The United States only needed a draw against Ukraine on Friday to win Group A at the U-20 World Cup. Unfortunately, they were unable to secure that one point as they lost, 3-0. Tab Ramos chose to start the game cautiously, both with on-field tactics and lineup selection, and it cost his team dearly.
U-20 MNT starting XI vs UKR: Steffen, Moore, Carter-Vickers, Palmer-Brown, Acosta, Delgado, Hyndman, Zelalem, Allen, Arriola, Jamieson.— U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) June 5, 2015
Only needing the point to top Group A, Ramos decided to rest his best attacking player in Rubio Rubin, while Matt Miazga and Desevio Payne were held back because both were facing a suspension in the Round of 16 if yellow carded.
The first half saw the U.S. sit back and hold their defensive shape. Ukraine enjoyed 65 percent of the possession, while the Americans found little joy in the attacking end. Bradford Jamieson IV played up top all alone and struggled to hold the ball up for his midfield to get involved. Despite all of the possession, Ukraine created very few chances in the opening half.
The second half opened with the U.S. pressing a little higher, but still content to concede possession. The strategy would come back to hurt them in the 56th minute. After a soft foul was called against Cameron Carter-Vickers, Ukraine had a free kick about 26 yards away from goal. Viktor Kovalenko curled a beautiful strike over the American wall and past Zack Steffen to give Ukraine the 1-0 lead.
The U.S. had a great chance to equalize just two minutes later when Jordan Allen was deemed to have been fouled in the box. Replays showed the ref got the call terribly wrong and that Allen dove, but when Emerson Hyndman's penalty was saved well by the Ukraine goalkeeper. After back-to-back disappointments, the U.S. had no choice but to push forward and attack. Ramos took off his only defensive-minded midfielder in Marky Delgado and replaced him with an attacking midfielder in Joel Sonora.
Instead of giving the U.S. more attacking influence the move backfired and the floodgates opened. Kovalenko scored twice more in a five minute span to complete his hat-trick and to put the game to bed. Ukraine won the game 3-0 and Group A with seven points.
- The conservative mentality ordered by Tab Ramos was a complete failure. Conceding so much possession never allowed the U.S. to gain any momentum.
- Rubin starting on the bench is inexcusable (unless he had an injury we were unaware of) in a game this important. He's the best attacking player on the team. Not having him there to hold the ball up and bring Zelalem and Hyndman into the game was a huge mistake.
- Starting Shaq Moore over Payne at right back cost the team as well. Moore was poor all game and was beaten on the second Ukraine goal.
- Kellyn Acosta is not a left back. He's struggled all tournament in the position. It may be time to give a natural left back in John Requejo a chance.
- Zelalem and Hyndman never got into the game. This is partly due to poor hold up play, but as the team's spine they have to have a greater influence in such a big game.
- The Ukraine are certainly the best competition the U.S. have played in the tournament. The 3-0 scoreline is a bit bloated due to the U.S. pushing for a late equalizer.
- The U.S. will play the second place team in Group C. Those possibilities include Portugal, Colombia, or Senegal.