U-20 World Cup
Sargent Scores Again, U.S. U-20s Move Atop Group
May 25, 2017
AFTER ANOTHER GOAL from youngster Josh Sargent, the United States U-20 team put on a first-rate defensive display on Thursday to defeat Senegal 1-0 and move to the top of Group F at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea.
The Yanks looked especially strong in the first half, breaking the deadlock in the 34th minute when Tyler Adams sent a ball that sprung Luca de la Torre behind Senegal’s defense. The Fulham midfielder then sent a perfect pass to Sargent who beat Senegal goalkeeper Mouhamed Mbaye with a hard shot. De la Torre now has two assists and a goal in the first two games of the World Cup.
For Sargent, 17, the goal marked another milestone in his remarkable two-month run. In April he was the leading scorer for the U.S. U-17 team in World Cup qualifying, scoring five goals. Tab Ramos made the surprising decision to quickly call him up to the U-20 team for the World Cup and that decision has paid massive dividends as the St. Louis native now has three goals in his first two games.
In the second half, the Americans emphasized defense but Sargent forced Mbaye to make saves in the 48th and 62th minutes. But the defensive approach was far from bunkering as Senegal’s offense showed little ability to generate anything dangerous.
Thanks to the central defense tandem of Erik Palmer-Brown and the now-healthy Cameron Carter-Vickers, Senegal was only able to muster two relatively weak shots on goal in the entire game.
After four minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew and the U.S. walked away with the deserved victory. With four points in its first two games, a win over Saudi Arabia on Sunday would be enough to clinch the group. A draw on Sunday would secure a spot in the knockout rounds although the four points it has now is likely enough, as four third-place finishers advance to the knockout round.
Here are my thoughts on the United States U-20 team’s win over Senegal
Carter-Vickers and Palmer-Brown
Coming into the tournament,Tottenham central defender Cameron Carter-Vickers' health was in doubt. He is one of the team’s top players but he missed the previous five weeks with a knee injury. In 2015 he was among the best defenders at the U-20 World Cup but now, as a full professional, he was expected to take his performance to another level.
The English-born Carter-Vickers erased any concern over his health and fitness and put on a strong display against Senegal. More importantly, his chemistry with team captain Erik Palmer-Brown (also a hold-over from the 2015 U-20 team) was strong. Both are among the best teenager American players and both played up to their potential.
Senegal’s normally efficient attackers ran into a brick wall in Carter-Vickers and Palmer-Brown.
The bottom line is that if Palmer-Brown and Carter-Vickers play this well, or even improve as the tournament progresses, the U.S. can go very far. That pairing can cover up a lot of weaknesses.
Fullback play significantly improved
In World Cup qualifying, Danny Acosta featured at left back and struggled for several games. With Marlon Fossey injured, Aaron Herrera was moved into the right back position. Against Ecuador, Herrera had a nightmare first half and Acosta was merely average.
Both players improved significantly against Senegal. Acosta is still learning the left back position but had his best game for the U-20s on Thursday. He was rarely beaten defensively and pushed forward effectively into the attack on occasion.
Herrera raised his game significantly. He was beaten by a faster Senegal attacker inside the first 10 minutes again but overall worked extremely hard and was effective in the win. It is not easy to shake off a very poor game in a major tournament. Young players can crumble after bad games and it takes quite a bit of mental strength to rebound the way Herrera did.
Adams had his best U-20 game
U.S. Soccer awarded its man of the match to Carter-Vickers and many fans believed Sargent deserved the honor. That’s fair and both players have strong arguments.
But Tyler Adams also has a case to be the best player in the win over Senegal. In the game's only goal it was his pass that got the ball behind Senegal’s defense. Beyond that sequence, the New York Red Bulls midfielder gave a complete performance—both offensively and defensively. His passing was the best it has ever been at the international level and defensively he forced turnovers and closed down passing lanes. His stamina is on another level as he continued to cover tons of ground as Senegal pushed for an equalizer in stoppage time.
As one of the team’s youngest players, Adams is also eligible for the 2019 U-20 team. He is maturing quickly and has improved a lot since qualifying. The value of playing first-team minutes with New York is paying dividends. It will be interesting to see if offers come in for him after this tournament.
This Team Has Character to Spare
On Monday the Yanks came back from a two-goal deficit to secure a point against Ecuador. Today Ramos' men held on for a win against a very strong Senegal team that placed second in the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations. In both instances the team shows the fighting spirit American teams used to be known for.
Overall there seems to be a great spirit within this team. When one player is struggling, others know how to cover for him. Similarly, players don’t seem to hang their head when they make mistakes. Instead, the find a way to improve. The team didn’t give up after it lost Gedion Zelalem in the opening half of the first game. Herrera found a way to shake off a poor outing in game one. Adams went from a mixed performance against Ecuador to a stellar one against Senegal.
The team has shown that it is a group of fighters and one that seems to problem-solve quickly. The first two games have been quite impressive.
Next Up: Saudi Arabia
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia pulled off a surprising 2-1 win over Ecuador. While Saudi Arabia played well, Ecuador was remarkably wasteful and Saudi Arabian goalkeeper Ameen Bokhari made the difference. Ecuador unleashed 24 shots and 10 were on frame; Saudi Arabia only managed three shots on goal. Ecuador had more offensive opportunities but Saudi Arabia won the game by being far more clinical.
The United States should be the favorite heading into Sunday's game (5am ET, FS1, Telemundo) and if the Americans can score early, it can frustrate Saudi Arabia’s chance of notching another upset against the run of play.
It's hard to see Ramos changing the starting lineup but he must start to focus on the first knockout game. The yellow card that Derrick Jones picked up against Ecuador is a concern. Another card against Ecuador will have him suspended in the knockout stage. The only other logical replacement for Jones is to move Palmer-Brown into that spot and then shift Justen Glad into central defense.
The fact Glad is healthy and managed to play a few minutes on Thursday also makes him a candidate to start. Glad could either play in his natural central defense position if Palmer-Brown moves to midfield or he could play out of position at right back.
Predicted starting XI vs. Saudi Arabia
Goalkeeper: Jonathan Klinsmann
Right back: Aaron Herrera
Central defender: Erik Palmer-Brown
Central defender: Cameron Carter-Vickers
Left back: Danny Acosta
Defensive/holding midfielder: Derrick Jones
Defensive/holding midfielder: Tyler Adams
Right midfielder: Brooks Lennon
Central midfielder: Eryk Williamson
Left midfielder: Luca de la Torre
Forward: Josh Sargent