U.S. Men's U-20 Team
Here's What You Need to Know About U-20 Cup Draw
March 16, 2017
THE UNITED STATES UNDER-20 men's national team was drawn into Group F for the 2017 World Cup in South Korea and will face Ecuador, Senegal, and Saudi Arabia in the group stage. It is a challenging draw but still manageable and the U.S. wil be expected to advance.
The tournament will be Tab Ramos' third as head coach of the U.S. U-20s. It is always difficult to predict how strong teams are at this level but the first reaction is that the draw is harder than what he had in 2015 when the U.S. team was placed into a group with Myanmar, hosts New Zealand, and the Ukraine. On the other hand, it should be nowhere near as hard as the nightmare draw it had in 2013 when it faced Spain, France, and Ghana.
Here are my thoughts on the latest developments.
The U.S. will play its hardest games, against Ecuador and Senegal, first. Unlike the senior World Cup, in which only the top two from every group advance, four third-place teams progress as well. A win in one of the first two games should bode well for advancement.
One hallmark from the U.S. U-20 teams under Ramos is that they tend to thrive on momentum and improve as tournaments progress. A win in one of the first two games should bring a strong possibility of advancing.
U.S. vs. Ecuador: May 22, 4am ET, Incheon Stadium
U.S. vs. Senegal: May 25, 7am ET, Incheon Stadium
U.S. vs. Saudi Arabia: May 28, 5am ET, Daejeon World Cup Stadium
Meet the Opponents
The three opponents in the group all finished second in their respective regions during their qualifying campaigns. These three teams all have the capability of beating the United States.
Ecuador: Ecuador advanced to the final of the U-20 qualifying tournament, defeating Colombia, routing Argentina, and drawing Brazil. In a round-robin tournament, Ecuador finished second to an undefeated Uruguay.
But Ecuador had the advantage of hosting South America’s qualifying tournament and it played its games at an average altitude of 2,500 meters. That is an advantage it will not have in South Korea.
Ecuador is strong in the attack. Its 11 goals in the qualifying tournament were the most of all the participating teams. Atalanta's Bryan Cabezas tied for the tournament's scoring title with four goals and Granada's Pervis Estupinan was close behind with three goals. Universidad Catolica's Jordy Caicedo also scored twice.
Ecuador's backline conceded eight goals in five games.
Senegal: Senegal’s U-20 team has been doing well for the last several years and has finished runners-up in Africa twice in a row. On Sunday, it lost the U-20 African Cup of Nations final to Zambia 2-0 after defeating Guinea 1-0 in the semifinal.
It advanced to the semifinal after finishing atop Group B which included South Africa, Cameroon, and Sudan. Its best efforts came in a convincing 2-0 win over Cameroon and a 4-3 win over South Africa where Senegal trailed 2-0 at halftime.
For its performances in the tournament, Senegal had four players named to the 2017 U-20 Cup of Nations Best XI: Defenders Ousseynou Diagne and Mamadou Mbaye along with midfielders Krepin Diatta and Ibrahima Niane.
Saudi Arabia: In October, Saudi Arabia qualified for this tournament by advancing to the finals of the Asian U-19 championship. It barely advanced out of its group, finishing second behind Bahrain and ahead of South Korea and Thailand. In the knockout stages it defeated Iraq on penalties after a 2-2 deadlock. Then in the semifinal it got past Iran in a wild 6-5 win. Saudia Arabia then lost to Japan in the final—a match that was decided in a shootout after a scoreless draw.
Saudi Arabia proved itself in this tournament to be unpredictable and scrappy. It had a bad loss in the group stages—to Bahrain—but then found a way to advance. It can either win in a high-scoring game, like it did Iran, or it can play Japan in a tight low-scoring game.
Bottom Line: The U.S. should advance
The United States won the CONCACAF Championship but results don't lie: Ramos' side is a promising but inconsistent team prone to poor performances, as seen in the opening loss to Panama.
The United States has outstanding defensive capabilities in both the midfield and the backline although, an injury to Justen Glad could affect that. If this group can play to the level it displayed against Mexico in qualifying, then it will be very hard on opponents like Saudi Arabia and Ecuador, as both of which advanced by virtue of offensive production. If the U.S. team’s defense is not as sharp or its goalkeeping is subpar, the team can be in trouble.
The U.S. will need to improve its offense. Poor finishing and passing in the final third will be a huge cap on how far the team can advance.
This team is good but will arrive in South Korea with some areas of concern. It should advance but the margin between success and failure is very thin.
The draw was favorable to all four CONCACAF teams and it would not be surprising to see the United States, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica advance to the round of 16.
Here is the entire 2017 U-20 World Cup draw. Manageable draw for all 4 CONCACAF teams pic.twitter.com/7GULH7ssQC— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) March 15, 2017
The United States is the CONCACAF U-20 Champion but it might not be done with CONCACAF yet. Should the U.S. win Group F, it would face the runner up of Group E in the Round of 16 and that could very well be Honduras. If the U.S. team finishes second in Group F, it would face the second-place team in Group B and that could be Mexico.
A third-place finish by the United States opens up different scenarios but the odds of facing off against a familiar CONCACAF foe is high.