Starting XI: Laurel Ivory, Isabel Rodriguez, Naomi Girma, Samantha Hiatt, Kiara Pickett, Viviana Villacorta, Jaelin Howell, Savannah DeMelo, Erin Gilroy, Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez
The Unites States started off their third game of the U20 Women’s World Cup on the back foot against Spain and pretty much stayed that way for most of the first half. They were almost immediately a ta deficit as Spain opened the scoring in the 7’ when a bad clearance from Jaelin Howell landed right at the foot of Guijarro, who placed it neatly in the corner to make it 1-0.
Spain didn’t let up after that, battering the US with quick play from deep midfield and balls that constantly bypassed the US midfield and picked out their wide players. While the US defense was dropping, Spain would be able to bomb forward with more numbers and put four and five red jerseys closing in on the US 18-yard-boxx.
The US took back a little of the half in fits and starts, often through DeMelo and Gilroy on the left. When they did manage to push in to Spain’s defensive third, it was often Gilroy making a deep run and looking for the cross. The rest of the time it was outstanding individual effort, like Villacorta managing to pick up the ball and find a little space to shoot in the 20’. She put it nicely on frame but the ball was deflected away, ending perhaps the best US chance of the half.
Spain continued to attack with the same smart, unrelenting pace, often pushing in on the left and testing Kiara Pickett’s speed. To her credit she worked hard in the recovery and Spain wasn’t quite able to turn the corner around her. Meanwhile, the US midfield wasn’t gaining possession enough, and when they did it wasn’t meaningful, often losing the ball with turnovers after unimaginative passing.
Spain scored again in the 42’ on a free kick; the ball dropped to Garcia in the box, whose shot Laurel Ivory couldn’t fully grab. The ball bounced underneath her and into the goal to make it 2-0, which is how the half ended.
Klimkova made one sub to start the second half, bringing on Abigail Kim for Ashley Sanchez. The plan was clearly to use Kim’s speed on the flank and indeed she immediately started making an impact, quickly getting endline twice and putting in the cross, but her efficacy waned a bit as she was switched left and right in an effort to probe Spain’s back line on both sides.
The US had more possession in the second half, but you got the sense it was at least as much down to Spain not being able to keep up the wildly high tempo of the first half for all of the second, particularly in the last game of group, as much as it was the US adjusting.
The next US sub was Brianna Pinto on for Howell in the 59’, a decent call after Howell clearly wasn’t at her most crisp in midfield. Pinto was an attacking threat in front of the goal, but wasn’t able to really act as ballwinner/playmaker to set up the front line. Still, she had one of the better chances of the game in the 64’ when she made a nice move to find a little box of space and take a long range shot on frame.
The US also anticipated the wide ball a little bit more, allowing them to intercept and try to set up counters, but their short passing looked pretty discombobulated, as though no one was expecting the ball.
The last sub came in the 73’ as Rodriguez came off for Penelope Hocking, who went in at center forward, pushing Smith wide. The team shifted to three in the back as Klimkova sensed opportunity slipping through her grasp; honestly she should have adjusted to put more numbers in midfield much sooner.
The US’ ability put more pressure on Spain was apparent, compounded perhaps by the intense pressure that having to score three in 15 minutes provides. But the first US goal was off a set piece, as two decoys ran off the ball and Sophia Smith’s shot whipped in low and hard to make it 2-1 in the 83’.
DeMelo tried to rally the attack, and her long range shot in the 87’ took a big deflection that wrongfooted the keeper and made it 2-2. But despite a late flurry of attacking pressure, including another big run from Kim along the flank, the United States couldn’t find a third goal and the game ended at 2-2.
With Japan putting up six goals over Paraguay, the United States needed to beat Spain outright to advance. With the tie instead, they fell to third in group and were knocked out of the U-20 World Cup, failing to advance to knockout rounds for the first time in the tournament’s history.
Hopefully this will be call for heavy reflection on the U-20’s coaching staff and style of play. Klimkova didn’t adjust to put numbers in the midfield until far too late in the game, and her roster rotation left much to be desired, with most of one starting XI going 90 minutes for three group games in a row despite an opportunity to rotate against a weaker Paraguay.
There’s some real individual quality to be found in this particular U-20 group, with Sophia Smith as a notable standout, but the team’s inability to adapt, their poor possession, and squandered first touches all let them down, along with heavy legs and suboptimal coaching calls. It’s time for a shakeup in the ranks of USSF’s girl’s development; we’ll see if the federation treats this result like a wake up call or a blip on the radar.