With the dust settled on the nail-biting win by the US U-20 squad over Ecuador, we take a closer look at how it all went down, the context of some of the key plays within the flow of the game, and what it means for the team going forward.
In the opening game of the men’s 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina, the United States U-20 national team scored a late goal in stoppage time to claim a significant 1-0 victory over Ecuador. Real Sociedad left-back, Jonathan Gomez’s spectacular shot from outside the box was the difference, settling it in the 93rd minute of the match. Talk about the clutch factor.
Let’s look at how it all went down:
The lineup from head coach Mikey Varas sees team captain Daniel Edelman left on the bench, and in another surprise move, Gomez is moved up to the midfield and switched to the right side, departing from his typical role as a left back.
Team USA lineup (3-5-2): 1-Gabriel Slonina (GK) — 17-Justin Che, 4-Joshua Wynder, 5-Brandan Craig — 13-Jonathan Gomez 8-Jack McGlynn, 18-Obed Vargas (6-Daniel Edelman, 70′), 16-Owen Wolff, 3-Caleb Wiley — 10-Diego Luna (Niko Tsakiris, 92+’), 7-Quinn Sullivan (19-Darren Yapi, 65′)
Both teams start off the match adjusting themselves for this big moment but the boys in red, white, and blue look the more deadly. Joshua Wynder joins the attacking movements from his central defense role, as the Americans attempt to go down the flanks, particularly the attacking Ecuador’s right flank.
In the early going, newly-signed Chelsea FC pickup, Kendry Paez, takes advantage of a mistake made by American defender Brandan Craig, dribbles past him, but loses his footing in the States’ box and the opportunity is lost.
The US continues to control the match with some really slick passing sequences but are missing that killer edge, leaving the first half scoreless. With both sides playing it somewhat carefully, this is an unsurprising stand at the midway point, but both sides will be hoping to set things straight in the second 45 minutes to come.
The start of the second half seems like deja vu of the first, very conservative and not very adventurous. It is the United States who ask the first question as Ecuador fails to properly deal with a corner kick. The ball almost falls to a US player, and Caleb Wiley shoots from a distance.
Another chance minutes later for the Americans and it’s from Wiley once again; he comes inside and goes one-on-one against the keeper but the ball is cleared. No other players in white were available to support Wiley and it is unfortunate since it was the Yanks’ best chance on the night thus far.
Ecuador continues to create their own problems; just five minutes after being bailed out from a real goal scoring opportunity from Wiley, in the 60th minute, Diego Luna blows a wonderful opportunity to take the lead. The ball ends up on Luna’s foot with the goal at his mercy, the goalkeeper being too far out of his net after Ecuador botches a defensive clearance. However, because Luna hits it with his outside right, the ball barely misses the far post and curls away.
The first change for Varas happens after 65 minutes, as Darren Yapi comes on for Quinn Sullivan. The introduction of Edelman as a replacement for Obed Vargas six minutes later, which came after the US’s flurry of chances, has somewhat lowered the match’s momentum. Due to Ecuador’s apparent lack of inspiration and vigor, the USA appears to be the team most likely to score at the end.
At the end of regulation, four minutes are given by the officials moments after yet another American chance.
This time it’s the substitute, Yapi, who pulls off an amazing step-over to take out a defender, but he is unable to beat the goalkeeper in a one-on-one scenario.
Varas makes his finally change as he takes off Luna for the fresh legs of Niko Tsakiris. We’re in the dying stages of the game and it seems like the squad still has belief they can walk away with all three points. Ecuador seemingly are satisfied trying their best to not concede, and attempt to pounce when possible, to break the heart of the Americans’ dream.
Fortunately, it is Ecuador’s worst fears that come to reality as Gomez, who never quits, is pushing up again down the right. He receives a pass from Owen Wolff off his chest, moves to the left, and drills a left-footed shot into the right corner. The US will win this game thanks to a sensational strike.
The team avenged their fellow American predecessors, who were taken down by the former Ecuadorian U-20 team four years prior. Ecuador knocked out the team by a 2-1 scoreline in the 2019 U-20 World Cup at the quarterfinal stage, beating a team that featured current USMNT senior players Tim Weah, Sergiño Dest, and Chris Richards.
There are many candidates for my man of the match, notably Gomez, McGlynn, and Wiley, all of whom looked lively all evening long. However you can’t deny Gomez’s late goal seals the award in his favor. The defender was played out of position, but in spite it it, still looked like a veteran in his new role, playing as the right midfielder. The former FC Dallas youngster will look to build upon this MOTM performance against Fiji and Slovakia.
Team USA currently sit second in the table level on points with Slovakia, who defeated Fiji 4-0 on Saturday night, several hours after the United States’ victory. The two will face off in the final match of the group on may 26, which will likely settle who will finish at the top spot.
The fact that two of the team’s top players, who will only join if they can advance further in the tournament, were absent from the 1-0 result adds value to it. It is not necessary for club teams to release their players for this competition, leading to the delayed arrivals of Rokas Pukstas and Kevin Paredes.
By securing one of the presumably weaker third-place finishers in the Round of 16, winning the group would give the Americans a better chance to advance further in this year’s edition than it has in those recent competitions.
One match down, two to go as the United States seek to continue this momentum as they face Fiji on Tuesday. Fiji faced Slovakia and suffered a hefty loss, and they currently sit rock bottom of the group due to their horrific goal differential. Tuesday’s game against the group punching bag will possibly be a game where Varas can afford to rotate his boys to keep legs fresh as the games go on.
A win against Fiji can already mathematically guarantee a spot into the last 16, depending on the result of the game between Ecuador and Slovakia, although by all accounts, this win against Ecuador will make it extremely unlikely to miss the knockout round.