The U20’s continued Group C play in the 2016 U20 WWC with a bounce back 3-1 win against New Zealand. The United States flipped the script from their opening match and had their foot on the gas pedal from the opening whistle. New Zealand never recovered from two smash and grab goals in the first 10 minutes and though they picked up a consolation goal in the 76’, this was the United States’ game from whistle to whistle.
Pugh, Sanchez Get Involved
If the U20’s have any hope of winning this tournament, they’re going to need significant contribution from their two best attacking players. In the opening match against France, Mallory Pugh and Ashley Sanchez were involved in the few chances generated but didn’t finish any of them. It was a different story against New Zealand as both Sanchez and Pugh opened their scoring accounts for the tournament within the first 10 minutes of the match.
Sanchez’s goal in the 3’ was a real poacher's effort, picking the ball off of a lingering New Zealand centerback and curling it around the goalkeeper. Similarly, Pugh’s goal in the 8’ was pure work rate as she stole the ball in midfield and took it all the way, finishing with a classy strike. If not for the post in the 59’, a heads up dummy by Pugh almost led to another goal by Sanchez. Against teams more organized than New Zealand these acts of individual brilliance could prove to be the difference between the U20’s advancing through the tournament or going home.
Tactical Changes Pay Dividends
Coach Michelle French made three changes from the team that played in the first match: Emily Fox, Savannah Demelo, and Katie Cousins replaced Parker Roberts, Jessie Scarpa, and Courtney Petersen. Of these three changes, Cousins proved to be a difference maker in the midfield. After the midfield was all but absent against France, Cousins breathed life into the middle of the park and started blazing counter attacks off of her ball winning all night.
Left back, Ellie Jean, was more active getting up and down the flanks than she was against France and played a major part in pinning New Zealand back for much of the match. This seemed to be part of a larger game plan to get out in front early and force New Zealand to defend much like France had forced them to defend and chase. Combined with better ball movement and speed of play, the United States were the better team for the majority of the night. As expected with how much they chased in the first match there were lulls in their effectiveness but overall they demonstrated immense tactical growth from their first match.
One area where French still needs to go back to the drawing board is set pieces. The U20’s earned 12 corner kicks throughout the match and didn’t convert on a single one of them. In the Olympics, a failure to convert on numerous set pieces doomed the senior team. It would behoove the U20’s to learn from the mistakes of their elder counterparts.
USA sits atop group despite tale of two matches
In the other match of the night in Group C, France and Ghana played to a wild 2-2 draw with France scoring a late equalizer in the final minute of stoppage time. With this scoreline, France sits on two points and Ghana has one point in two matches. After their loss to the U20’s, New Zealand sits in second place with three points in two matches. Somehow, this leaves the U20’s on top of a very close Group C with four points taken from two matches. Still, this group is anyone’s group.
Next up, the U20’s switch venues to play Ghana in their final group match. Ghana has proven to be a surprise in the group as they’ve been firmly in every game they’ve played thus far and probably should be sitting on six points instead of one. It would be a mistake for the U20’s to overlook the match against Ghana as their tenuous position in the group doesn’t afford much room for complacency. It will be interesting to see if French rotates the squad much against Ghana as she surely has some tired legs to deal with in the heat of Papua New Guinea. Doing so may cost her the match against Ghana and the group, not doing so may cost her further down the line.
Elsewhere, New Zealand and France will kick off at the same time and both still have a chance at winning the group if results go their way. Welcome to Group C, we’re in for a wild ride to the finish.