plays mid to me his style and speed looked more like a wing. i see where he has played some DM but that may be he just looks physical and willing to battle. i played DM a couple games in college with the instructions to mark a leading conference player out of the game. it can be similar to playing back but with the enticement to get forward.

        he looks versatile and like weston where the question may be exactly how he gets used. a lot of fanboys point to where guys get used in club but that can turn monkey see monkey do. weah is a forward who can probably also play back. i now start hearing people suggest him as a back for us. we don’t have to do what his club does.

      • I was at work didn’t get to see the game. From the highlights Cowell and Luna were good. Tsakiris looked good. Better second half than first half. Cowell hit the post and crossbar. Sullivan narrowly missed in the first half. Yappi was ok. With additions of Paredes and Pukstas I won’t be surprised to see Cowell at the 9 in the knock out rounds.

      • i liked sullivan and edelman. to me cowell and yapi had a bunch of chances and were very wasteful against a weak opponent. hard to assess the defense when they only occasionally had to play any.

      • fyi if you dig around the soccer portion of the fox sports website they have whole game replays buried there. i was complaining about ecuador and i found it and have that bookmarked.

      • Watching the replay 2Tone Cowell’s highlights are deceiving, he’s been pretty poor costing the US opportunities consistently.

      • the one thing i will say in cowell’s defense is we already know he can create havoc to a B/C team level senior ball. what is missing is any consistency of that finish. i agree about the arriola comment in the sense he has the physicality to get on the run wide but then the product usually stinks. but that can be worked on and he’s obviously capable of it once.

        and then the other question is can he do that in an “A” game environment. who knows. in that game you may only get one look and that may mean he is “wondo.” but i expect he will be given endless runout in gold cup which looks to be 75% plus MLS, i expect a lot like january camp or mexico with how much this coach xeroxes his two tracks. only x factor is does the new head get hired before one of these tournaments and get his own say. but otherwise this guy is give or take balogun or tillman fairly predictable and i don’t think how the games go even matters. (i mean, to me, if neal got torched like he was he would be done for years.)

        i say that because i don’t see a real debate if cowell is around. pretty sure he is even if watching this like he’s not even one of the better ones. but then last time GB loved dest and even the cut aaronson when i thought the best U20s were weah and richards. which over time is how it’s correcting.

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