U.S. Men's U-20 Team
Williamson's Wonder Strike Lifts Yanks to World Cup
March 04, 2017
THE UNITED STATES qualified for the 2017 U-20 World Cup in South Korea following a 2-1 win over El Salvador on Friday. The game was ugly and chippy but Eryk Williamson’s goal was perhaps the best of the tournament and it was all that the U.S. team needed to also book a spot in Sunday’s CONCACAF U-20 final against Honduras.
The U-20s came into Friday’s game with a commanding position following its upset win over Mexico on Monday. All it needed to qualify for the World Cup: a win, draw, or a loss of two or fewer goals. The Yanks did need a win or draw, however, to qualify for the final.
Head coach Tab Ramos made several lineup changes after the Mexico match: Eammuel Sabbi replaced struggling center forward Jeremy Ebobisse who came into the tournament as the team’s leading scorer but has been held scoreless in four games in Costa Rica. Also, Philadelphia Union’s Auston Trusty, normally a central defender, replaced Danny Acosta at left back.
The United States took El Salvador out of the game early in the 18th minute when Trusty fed Williamson in the middle. The fullback then played a nice pass to Sabbi who calmly beat El Salvador’s goalkeeper Mario Martinez.
Seven minutes later Williamson blasted an unstoppable shot from 25 yards out that ricocheted off the upright and into the back of the net.
Soon after securing the lead, Ramos' men seemed to apply the brakes. Captain Eryk Palmer-Brown came out in the first half and the teem fell asleep in the 35th minute when Marvin Marquez went unmarked into the box and bounced a shot past Jonathan Klinsmann.
The second half was a terrible display from both sides, with very little decent soccer and multiple ugly, dirty moments. Two red cards were handed out, including one to American attacker Sebastian Saucedo in the 89th minute. As a result, Saucedo will miss Sunday’s final.
Following the game, Panama and Costa Rica played to a 1-1 draw—good enough for Costa Rica to qualify for the World Cup. The four teams CONCACAF will send to South Korea: the United States, Honduras, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
Williamson Gives MOTM performance
Eryk Williamson was easily the man of the match and should head into Sunday’s final with confidence. The University of Maryland star has been mulling his future in recent months, debating whether to return for another season in college, sign a homegrown deal with D.C. United (where he played for its academy), or try to land a deal in Europe (something he told ASN last year he was considering).
One game is a small sample size but Williamson has been a Ramos favorite all cycle and it's a good sign that Williamson has improved throughout the tournament, both defensively and pushing forward. And his goal was phenomenal.
Defense remains the core
Ramos built this team from the back—and that structure has paid dividends. Consider this: The Yanks are through to the final without their goalkeeper making any big saves and despite the fact that they're center forwards produced just one goal in five games.
The central midfield deserves a lot of credit due to its pressing and ability to force turnovers. This team has also shown the ability to hold possession for a bit and force opponents to chase the game.
To make a run in the U-20 World Cup, the team needs a lot of work generating scoring chances. The 2015 team had much more creativity in the midfield with Emerson Hyndman, Gedion Zelalem, Joel Sonora, and Paul Arriola.
This current squad, however, has its own strengths. In particular, Palmer-Brown and Tyler Adams deserve a lot of praise. Palmer-Brown is not a defensive midfielder and could play in his normal central defense at the World Cup. Adams, one of the youngest players on the roster, has put himself in a position to perhaps start in South Korea.
Final is a big opportunity
The United States U-20 team has never won a CONCACAF title. The team came close in 2013 and 2009, losing in the final both times, but Ramos is in his third—and maybe last—cycle in charge of the team. Adding a CONCACAF title and another trip to the knockout stages of the World Cup would make a nice addition to his resume.
Assuming no players other than the suspended Saucedo return to their respective clubs in advance of the final, Ramos will likely start his best-available team on Friday. The roster for the U-20 World Cup will likely change as Gedion Zelalem, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Nick Taitague, Weston McKennie, and others become available.
Some of the players on this roster are very much on the bubble as to whether or not they will make the World Cup roster. Williamson was on the bubble but he helped his case on Friday and could make a compelling case on Sunday.
Others to watch include Luca de la Torre, Ebobisse, and Sabbi. The U.S. attack has not yet delivered in Costa Rica and there are 90 minutes left to make an impression.