The United States U-20 squad were made to work for their lunch in their second Group B game against Fiji on Tuesday night, but were eventually able to feast, with a platter of second-half goals served up by Diego Luna, Cade Cowell and Caleb Wiley.
As was widely expected, head coach Mikey Varas heavily rotated the team following their opening win over Ecuador, making five changes to his starting lineup against a Fiji squad that was not expected to put up much resistance.
Captain Daniel Edelman came into the lineup in a straight swap for Obed Vargas, while Markus Ferkranus, Michael Halliday, Cade Cowell and Darren Yapi all made their first starts of the tournament.
Caleb Wiley and Diego Luna were initially given a rest, along with defenders Justin Che and Joshua Wynder, although previous goalscorer Jonathan Gomez was given shot to continue his strong form against the Fijians.
The first hour was essentially a frustrating display of near-misses and wasted opportunities by the Americans, as they utterly dominated their opponents in every category possible, but simply could not put the ball in the back of the net.
Overall they had 31 shots compared to Fiji’s six, and regularly tested opposing keeper Aydin Mustahib, who was perhaps man-of-the-match over the first 66 minutes.
Yapi, while lively and able to regularly find himself in good positions in the area, had several close chances go wide, and simply lacked the killer instinct and precision necessary to put the team ahead.
It was halftime substitute Luna who would eventually break the deadlock in the 66th minute, finishing a slick display of one-touch passing with Edelman, Niko Tsakiris and Cowell with an opportunistic strike from 17 yards out.
His shot beat Mustahib to the lower right corner of goal for the 1-0 lead, and even had the Fijian keeper made the save, the Americans would have likely been awarded a penalty as Cowell was toppled from behind on the play.
Cowell, who showed flashes in the first hour, displayed his clear hunger for goal in the final minutes of regulation, and finally struck his target with just under three minutes to go.
Receiving a short pass just outside the area from Luna, he took a few steps towards the middle to create space, then fired a looping, right-footed shot from 20 yards to the left side of goal for the 2-0 lead.
Due to several stoppages and overt time-wasting measures by the Fijians throughout the half, the officiating crew awarded 11 minutes of added time, and substitute Wiley helped his team make the most of it.
Several minutes after Cowell hit both the crossbar and upright in short order, an 89th-minute free kick attempt by Brandan Craig from the left flank took a bounce off the left upright, and plopped down in front of the open goal.
Wiley rushed in and slammed it home from close range, wrapping up the 3-0 win.
The victory pushes the team to six points in the group, and already guarantees them a spot in the knockout no matter what happens in the group closer against Slovakia on Thursday.
Their target for winning Group B will depend on the outcome of the match between Slovakia and Ecuador, which began approximately one hour after the closing whistle confirmed their win over Fiji.