For a while, it appeared that the United States would again struggle to score the goals they deserved, but in the end, they easily defeated New Zealand 4-0 to advance to the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals. 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 crucial goals were scored by Owen Wolff, Cade Cowell, Justin Che, and Rokas Pukštas, giving the United States the victory they so richly deserved after completely dismantling the New Zealand defense throughout the entire game.
With the exception of two unsuccessful counterattacks, the Oceania side offered very little resistance and had no defense against the relentless American attack.
Let’s take a look at how the game went for Mikey Varas and his team, as it happened:
The American team starts the knockout stage of the tournament with all of its players available for the first time in the tournament. Both Kevin Paredes and Pukštas have joined the team after being released by their club teams for the knockout round, but neither was placed in the starting lineup right away.
Team USA (3-4-3): 1. Gabriel Slonina (GK) — 17. Justin Che, 5. Brandan Craig, 4. Joshua Wynder — 13. Jonathan Gomez, 8. Jack McGlynn (Obed Vargas, 70′), 6. Daniel Edelman, 3. Caleb Wiley (Michael Halliday, 70′) — 10. Diego Luna (Niko Tsarkis, 79′), 9. Cade Cowell (Kevin Paredes, 83′), 16. Owen Wolff (Rokas Pukštas, 79′).
In the match’s opening minutes, it is all Varas’ men with possession asking early questions to the Kiwis – a typical pattern in all four of the States’ matches thus far.
In the fifth minute, New Zealand has a chance to counterattack and skillfully positions themselves in a dangerous area. However, Jonathan Gomez blocks Garbett’s one-time attempt at the top of the six-yard box, and the ball loops harmlessly into the hands of Gaga Slonina.
There was a VAR check to see if a handball occurred in the American box. It was a very drawn-out check that required a three-minute break, but eventually, it was finished, and play continued normally—a very nervy early minutes for the Yanks.
The Oceanians are at it again, this time in the 12th minute with an attack that forced Slonina to make a solid save to deny New Zealand. Once more, the Oceania team breaks on a risky counter, and Jay Herdman (son of the Canadian national team head coach…talk about a way to rebel against your parents!) unleashes from outside the box. The former Chicago keeper pushes the low, fizzed attempt just wide of the goal after bending down to his right.
The first blow is delivered by the United States in minute 14, and Kees Sims makes a terrible error! Owen Wolff aims distance and hits what amounts to a slow roller, but somehow it sneaks into the back of the net! Sims dived for it very quickly, so it’s puzzling how he missed that relatively mild attempt. It might have deviated slightly on the way through, but more was needed to cause much of a problem.
With an early advantage, the US will take it. Upon further review, Sims may have thought the ball was going wide, as the replay shows that he almost pulled his hand back at the last moment not to concede a corner.
Gomez nearly forced an own goal from a Kiwi defender to double his nation’s lead in the 20th minute, but the crossbar denied it! The Real Sociedad fullback attempted to cross the ball while making a vertical run; the ball clattered off Finn Surman and struck the woodwork. They narrowly avoid disaster for New Zealand but remain unharmed.
The United States has the ball in its half and is attempting to force New Zealand out of its shape, but the opponent needs to yield. As a result, the game has slowed down a little. In response to New Zealand’s invitation for the US to attack them, Varas’ team declines, and the game comes to a bit of a standstill.
Darren Bazeley, the head coach of New Zealand, can be heard shouting orders to his team to be “more aggressive!” It appears he wants to exert some control over this game because New Zealand has had little to no impact on the action thus far, aside from the two early counterattack opportunities.
Another huge chance comes forth in the closing stages of the first half.
Finn Linder loses a one-on-one battle to Cowell, and the New Zealand defender drops down hurt. The game is allowed to continue, so Cowell takes advantage of the injury-given space and feeds into the middle, where Gomez tries to poke it on goal, but it skitters narrowly wide of the far post.
New Zealand is forced to defend the corner with ten men after Linder leaves the field holding his left shoulder, but they can clear the area by forcing a foul – then Linder returns to the pitch.
Six minutes were added at the end of the 45 due to the injury and the extensive VAR check at the start of this round of 16 fixture – the half will end with the Americans leading 1-0.
It serves as a metaphor for their World Cup performances thus far, where they have dominated for extended periods of time but have missed numerous opportunities to score. Although New Zealand defended well despite being put under a lot of pressure, it’s fair to say that the United States hasn’t made many obvious errors. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to assume that Varas will feel as though he should be going into the locker room with a much bigger lead.
