A heavily-rotated U-20 MNT squad conceded four goals to England on Saturday, however an improved performance on the attacking end on Saturday saw Kevin Paredes and Owen Wolff also net for the Americans in Marbella, Spain.
To put the result within context, the heavily changed starting lineup, featuring several players who won’t be in the final squad traveling to Indonesia, as well as the lack of multiple presumed starters who stayed with their MLS clubs should lessen any panic which might be the gut reaction from a second straight collapse.
Nevertheless, if the game is any indication of the quality of depth within the roster, in particular when faced with the level of competition that could be expected for at least one game in group play and any possible knockout games in the World Cup, then there is still the need for improvement.
Once again the back line showed frailty against quality attackers, this time giving up one goal on an uncleared corner in addition to the three from the run of play. This was compounded by the apparent drop in quality from usual U-20 starting keeper Gabriel Slonina, although the Chelsea player did allow a pair in his half of play.
However, the Wolfsburg youngster Paredes did show that he will likely be a force for the team in the World Cup, and combined particularly well with FC Austin’s Wolff, who has certainly put himself on the radar for this summer’s trip to Indonesia despite participating in only his first U-20 camp.
Three days after the team’s 4-0 defeat to the French U20s, head coach Mikey Varas switched eight players in his starting lineup against the Young Lions, only retaining defender and Mauricio Cuevas, as well as attackers Quinn Sullivan and Paredes.
Orlando’s Michael Halliday, Louisville City starter Joshua Wynder and Philadelphia prospect Brandon Craig joined Cuevas in the back line, in front of FC Dallas youth keeper Antonio Carrera.
The midfield saw the defensive-minded Obed Vargas from Seattle paired with Austin Wolff and Philadelphia Union mainstay Jack McGlynn, while Paredes, Colorado prospect Darren Yapi and another experienced Philly product – Quinn Sullivan – made up the front three.
In comparison, Young Lions coach Ian Foster also heavily changed the lineup from their last outing, a 2-0 victory over Germany three days prior, however the fact that all of their scoring output came from the collection of nine newly-rotated players is a strong indication of their comparative firepower from top to bottom.
Leeds United teenager Mateo Joseph scored the first of his two goals in the game to give England the sixth-minute lead, being played into the area, rounding Carrera, who came off his line to lunge for the ball, and striking from short distance.
The Young Lions’ captain for the game, Chelsea’s Harvey Vale, made it 2-0 in the 33rd minute, with Joseph teeing him up for a shot just beyond the top edge of the six-yard box, with the ball barely evading the outstretched leg of Cuevas, who slid in to attempt a block.
However, rather than wilt, the Americans pulled one back three minutes later, viciously capitalizing on a gift from their English opponents.
Keeper Matthew Cox hit a weak pass out of the box towards his back line, which was easily intercepted by the onrushing McGlynn. He advanced a few steps towards goal, drawing several defenders in his direction, before sliding the ball out left to Wolff on the wing.
The son of the 52-times capped USMNT forward and current FC Austin head coach Josh Wolff took one touch to settle ball and chipped a cross towards Paredes at six yards out, who acrobatically launched himself into the air and struck a left-footed overhead shot that easily beat Cox for the 2-1.
Varas made a pair of switches at halftime, replacing the under-performing Carrera with Slonina, and bringing in Hajduk Split midfielder Rokas Pukštas in place of Vargas to increase the attacking pressure.
Six minutes later, the change in focus seemed to immediately pay off, as the Americans pulled even. Slonina started an attack out of his box, which was only briefly impeded when Yapi was upended by a crunching tackle at the midfield stripe.
However, Pukštas immediately regained possession and advanced towards the English area, before hitting Paredes with a forward pass in the right side of the area. The Wolfsburg attacker cut inwards and laid the ball off to Wolff. Despite having his back to goal, he took the English defense by surprise, and back-heeled the ball from seven yards out to the center of goal for the equalizer.
The game only remained on even terms for two minutes, after which defender Jarell Quansah restored the lead, netting his team’s third goal following a corner, fighting off pressure from Halliday.
Varas made the next round of subs three minutes before the hour mark, withdrawing Yapi and Halliday in favor of European-based players Paxten Aaronson and Jonathan Gomez.
This did little to alter the course of the game, as Joseph added his second of the game, lunging forward to poke the ball over the line, despite potentially being offside in the buildup.
The final round of substitutions in the 70th minute saw Marcus Ferkranus and Diego Luna take the place of Paredes and Sullivan, however the game ended with a 4-2 advantage to the English.
The team will be back in action on Tuesday morning when they take on the Serbian U-21 squad in their final game of the camp. Following its conclusion, Varas will head to Indonesia to attend the draw for the final tournament this summer, where the English are a potential group-stage opponent.