The first of three friendly games for the American U-20 squad in their ongoing Marbella camp was a rough one, as they were soundly beaten by their French counterparts on Wednesday afternoon.
Whether it was jetlag, a lack of cohesion, superior quality by the opposition, or simply a bad day, the young Americans were as outclassed by French U20 team as the score would indicate. However, they can perhaps take solace in knowing that it could have been a bit closer had the fates shined in their direction in several instances.
Despite missing several of his key starting players due to their roles in the still-ongoing MLS schedule during the break, head coach Mikey Varas still fielded a strong lineup, albeit one which ultimately failed to hold back the French charge or convert on their few chances.
18 year-old goalkeeping phenom Gabriel Slonina started between the sticks, with a back-four of Real Sociedad’s Jonathan Gomez, Brugge’s Mauricio Cuevas, Orlando’s Thomas Williams and LA Galaxy youngster Marcus Ferkanus.
The attacking front consisted of MLS-based players Diego Luna and Quinn Sullivan, of Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia Union, and German-based Kevin Paredes, who has seen an uptick lately in playing time for VfL Wolfsburg, and is a likely starter in the summer’s final tournament.
This left the all-European midfield trio Paxten Aaronson, Alejandro Alvarado Jr. and Rokas Pukstas, all of whom are on the edge, or already regular contributors to top-flight teams.
Slonina was called into action shortly before the 24-minute mark to save a free kick, however he made easy work of the relatively straightforward save.
The French had their first opportunity in the 28th minute, when Cuevas lunged recklessly at Lamine Cissé within the area, barely catching his foot and leading the referee to point to the spot. While the call could have gone either way as contact was minimal, the tackle was still an ill-advised aggression by Cuevas at a critical juncture.
On the ensuing spot kick by Elye Wahi, Slonina guessed correctly on his dive to the lower left corner, however it was unnecessary as the Montpellier forward’s poor attempt was wide of the goalpost.
Nevertheless, two minutes later, the French still took the lead. A sloppy display by the Americans of maintaining possession inside their own half led to Sunderland midfielder Abdoullah Bah receiving the ball at 22 yards out with enough space and time to send his blast just inside the right post, just beyond Slonina’s reach.
With five minutes left in regulation, Luna was fed the ball inside the area just beyond the right post with the defense well-beaten, but sent his attempted left-footed sweep well over the net, in a wasted chance.
Moments later, the French keeper’s poor pass out of the back led to a turnover just outside their area, however even with four Americans inside the area and only the keeper and one defender to beat, Aaronson sent his shot well wide of the mark.
The wasted chances continued for the Americans after the break, with a fine save from Slonina in the 50th minute to preserve the narrow deficit being unrewarded moments later at the opposite end of the field.
After a French defender was penalized for getting his hand onto a cross from the left flank, Luna stepped up to the spot looking to equalize. Instead of putting the game back on even terms, he hit his low attempt halfway between the center of goal and the right post, giving the keeper the easiest of jobs to make the save.
This effectively took the wind out of the team’s sails, as the French team piled on another three goals in the final thirty-odd minutes.
In the 58th, Junior Mwanga caught the defense off-guard and headed in a quickly-taken short corner to give his team the 2-0 advantage. The entry of Obed Vargas, Darren Yapi, and Michael Halliday into the game two minutes later in place of Pukstas, Sullivan, and Cuevas did nothing to alter the momentum.
Loum Tchaouna then made it 3-0 in the 70th minute, stooping low to snap in a header from inside the six-yard area, after Slonina’s fine save placed the ball directly into his path.
The Dijon attacker then added his second with seven minutes left in regulation, again cleaning up after a fine save from Slonina took an unfortunate deflection his way.
The result certainly gave the young Americans a long to-do list of aspects of their game to work on in the camp. While the last two of France’s goals came down to the attacker being at the right place for a lucky bounce, and the Americans could have capitalized better on several close-calls, the overall flow of the game still was decidedly favoring the French.
The team has their next outing on Friday afternoon against the English U-20 squad.
A full-length stream of the game can be seen below.