The United States outshot New Zealand by a wide margin in the first half, but they only managed to get three of those shots on goal. Despite this, they had 70% of the possession. They’ll again need to turn up the finishing in the second half, something they’ve managed to do a few times throughout this competition.
The US kicks off the second hall half and continues where they left off in the first half, looking extremely dangerous in the final third but failing to come up with the winning shot. Cowell is a force to be reckoned with down the left, and Dan Edelman almost pulled off a one-two with Gomez before the play was cut off.
A massive chance goes begging once again for the Yanks in minute 50. There is plenty of room for a cross when Caleb Wiley is threaded through along the left edge of the penalty area, and he chooses to direct it to Gomez at the far post. He gets his right foot on the ball at the far post, just inches from the goal, but for some reason, unfathomably, sends it flying over the bar and wide. The United States keeps its slim lead of one goal despite continuing to blow opportunities.
As New Zealand launches their first counterattack since the beginning of the game in the 56th minute, Slonina is called into action, but the 18-year-old Chelsea player has it too easy when a cross from Ben Wallace down the right ends up in his grasp.
The US scores a huge second goal as Cowell converts a chance that was missed moments earlier! This time, the USYNT has it too easy because Luna feeds horizontally to Cowell, who received far too much room from Lukas Kelly-Heald.
The United States now has the doubled lead they have been due for more than a half-hour after Cowell scores his third goal in three games.
Luna has a chance to end the game in a matter of seconds after the goal but misses just inches wide. He skips to his right at the top of the penalty area, sending Hughes flying by, but his cut shot barely misses the left post.
Luna and Cowell are simply dismantling this New Zealand defense. Cowell makes a left inside cut and attempts a long-distance shot, but it misses wide.
Obed Vargas and Michael Halliday are brought in to replace Jack McGlynn and Wiley, marking Varas’ first two substitutions of the game. Given that McGlynn has a yellow card, it is a logical change.
Justin Che makes it 3-0 to Team USA in the 75th minute and puts the game to bed. It was a little messier than necessary coming off of a lightning-quick counterattack from a New Zealand corner, but Che adds the finishing touch in the end. Cowell was given a free shot at goal after a breakaway by Luna, who moved with lightning speed.
Cowell attempted to round the goalkeeper but realized he was at too tight of an angle, so he squared to Luna who was standing on the doorstep. Che dispossessed a defender to snag the ball back after it was blocked on the goal line, and thunder it home.
Luna and Wolff are removed as expected after helping to contribute significantly to the third goal, and Niko Tsarkis and Pukštas are brought on in their place. Even though he deserves a goal for his strong effort in this game, Luna is currently serving a suspension for receiving a yellow card, so Varas wisely avoids risk.
Pukštas then scores just moments after making his tournament debut. The Hajduk Split attacker meets a perfectly placed free-kick from Brandan Craig at the far post and scores with a towering header. Pukstas, who was kept out of the group stage squad until now by his club, has already made an impact in his so-far limited time – 4-0 to the boys in red, white, and blue.
After the goal, Kevin Paredes, who recently joined the team as well, enters the game to replace Cowell, who had been outstanding the entire time.
Despite minimal stoppage in this half—no lengthy injuries or VAR reviews that would have seen it significantly increase—the fourth official mysteriously awards nine additional minutes. Since the last US goal, New Zealand has been trying to score a consolation, but they have been unable to break down the strong American defense. Every defensive stop from the Americans brought a celebration as if they scored a goal. The referee eventually blew the final whistle of the evening.
Choosing my man of the match gets more challenging because the performances improve by the day. For me, it’s between Cade Cowell and Diego Luna, with neither holding the edge over the other – their dynamism on the pitch every time they’re on together brings chaos to the opposition’s backline.
The Americans exhausted their opponent in the opening 45 minutes like they had done numerous times earlier in this tournament, before decisively putting them to sleep after the break.
From the beginning through the end of the game, the US held perfect control, and New Zealand provided little resistance. While it first appeared that the United States might not benefit from its position of strength, a flurry of opportunities after the hour, mark ensured this was not the case.
Most importantly, the Americans won their fourth game in a row to maintain their unblemished record. The CONCACAF team did this while preserving their spotless defensive record, making them the only team left in the competition that hasn’t allowed a goal so far.
With the victory, the United States advances to the quarterfinals where they will play either Uruguay or The Gambia. On June 1st, those two will face off in the Round of 16. The quarterfinals between the US and Gambia/Uruguay will take play on June 4.