With the final games of Group B taking place Friday evening, the U-20 USMYNT topped the group after a convincing win against Slovakia. 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.
The young American squad has now won three straight games at the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, having defeated Slovakia 2-0 to advance as the group’s top team into the round of 16.
Nine points, six goals scored, none allowed – it’s the PERFECT group-stage campaign for Mikey Varas‘ men.
On Tuesday, May 30, the US U-20s will face a third-place team from Group A or Group D in the Round of 16. However, they won’t know their opponent after each group has completed its final match to determine the final third-place rankings. FIFA has already decided on potential scenarios for the four matchups involving third-place teams before the competition.
Let’s take a closer look at how the final game went for Varas’ squad, as it happened:
USA (3-5-2): 1-Gabriel Slonina (GK) — 2-Michael Halliday, 17-Justin Che, 5-Brandan Craig, 4-Joshua Wynder, 3-Caleb Wiley (13-Jonathan Gomez 77′)— 6-Daniel Edelman (8-Jack McGlynn 67′), 16-Owen Wolff (15-Niko Tsakiris 67′), 18-Obed Vargas — 9-Cade Cowell (7-Quinn Sullivan 73′), 10-Diego Luna (19-Darren Yapi 73′)
Varas returns to the 3-5-2 lineup that did well against Ecuador in their first game, but this time both Daniel Edelman and Obed Vargas are starting in the midfield. This should keep the Slovakians in check, and slow down any attacks coming up the middle.
The early minutes sees the Americans dictating the contest as flurries of chances present themselves for the North Americans. The Slovak keeper is being tested early on, and in the 24th minute, Justin Che has two closes opportunities in quick succession on the ensuing corner kick.
Another charge by Cade Cowell at the Slovakian defense in minute 26 results in a shot that a defender deflects. When the ball rebounds, Vargas shoots way out. Slovakia shot-stopper, Hrdina, stops it, but he lets a rebound fall, which he grabs. However, Slovakia’s defense once more holds up.
The biggest chance yet in the evening comes in the 28th minute for Cowell. The 19 year-old receives a long ball from central defender Brandan Craig, and then bundles it past the goalkeeper, but the opportunity is lost when he misses the volley on an open goal. An absolute sitter goes to waste.
Slovakia comes back with a chance of their own minutes later that saw a fantastic save from Chelsea’s Gabriel Slonina, hoping to keep his third clean sheet from three games. One of the Sauer brothers receives the ball during a set piece, and he fires a shot that is unaffected by USA goalkeeper.
Set pieces seem to be the Slovaks’ best chance to score against the Yanks so far in the first half.
Cowell finally gives his country the lead in the 38th minute of the game, and what a goal it is! After catching a short pass near the midfield, he again attacks the Slovakian defense on his own.
He maneuveres through several defenders before launching a left-footed shot past the Slovakian goalkeeper. This is Cowell’s second goal of the competition and was an impressive run, even at the U-20 level.
Is that the San Jose forward or Messi with a mullet? I just can’t tell!
Leo Sauer once again tests ‘Gaga’ Slonina just before the break from a shot outside of the box. The former Chicago Fire keeper, as calm as you like, saves it and concedes the corner. The Americans defend the threat, and the referee blows for the break soon after.
The U-20 should realistically already be up by a couple of goals, but there’s no denying another will eventually come, considering their dominance up to now. Ecuador vs. Fiji are playing simultaneously, and the Ecuadorians lead 4-0 at the break. That is more than what the US scored and equal to the Slovakians’ tally against the South Pacific Islands in 90 minutes, whereas the South Americans only needed 45 minutes. The result currently puts Ecuador in a guaranteed spot in the last 16, so Slovakia must step up their performance in the second half.
The opening ten minutes of the second half is absolute carnage, but no goals come from it. After breaking into the Slovakian defense, Cade Cowell chips a cross to Diego Luna at the far post, who attempts a high volley. The combination of the two teenagers is at it again, giving the Europeans a very tough evening.
It’s clearly noticeable how Cowell looks so hungry and eager to win the ball back during the run of play, just as much as he likes to put them in the back of the net. An instance of this is when he made the slide tackle to stop the Slovakian goalkeeper’s pass after chasing down a ball returned to him.
He got that engine in him, which will serve him and the team well.
It’s still all USA in minute 67 as this time, Cowell passes it into Luna, who gets the chance to shoot it, but it bounces off the right post. It is almost as though we are witnessing an attacking exercise at the American training facility, except the ball is not going into the net.
After that last chance, a flurry of five substitutions takes place for the USMYNT within ten minutes, hoping to run down the clock and rest the starting players for the round of 16. Niko Tsakiris and Jack McGlynn start the subs-frenzies as they replace captain Edelman and Owen Wolff.
Minutes later, after the double substitution, we have yet another as Cowell comes off along with fellow forward Luna, as Darren Yapi and Quinn Sullivan come on. Jonathan Gomez is the last sub to enter for Caleb Wiley.
A good move for Varas as he knows the job is done. It’s a good idea to keep the legs fresh, and avoid any unnecessary yellow cards that might come from fatigue.
But the subs pay off! Tsakiris, the super-sub and yet another San Jose Earthquakes player, gets himself on the scoresheet in the 96th minute, with the assist coming from another late entrant. Sullivan passes the ball to the 17 year-old, who completes the move with a deft dribble, and puts the ball in the back of the net. Dos a cero, our favorite scoreline!
The whistle blows, and it’s prefect group stage campaign for the Americans, as they top the group with no goals allowed. No other teams in the entire tournament can say that.
My man of the match is Cade Cowell; however this decision is more challenging than it seems. When looking back, central defenders Joshua Wynder and Craig looked so bright both when on the ball and when on the defense. Defenders need to get more roses even if they are overshadowed by playmakers, so they both deserve a special mention.
Still, Cowell looked extremely bright going forward and was pressing his entire time on the pitch. That solo goal in the first was the cherry on top, he was working his socks off, and it worked out.
With the top spot in the group effectively in little doubt after that Cowell goal, Varas even had time to rest a few key players. The team should therefore be in excellent shape for the knockout rounds, for which Kevin Paredes and Rokas Pukstas will be added as reinforcements after their respective club seasons end this weekend.
The official final standings of Group B:
The young Americans hope to continue this fine form in the last 16 against the third-place country from either Groups A or D. The scenario that would have landed them the third-place from Group C is already impossible, so all eyes will be on the Group D finale tonight. Stay tuned for more info!