I love soccer, and I have for years closely followed the U.S. men’s national team, hoping, hoping, for that final breakthrough that would to put them among the elite teams of the world, like the U.S. women have been for years.
This week was one of stark contrasts. I saw the future of U.S. soccer when the U-20 team impressively beat highly favored France at the U-20 World Cup in Poland. Then I saw a U.S. national team preparing for the Gold Cup by losing to Jamaica in an utterly listless and boring match, promising nothing but more of the same for a team in deep crisis ever since it failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia last year.
Beating France 3 – 2 in the round of 16, the young Americans in Poland advanced to the quarterfinals where Ecuador, on Saturday, is the next opponent. The match was well-played and exciting, with the young Americans showing off skills and tactical savvy seldom seen even on the men’s national level. First leading, and then trailing 1-2, the U-20 team showed no sense of panic, or even nervousness, and roared back with a vengeance, scoring first the equalizer and then the go-ahead goal a few minutes before the end of the match.
The victory was well deserved. All the players, a mixture of U.S. and European based, can be proud of their performance. But some of them were more than good, they were excellent, in particular the center forward, Sebastian Soto, who scored two goals and has turned out to be a true poacher. Soto, who plays for Hannover in the German Bundesliga, made no mistakes when he twice, after excellent runs and equally excellent passes from Tim Weah of Paris Saint-Germain and Richard Ledezma of Dutch PSV Eindhoven, put the ball passed the French goalie.
The backline, in spite of a couple of mistakes, was also impressive, in particular center back Chris Richards, who plays with Bayern Munich, and the two fullbacks, Sergino Dest and Chris Gloster –- with Ajax in Holland and Hannover in Germany, respectively. And the midfield was solid, led by the captain, Paxton Pomykal, from FC Dallas.
There is depth and cohesion to this young American team and there is no reason it cannot go all the way, although competition will stiffen further as the tournament advances. They have been a joy to watch through the four matches so far. They attack, in a 4-3-3 formation; it’s a fun, exciting, with speed and creativity you wish the U.S. national team would copy, but, regretfully, lacked in its 0-1 defeat to Jamaica. The team’s defensive 3-4-2-1 formation, with one lone striker, generated little offense and just a couple of scoring chances. Jamaica’s win was never in jeopardy.
Yes, it was a friendly, and coach Gregg Berhalter was said to be experimenting, but a week before the start of the Gold Cup, time is running out. Much more is needed of what the young Americans in Poland are showing for the future success of U.S. soccer.