Starting XI: Laurel Ivory, Tara McKeown, Naomi Girma, Samantha Hiatt, Kiara Pickett, Viviana Villacorta, Jaelin Howell, Ashley Sanchez, Erin Gilroy, Sophia Smith, Savannah DeMelo
After a fairly grinding 1-0 loss to Japan, the United States U20 WNT went into their second game of group stage with mostly the same starting XI, but a slightly different game plan. Yes, they still played quite direct through the flanks, but Jaelin Howell tried to distribute out of the middle more, and Sanchez and DeMelo both drifted centrally to try and set up Sophia Smith from time to time.
But it was a choppy start, as Paraguay reacted to the United States’ physicality, requiring a trainer to come on several times in the first 15 minutes. The US managed to find a rhythm anyway, dominating the half on the back of Sophia Smith’s opening goal. Smith took the ball endline and rolled it in at a steep angle in the 15’ to make it 1-0.
The US kept up the energetic flank play, dropping a couple balls in the box from wide, but not finding targets. Paraguay pushed back, looking to thread the US back line, but their best effort in the 34’ didn’t result in a shot on goal as Tara McKeown smart tracked the runner the whole through the box. The US responded well, particularly through Smith, who easily set up the bulk of the US’ chances in the first half. She set up a couple of beautiful crosses and feeds for Gilroy and DeMelo, eventually paying off in the 38’. Smith turned the corner on her fullback, shot hard at Isabel Ortiz in goal for Paraguay, and DeMelo collected the rebound from Ortiz’s block to make it 2-0.
Paraguay’s fullbacks were unable to keep up with the flurry of speed from the US, and they found a third in the 44’ as Gilroy took her turn to beat an ineffective challenge and cut it back, where DeMelo was lurking in the box. She timed the run and placed the ball between two defenders, ending the half at 3-0.
The United States knew very well that goal differential could end up mattering, so they came out in the second half with their foot still mashed down on the accelerator as Ashley Sanchez scored in the 46’ to make it 4-0, finishing off yet another ball from Smith.
Smith caused endless trouble for Paraguay, taking off into space and getting endline. The United States peppered the Paraguay goal for the first 10 minutes of the half, with balls in and a few long-range tests.
The US made a double sub in the 61’, with Gilroy and Sanchez off for Brianna Pinto and Abigail Kim. Pinto and Kim went into the front line with Smith while Demelo dropped into midfield and switched left with Villacorta moving right. This seemed to open up Villacorta’s ability to provide service out of midfield; she feed Smith a very nice ball between Paraguay’s CB’s in the 63’. Smith was in one on one with Ortiz and finished calmly to make it 5-0.
She makes it look easy!— U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) August 9, 2018
Sophia Smith is the gift that keeps on giving. Watch her make it 5-0.pic.twitter.com/QRJOSHwbBh
Kim was an immediate menace on the right flank; Paraguay’s tired fullback could not stop her from repeatedly getting the ball put into space and running onto it for crosses. She almost gave Smith the hatty in the 70’, but Smith touched the pass wide.
Smith subbed out in the 73’ for Penelope Hocking. Hocking definitely looked like a player coming in cold; she missed two easy sitters in front of goal, but made up for it in 78’ putting a well-weighted ball into space for Kim, whose speed got her there first. She placed it in the box and DeMelo was there in open space to finish as Paraguay’s defense was completely caught on the back foot by the pace of the US attack.
There were several more opportunities for the US, who seemed to lose a little bit of shape in their shuffled midfield, but dominated the space nonetheless. Paraguay managed to put a ball on frame in the 87’ from a nicely-taken free kick by Jessica Martinez, but Ivory was alert and tipped it over. The game finished at 6-0 and helped boost the US into second in group thanks to their +5 GD. The strategy that kept the US stonewalled against Japan completely pried Paraguay apart as they didn’t have the speed or defensive cohesion to deal with the US’ flank play.
Next up: Spain, who will probably be a much harder test. Assuming Japan beats Paraguay, the United States must beat Spain and maintain a good GD in order to advance.
USA vs Spain kicks off at 7:30 AM ET on August 13. It will air live on FS2 and stream on Fox Sports Go.