The US U-20 team beat Colombia 1-0 early Wednesday morning behind a great goal from Rubio Rubin, some stellar goalkeeping from Zack Steffen, and an impressive performance from the back four. The young USMNT now faces Serbia in the quarterfinals in a challenging match up early Sunday Morning EST/late Saturday night PST. Part of the reason this game appears to be so daunting is the fact that Tab Ramos has made some puzzling lineup decisions throughout the tournament, especially when compared to what worked in qualification for the U-20 World Cup. His decision to play Kellyn Acosta as a left back throughout the tournament has left Marky Delgado to man the holding midfield role due to the absence of Russell Canouse, who got injured in training just days before the tournament. Delgado has struggled to make an impact throughout the tournament, and it is surprising that Ramos had not tried Acosta in the holding role and put John Requejo at left back, where he played throughout qualification in impressive fashion. Unfortunately he no longer has that option to slot Acosta into the midfield against Serbia as Acosta picked up two yellows against Colombia, the second conceding a penalty in the 83rd minute that Zack Steffen was able to make a big save on to preserve the 1-0 margin.
Fortunately for the US, Rubio Rubin is quite the fox in the box, seizing his one real opportunity against Colombia and burying it. His chance came about when Paul Arriola took a shot that looked to have hit a Colombian defender’s hand inside the box. The ball then fell kindly for Rubin, who gave the keeper no chance as he ripped a shot into the top of the net. It was a great finish. The question for the game against Serbia is who will start with Rubin up top, as Bradford Jamieson IV picked up an injury only five minutes into the match against Colombia. He and Maki Tall would have both been in position to start, but with the injuries to both of them it will be interesting to see if Ramos goes with Jordan Allen and leaves Rubin up top by himself in more of a 4-5-1 like he did after Bradford Jamieson’s injury or if he goes with someone like Tommy Thompson who can play as more of a second forward. The US struggled to maintain possession at times after Allen entered the game, and Rubin was stranded up top and left to chase balls against four defenders for periods versus Colombia. Whatever the change is, it will be important that it is someone who can help link up with Gedion Zelalem and Emerson Hyndman, who have both looked good in the midfield but have lacked support at times.
The US back line was very steady vs Colombia, with Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga pairing nicely at center back to block numerous shots and limit Colombia’s chances. When Colombia did get through, Zack Steffen came up huge with multiple big saves, including the save of a pretty well taken penalty kick. Carter-Vickers stock has to have skyrocketed as a result of the World Cup as he has been quite good throughout the group stages and now in the knockout rounds. Desevio Payne has been a revelation at right back, he is very composed on the ball and is a strong all around defender, so much that he replaced Shaq Moore in the starting lineup. The only weakness was Acosta, who made two surprising bad decisions that a player of his experience doesn’t normally make. It’s very likely that John Requejo will be joining these three in the back for the next game. Requejo was one of the players that impressed me the most during qualification, so I think his addition could be an improvement for the team overall.
Serbia is similar to Colombia in terms of physicality and skill from what I have seen of them and it will be a tough match for the US. The injury woes for the US are problematic, but fortunately this squad is extremely deep, which makes this less of a concern then it would have been in the past. The biggest question will be how does Tab Ramos adjust his lineup for this game, as his decisions really are the key going forward. Here’s to hoping the US can find themselves with a date in the semifinals so US fans can continue keeping the maddening hours it takes to follow the team as they try to continue their deep run in the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.