USMNT vs. Uruguay
USA vs. Uruguay in the U-20 World Cup quarterfinal

U20 Preview: USA Battles Uruguay for Semifinal Spot

5 minutes, 45 seconds Read

The United States U-20 Men’s National Team will try to get past the quarterfinal roadblock on Sunday when they play South Americans Uruguay, with a spot in the final four on the line.

For the fourth straight time in the U-20 World Cup, the Americans have reached the quarterfinal, a streak which began in 2015 in New Zealand, and continued in the subsequent editions in South Korea and Poland.

However, on each of the three prior occasion, they have been dumped out at this stage, by Serbia in 2015, then Venezuela two years later and eventually semifinalists Ecuador in 2019.

They will be hoping that the fourth attempt will finally yield the outcome they target – a semifinal berth against Israel – however will need to overcome their most difficult opponent so far in the tournament.

Uruguay reached the quarterfinal by finishing runners up to England in Group E, then barely edging past The Gambia in a hard Round of 16 game on Thursday. Historically, they have never won this competition, although they did finish as runners up in 2013, coincidentally the last time that the Americans did not reach the knockout round.

They enter Sunday’s clash short on rest and a bit worse for the wear after their first four games, but still have the quality and experience to be considered one of the favorites amidst the remaining participants to win the tournament.

There is recent history between these two teams at the U-20 level, particularly the fiery Round of 16 meeting in the 2007 World Cup in Canada, where an American team headlined by Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu and future USMNT captain Michael Bradley narrowly beat future Uruguayan stars Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez in overtime.

This version of Uruguay is coached by Marcelo Broli, who has been in charge of their U-20 team since 2022 and briefly acted as interim manager for senrior team for a pair of games earlier this year.

The team mostly draws on players from domestic Uruguayan league, although center back Alan Matturro is already getting minutes with Italian Serie A club Genoa, and backline mate Facundo González is within Valencia setup.

In general, the team is oozing experience on the U-20 level, and has a similar amount of domestic top-flight experience as their American counterparts do amidst their MLS-based contingent.

The team’s captain is midfielder Fabricio Díaz, who already played more than 100 times with his domestic club Liverpool Montevideo, and also has 18 appearances to go along with his 10 goals for Uruguay at the U-20 level.

Díaz has been one of the silent stars of the tournament so far; while he has yet to score any goals for his team in their first four games, he does lead all players with 20 chances created, although his midfield-mate Franco González is not far behind with 11 chances set up.

The team has several players, at least 10, with significant first-team experience in their domestic top-flight and a surprising number of caps together at this level. This includes their stable of six forwards, who have combined for 139 appearances and 15 goals in the Uruguayan top flight, plus 149 caps and 28 goals at U-20 level.

This does however come with one major caveat: half those six forwards will be missing for Sunday night’s game.

Luciano Rodriguez, who has scored ten times for the U-20s, although not yet in this tournament, is suspended after he picked up a red card in the Round of 16 for elbowing a Gambian player in the second half.

Furthermore, Matías Abaldo and Andrés Ferrari, who combined for five starts, two goals and one assist during Uruguay’s group games are out for the rest of the tournament, as both suffered injuries before the knockout round began.

This still leaves Mikey Varas having to contend with just the remaining three front-line attackers, Anderson Duarte, Juan Cruz de los Santos and Nicolás Siri, with Duarte having scored the crucial goal against The Gambia.

While no clear favorite can emerge from these two teams, Varas and his squad should be confident that at the very least, they do not enter as obvious underdogs. Through their first four games, the team is remarkably without any injuries or suspensions, and is arguably a much stronger team than first took the field against Ecuador two weeks ago.

In terms of on-field production, Cade Cowell, who was missing from that opener, has undeniably been the standout player with three goals and an assist. Although it’s also fair to say that his emergent synergy with Diego Luna has been more important than his individual efforts.

Sunday’s game should also see late arrivals Kevin Paredes and Rokas Pukštas finally up to full speed after they only played late roles against New Zealand. However, whether Varas will opt to insert either of them into the starting XI or stick with the same attack that put four past the kiwis on Tuesday night remains to be seen.

It would be fair to expect the core of the defense that has allowed no goals through the first 360 minutes to continue to try to assert their dominance. This would likely see the same combination of Brandan Craig, Joshua Wynder and Justin Che as the three-man back line, with Caleb Wiley and Jonathan Gomez the incumbents at wingback.

Craig is a surefire starter as long as he is healthy and not suspended, as he adds the extra dimension of spot-on set-piece deliveries, which have already proven deadly on multiple occasions in the tournament.

Central midfielders Daniel Edelman and Obed Vargas have done well both together and on their own, however it will be tempting to slot Pukštas into one of the central roles to add a more forward push.

This leaves the other main attacking role, most recently occupied by Josh Wolff, one spot that could see an alteration, with Paredes having the potential to add danger from the right flank.

The winner of Sunday’s game will face the tournament’s surprise package Israel, who shockingly defeated five-time champions Brazil on Saturday night after coming back from a deficit twice in the game.

While this might normally be seen by either team as a plum of a reward that would almost be a sure-fire pass to the final, Israel have proven that they are the real deal, and are doing more than enough to ensure that their final story of this World Cup will be about their play on the field, rather than the sad controversy that led to the switch of hosts from Indonesia to Argentina.

Whether the United States or Uruguay will be the next team to take on the Israelis will be determined on Sunday at 6pm local time, 5pm Eastern US time in Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades in Santiago del Estero.

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David Smith

I'm YA's resident doctor, but not the kind of doctor you would want giving you an examination anywhere outside of a lecture hall. I've been YA's feet-on-the-ground in Germany since 2008, have an affinity for overly verbose descriptions of irrelevant minutiae, keep an eye on YAs in most of the destinations on mainland Europe, and watch a whole lot of Serie A.

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