Sebastian Soto

AP Photo/Sergei Grits

U.S. U-20s meeting potential head-on

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The Yanks are coming.

Given the past year for the U.S. men’s national team, that’s a statement which might’ve required different and perhaps excessive punctuation even a few months before the U-20 World Cup in Poland.

Maybe: The Yanks are coming?

Or even: The Yanks are coming?!?

[ RECAP: France 2-3 U.S. U-20s ]

There was a cautious optimism regarding the United States U-20 team heading into the tournament, no doubt. Tab Ramos’ men had suitcases full of swagger and a boatload of nerve honed from win after win in CONCACAF and plenty of advancement in their club careers.

Sebastian Soto and Timothy Weah had broken into the fold at Hannover 96 and Celtic (and PSG). Paxton Pomykal was having one of the best seasons of any midfielder in MLS, and a handful of players including Chris Richards and Alex Mendez took MLS Academy-developed careers to Bundesliga clubs.

Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar was a manageable group, not an easy one, but if the hype and hope met halfway the Baby Yanks could have a shot at placing for the first time in 20 years (when the tournament had fewer teams).

Looking at the tournament field, the mandate of the ambitious seemed simple: Don’t just advance, but win the group and probably avoid France. The oddsmakers had France as better than even money to win the tournament.

So when the Baby Yanks’ early 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit via goals before and after halftime, many would’ve been forgiven for sensing in air of inevitability. That Ramos’ men would flip the script with two goals in the final 16 minutes was wondrous.

Perhaps that amazement is a product of how much weight was put on the Baby Yanks winning Group D with the hopes of avoiding France. Maybe that added to the specter of Les Bleus, casting a longer shadow over the field.

Of course it could all fall apart for the U-20s against Ecuador, even though the Yanks will be favored in Gdynia. These are young players, more likely to be swayed by in-game emotions. Wisdom is there to be gained from these tournaments, win or lose.

Yet this makes three-straight quarterfinal berths for the U.S. who, by the way, has U-20 eligible Josh Sargent on USMNT duty.

It’s a terrific feather in the cap of Ramos, whose 2017 squad took eventual finalists Venezuela to penalty kicks in the quarters and had neither Christian Pulisic nor Weston McKennie on the roster (Tyler Adams and Sargent were there, it should be noted).

That Venezuela team, for what it’s worth, lost to England who had Lewis Cook, Dominic Solanke, Dominic Calvert-Lewin as three of a several to now have Premier League experience under their belts. 2015 winners, Serbia, defeated the U.S. in the quarters (penalty kicks) and had Sergej Milinković-Savić and Marko Grujic.

The U-20 World Cup isn’t a kingmaker of a tournament, and many stars of this month (and last) won’t dance onto FIFPro Best XI, but tell any sad sacks trying to thumb their nose at this U.S. win to take a hike.

Only eight teams will remain once Argentina and Mali finish their tangle on Tuesday, and the United States is alive. For a men’s program which failed so fantastically in World Cup and Olympic qualifying, these wins are welcome feats of strength.

And really, it could be huge given the full USMNT’s promise under Gregg Berhalter, with three key players 20 years old and promise building into the Gold Cup and, we can only hope, the 2022 World Cup.

U-20 World Cup: Soto brace leads U.S. past Nigeria (video)

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Sebastian Soto scored twice officially and once more though it was called back as the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team recorded a crucial victory to stay alive at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

The U.S. defeated Nigeria, 2-0 on Monday afternoon in Bielsko Biala, Poland at the Stadion Miejski. The game was marked both by the goals as well as the ones that didn’t happen, as the video assistant referee (VAR) called back a goal for the U.S. and a penalty kick for Nigeria.

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Soto, inserted into the starting lineup by U.S. U-20s manager Tab Ramos in place of Brandon Servania, paid dividends as he scored either side of halftime, including less than a minute into the second half.

Ramos, feeling that his squad played well against Ukraine in the opening match but was not clinical enough, decided to replace a midfielder in Servania with Soto, the same change Ramos made in the second half of the 2-1 defeat to Ukraine. The move to a 4-3-3 paid dividends, with the trio of Soto, Tim Weah on the left and Konrad de la Fuente on the right providing high pressure, and Paxton Pomykal and Alex Mendez providing support behind them. The U.S. displayed quick passing in tight spaces as well as strong passing from Chris Durkin to spray the ball around the field from his position as a holding midfielder.

The U.S. opened the scoring in the 18th minute. A corner kick delivered to the far post was headed home by Soto, after taking a bump on the way towards goal.

Soto then seemed to add a second in the 31st minute but Tim Weah was offside on the initial cross into the box. Nigeria threatened the U.S. goal a few times before halftime, including a strike that cannoned off the crossbar and out of play.

After the halftime break, the U.S. made an immediate impact. Chris Glouster dribbled up through the left channel. Nigeria barely put any pressure on him and less than 45 seconds into the second half, Glouster played Soto into the box. The Hannover connection was on display as Soto took a few steps before dinking the ball over Olawale Oremade.

After an injury to Chris Richards, which brought on U.S. captain Mark McKenzie, the latter seemed to have given Nigeria some life. In the 65th minute, McKenzie bundled over Nigeria striker Michael, leading to a penalty kick call.

However, after a lengthy VAR check, the penalty was wiped out due to an offside player.

With the win, the U.S. are in a strong position to advance out of the group, although both the U.S. and Qatar need a result from their final match.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).