U-20 World Cup: Without a midfield destroyer, the U.S. loses to Spain

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Spain's attackers were too much for the United States. (Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Spain’s attackers were too much for the United States. (Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)


Despite being on the receiving end of a 4-1 goleada by Spain’s Under -20 national team in its opening game of the U-20 World Cup, in many ways, the United States’ Under-20 national team displayed better passing and overall skill on the ball than the so-called “senior” United States Men’s National Team.


The main problem for Tab Ramos’ U-20 American side was the lack of a real defensive midfielder to cut down on the space Spain had in front of the American defense to run at them and break them down with passes and dribbling.


Some of Ramos’s roster selections raised eyebrows (Javan Torre, Daniel Garcia, and maybe Alonso Hernandez), and the main scapegoat for the U.S.’ loss was Javan Torre. Nevertheless, Spain’s strikers Gerard Deulofeu and Jesé Rodriguez are extremely talented strikers who attack with speed, technique, and trickery.


There were several examples of both of Spain’s strikers being given too much space to score, but Spain’s second goal scored by Deulofeu was probably unstoppable.


Javan Torre stayed close to Deulofeu to almost entirely block any clear angle to score, but Deulofeu put so much inside of the foot bend on the ball that he was able to strike the ball wide of Torre and American goalkeeper, Cody Cropper, and still find the back of the net despite Cropper doing a full lay out dive, which had the angle to the far post blocked.


American soccer fans might have to accept that particular goal as a moment of individual skill, unlike the first Spanish goal which was a combination of individual skill on the pass and DeAndre Yedlin leaving Jesé Rodríguez with too much space to volley a goal from close range with the inside of his foot.


Likely, the real root of the problem lies with the two American center backs being in the position where Spain had space in front of them to either sprint at them or play passes through or over them.


However one looks at it, the American defense was too easily beaten on four occasions, but the United States did play an open game with Spain, in which the U.S. showed good team passing and a good display of comfort on the ball.


American midfielders Benji Joya and Luis Gil displayed the ability to play on Spain’s level, but Will Trapp had a quiet game, in which he appeared to not provide enough defensive coverage deep in the American midfield. Joya was often dropping deep to receive the ball and then advancing up field, which allowed Spain to have a big hole to exploit in front of the American defense.


In the upcoming game against France, the U.S. has the displeasure of having to face off against perhaps the best defensive and box-to-box midfielder in the world: Paul Pogba.


Given the fact that Pogba is not only the best player in the entire tournament but one of the best midfielders in the world for any age group, it’s particularly unfortunate that the United States is weak at the defensive midfielder position.


Against Pogba, Tab Ramos will have to make an adjustment to his line-up to try to attempt to somewhat neutralize Pogba (which won’t be possible), and this adjustment will likely be starting Shane O’Neill and someone else at center back with Caleb Stanko at the midfield destroyer role.


While the passing and skill level of the United States was encouraging and genuinely high quality, the defense delivered by Will Trapp and the American back four was poor. Either the American back four was left helpless by Trapp, or they were guilty of being two easily beaten.


Perhaps starting Stanko with a center back besides Torre would have put the United States in the position to better handle Spain’s attacking forays even with the hole deep in the American midfield, or maybe Spain’s strikers were just too good.


In the wake of a three-goal loss to Spain, the United States has plenty of strong attacking and midfield options, but these skilled midfielders and forwards need to not be made irrelevant due to a hole deep in the American midfield or a weak center back tandem.


The silver lining to the game was an excellent left-footed upper 90 golazo scored by American playmaker Luis Gil after he freed himself to shoot with a Cruyff. Gil’s overall play, near assist for Alonso Hernandez, as well as Gil’s goal provided more evidence that Jürgen Klinsmann has playmaker options for his USMNT.


In a way, the area where the USMNT is very strong, defensive midfield, and the area where they are weak, the attacking portion of the midfield, is the opposite of the U-20 U.S. national team.


Against France, Tab Ramos needs to play Stanko as a midfield destroyer, so that the U-20’s technical ability and attacking skill aren’t wasted.


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