A very resilient USA Under-20 men's national team is heading back to the quarterfinal stage of the U-20 World Cup.

By Avi Creditor
June 04, 2019

A very resilient USA Under-20 men's national team is heading back to the quarterfinal stage of the U-20 World Cup.

The U.S. reached the final eight for a third straight U-20 World Cup by coming from behind to topple France 3-2 in Poland on Tuesday. Sebastian Soto notched his second two-goal game of the tournament, but it was Justin Rennicks's late finish on a spilled rebound that tilted the scale in the Americans' balance, putting them on course to face Ecuador on Saturday.

The match had a familiar feel to anyone who has watched a U.S. national team on the world stage this century. Underdogs against a top European opponent, the U.S. came out looking rather relaxed, though it conceded much of the possession and was forced to defend for the bulk of the match before ultimately having its mental and physical strength win out. It took a sequence completely against the run of play to open the scoring, which Soto did at the 24-minute mark.

PSV attacking midfielder Richie Ledezma led a clinical counterattack, splitting the defense to set up Soto, who had scored two goals in a group-stage win over Nigeria.

France didn't relent, though, and put its inevitable stamp on the scoreboard soon after.

France hit the post in the 37th minute through Mickael Cuisance, but the dam on the U.S. resistance broke a few minutes later. PSG's Moussa Diaby–a teammate of U.S. winger Tim Weah–led a counter of France's own and fed Lyon's Amine Gouiri, who beat USA goalkeeper Brady Scott with a precise finish from a right-sided angle.

Diaby's speed and ability led to France's go-ahead goal, too. He roasted Aboubacar Keita on the U.S. left and struck a low shot that hit off the post. Nabil Alioui was first to the rebound and got another on the ball to loop it into a vacated net in the 56th minute.

At that point, the U.S. looked like it was running on tired legs and chasing an opponent that could've padded its lead, but that's where the resilience kicked in. In the 63rd minute, Rennicks and Ulysses Llanez came off the bench, both having their say over the final half hour.

Eleven minutes after his introduction, Llanez found Weah in the attacking third, where he picked out Soto with a slick through ball. The Hannover forward showed his poise in the box, settling and finishing to bring the U.S. level.

It was Rennicks's turn soon after, as the New England Revolution product was first to a spilled rebound after a speculative, long-range blast from Sergino Dest, and he finished by the far post to seize the lead.

The U.S. defended that lead from there, surviving a close call at the back post, where Borussia Dortmund center back Dan-Axel Zagadou threatened to head home an equalizer, and as a result, it became the only nation to reach the quarterfinals of the last three U-20 World Cups. The last two ended in defeat, in 2015 to eventual champion Serbia and in 2017 to eventual runner-up Venezuela. 

Ecuador, the reigning U-20 South American champion, comes next. It impressively defeated Uruguay on Tuesday, coming back from an early 1-0 deficit to advance with a 3-1 win. Ecuador advanced from the group stage as one of the top third-place finishers in a quartet that featured Italy, Japan and Mexico. It took a 1-0 win over Mexico on the last day of group play to go through. 

Whereas the USA was missing some key components vs. France and impressively displayed its depth, it will be at full strength vs. Ecuador. Chris Durkin and Alex Mendez, two starting-caliber midfielders, were suspended Tuesday due to yellow card accumulation, but they'll be eligible to return on Saturday. No other players carrying yellows picked up bookings that would've kept them from playing in the quarterfinals, so Tab Ramos will have a full complement of players from which to choose when selecting his squad.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
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Double Bogey (+2)