The Under-20 United States MNT’s impressive run through the U-20 World Cup finally came to an unflattering end for head coach Mikey Varas and his squad, as they were unable to match their recent performances in a deflating loss to South Americans Uruguay.
United States 0 – 2 Uruguay
It could be said that each team was facing its toughest opponent of the tournament so far, but in the end, the Uruguayans overcame their staffing concerns and the short turnaround from their last game only three days prior, to convincingly secure a semifinal matchup against Israel.
The loss extends the Americans’ streak of crashing out at the quarterfinal stage to four consecutive U-20 World Cups. However, this one will possibly feel like the most significant missed opportunity, considering their nearly flawless form so far in the tournament, and likely underdogs Israel waiting in the semifinal.
Overall Varas’ young squad dominated possession compared to their opponents and had more consistent penetration into the penalty area. Still, the one critique that could have been made about their previous four games – wastefulness on the end product – proved to be their major Achilles heel this time around.
The trio of Diego Luna, Cade Cowell and Owen Wolff once again formed the attacking front-three, while Brandan Craig, Joshua Wynder and Justin Che made up the three-man back line.
This left Jack McGlynn and Obed Vargas holding down the center of the midfield, flanked by wingers Michael Halliday and Caleb Wiley. With the team displaying an overall decrease in effectiveness, questions might arise regarding the omission of both Rokas Pukšas and Kevin Paredes from the starting eleven, and their general under-utilization in their two available games, despite their obvious quality.
Wiley’s cross in the opening seconds towards Halliday at the left post looked to be continuing the Americans’ aggressive stance of the previous games, but it was Uruguay who opened the scoring after 21 minutes, due largely to a lapse in the defense.
Che hesitated for a split second, allowing a through-ball from from beyond the midfield to fly past him untouched. This sprang Juan Cruz De Los Santos into the left side of the area in full stride. He drew both Halliday and Wynder in his direction, before laying off a short ball to the middle for Anderson Duarte to side-foot in to the wide-open right side of goal for the 1-0 lead.
Shocked at giving up their first goal of the tournament so cheaply, the Americans had issues finding their footing in the attack, and were too often lacking precision and patience at the end of their many build-ups.
Their inability to keep their opponents on the back-heel came back to bite them roughly ten minutes into the second half. Uruguay’s Ignacio Sosa advanced up the left flank in space, before cutting a short pass inwards to De Los Santos.
The River Plate Montevideo attacker was not in a dangerous position on his own, but spotted team talisman Franco González making a run up the middle. His cross did appear quite a bit ahead of his teammate and was likely headed over the line for a goal kick, however Wynder slid in carelessly in an attempt to make the unnecessary clearance, instead placing the ball just inside the right upright, past Gabriel Slonina’s reach for the shocking 2-0 lead.
The dynamic duo of Luna and Cowell were not without their positive moments, and came close ten minutes after the own-goal; the Salt Lack City attacker hit his San Jose counterpart on a run into the area, but Cowell’s shot from a tight angle to the left was easily saved by Uruguayan keeper Randall Rodriguez.
Varas could also be questioned for his usage of substitutes in this game, as he used all five before the 70th minute, three alone before the 55th, effectively denying himself of any ability to inject one last shot of adrenaline in the final ten minutes in an attempt to catch his opponents off-guard.
Following nearly ten minutes of added time, in which the pattern of imprecision in the final third continued for the young Yanks, the whistle blew to confirm the victory to the South Americans.
The game effectively ends the cycle for most of the players within this age group, as preparations for the 2025 U-20 World Cup will likely not begin until later this year at earliest, with only a handful of the younger holdovers from the team expected to be a part of the next group.
However, many players on the squad will likely form the core of the U-23 squad that will compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, so preparatory camps can be expected to slowly ramp up in the coming months.