After the utterly ridiculous nature of the U-20’s 3-3 draw against Ecuador to start the tournament, their 1-0 victory over Senegal was relatively relaxing. While the Senegalese used clever movement and technical skill to win space on the flanks, the U.S. defense prevented most all of their chances from developing into scoring opportunities in the middle, and a brilliant team move and finish was enough to secure the victory. Looking for some brief takeaways from this match? We’ve got you covered.
Josh Sargent Is Ready for This
The “Josh Sargent for Russia 2018” movement is already a thing. Is that too soon? Yes.
Thinking about driving the Josh-Sargent-to-Russia-2018-Hype-Train. Accepting passengers now.— Roderick MacNeil (@rodmacneil) May 24, 2017
But it also shouldn’t be understated how difficult it can be to play a full development cycle above your own, especially between the U-17 and U-20 age groups. A ton of physical, professional, and mental development occurs in that 2-3 year gap. Sargent has taken it in stride, and he’s tied for most goals in the tournament so far. He’s not just scoring goals, either. He’s making plays like this one, that show off how advanced his physical attributes and soccer IQ are already.
This is called being good at soccer pic.twitter.com/MqcpBx5IxY— Yamil Asad liker (@RobUsry) May 25, 2017
Does that mean he’ll be ready for the full national team next year? Absolutely not. You never know how a player’s development might accelerate or stall. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility at the rate he’s going, either.
Derrick Jones Has Changed This Team
I cannot explain to you how far removed the team that beat Senegal is from the team that played the first half hour against Ecuador. The difference between the two? Derrick Jones and the domino effect his inclusion has had for this team’s balance.
In qualifying, defense was clearly the strength of this U-20 team. Tyler Adams and Eryk Williamson formed an inverted triangle with Erik Palmer-Brown, pushed up from his usual center back spot into defensive midfield. Both Adams and Williamson played box-to-box roles; neither is an attacking midfielder, but neither is a true defensive midfielder, either. When Gedion Zelalem started alongside Adams in holding midfield, the U.S. defense looked completely thrown for a loop. Zelalem is great at keeping possession, but does not have much defensive bite. Adams looked lost as well in his role as the only defensive midfielder in the squad. Normally, he buzzes around and puts relentless pressure on opposing offenses, refusing to let them build methodically. Without a responsible midfielder behind him, though, this will leave huge gaps that a good attacking team (like Ecuador) can exploit, especially in transition. When Zelalem was injured and Jones replaced him, Adams suddenly had that responsible, dedicated defensive midfielder to plug the gaps he left behind when he would step up to challenge players. Jones’s inclusion also allows Adams to push into the attack more frequently, which results in plays like this.
Adams has had some yips in front of goal, but this touch forgives everything else in my book. Jones’s inclusion has unlocked the game for Adams, and resulted in a much more balanced U.S. midfield.
Cameron Carter-Vickers Is Still Good
People have started using very extreme opinions when they talk about CCV. It seems that he’s either a center back god who Bruce Arena needs to call in this second, or he’s washed up because he can’t break into Tottenham’s first team and he didn’t look great for the U-23s or against Liverpool in the League Cup. I want to temper both of these opinions: Carter-Vickers is a good defender, and he’s still only 19 years old.
The experience and confidence CCV brought to the back line was extremely evident against Senegal, as Team Hyphen (he and Erik Palmer-Brown) looked much more solid and compact than the pairing of Palmer-Brown and Tommy Redding did against Ecuador. Don’t be afraid to give Carter-Vickers time and space to grow. Not everyone has the development rate of Christian Pulisic. As it stands, he’s probably still the best center back in his age group (possibly for both the U.S. and England, for that matter), he seems very committed to the U.S. program, and he hasn’t even made it to 20 yet. Don’t rush to crown him, but don’t dismiss him either. If he continues like this, I imagine he will be a good-to-great player for the USMNT.