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USA vs. Ecuador, U-20 World Cup: Recap and reaction

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The luck runs out for the kids.

Germany U20 v USA U20 - International Match Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

The United States Under-20 men’s national team was eliminated by Ecuador by a 2-1 score in the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup at Gdynia Stadium in Gdynia, Poland. Tab Ramos’ side was unable to overcome two first-half goals and repeat the magic of the previous round’s comeback victory over France.

The starting lineup featured a few changes, with David Ochoa taking Brady Scott’s place at goalkeeper. Alex Mendez and Chris Durkin also made their return to the midfield. The first half was fast-paced, with the referee allowing physical, counter-attacking soccer. Both teams had their opportunities, but it was Ecuador that would strike first.

The reigning South American champions took the lead in the 30th minute, via a superlative long-range effort from José Cifuentes. The América de Quito attacker cut inside from the left wing and blasted his shot past a late-reacting and possibly screened Ochoa.

The U.S. would even the score six minutes later. Timothy Weah pounced on a deflected corner kick and skillfully volleyed the ball into the net. It was the second goal of the tournament for the Paris Saint-Germain attacker.

Ecuador regained the lead in the 43rd minute, with Jhon Espinoza redirecting Leonardo Campana’s centering pass. The call was originally ruled offside, but it was overruled by the video assistant referee that showed the goal scorer ahead of the last defender but behind the ball.

Both teams pressed during the second half, but neither was able to provide the necessary quality in the final third. The U.S. continued to send players forward and make attack-minded substitutions, but the final whistle blew, signaling a premature end to their World Cup dreams.

Ecuador advances to the semifinals and will face the winner of South Korea versus Senegal on Tuesday, June 11th in Lublin. The U.S. heads home, having pulled off a thrilling upset in the previous round but ultimately falling short of expectations. There was perhaps some unfulfilled potential for this group due to lineup choices and the decision to keep Joshua Sargent out of the competition despite his exclusion from the Gold Cup. Ultimately, the United States ran into a very strong Ecuadorian side that could in all likelihood lift the Cup.

The U-20 World Cup is one of the biggest stages for youth players to show off their abilities, so the true judgment of the players’ performance will be revealed during the upcoming transfer windows. Some American players — Weah, Sebastian Soto, and Paxton Pomykal — displayed their abilities and will make appealing transfer targets, but others did not live up to expectations and will return to their clubs ruing the missed opportunity.

The next U-20 World Cup is a mere two years away, which means some of the players on this squad may return with reinforcements from the incredibly promising U-17 squad. Ramos has managed the side since 2011, and, despite constant rumored overtures from professional clubs, would likely be best served by continuing to guide this age group.

It was the 3rd straight quarterfinals appearance for the U-20s, but they fell short once again, failing to equal or surpass their best finish (fourth place in 1989). Still, there is reason for optimism with this group of players. Senior national team manager Gregg Berhalter could begin integrating some of the players in the near future or down the road once they’re further along in their development, but it will happen sooner rather than later. It’s the familiar story for American soccer: the talented players didn’t win the Cup, but showed just enough to quality to fuel the hype machine for years to come.