Group Stage Preview for U.S. U20 World Cup

Group Stage Preview for U.S. U20 World Cup
by Victor Olorunfemi
May 19, 2023

With the U20 World Cup kicking off on Saturday for the United States, what should the expectations be?

Three games await in Group B. The top two teams advanced, along with the four best third-place teams.

Here's a look at what to expect from the USA's group opponents.

Ecuador – 4-3-3

Justin Cuero: Captain and relentless physical presence as a lone striker.

Kendry Paez: 16, youngest player at the tournament, already signed by Chelsea for 22 million.

Nilson Angulo: Already capped by the senior national team.

Strength: Physical team

Weakness: Run everything through Cuero

Ecuador will be the most challenging team the U.S. face in the group stages, both physically and technically. This team does not shy away from any tackles, with a striker in Cuero who excels at playing the lone nine because of his immense physical presence and determination to make life difficult for any center-back pairing. However, if the U.S. can shut down the supply lines to Cuero, Ecuador tends to falter when they can’t play through him. Whatever center-back pairing Mikey Varas opts for will have quite the battle with Cuero, as will the midfield three, with both coaches prefering the 4-3-3.

Slovakia – 4-3-3

Sebastian Kosa: A 6’3” center back with over 70 professional games already played.

Timotej Jambor: Set piece taker and key to Slovakia’s direct style of play.

Adam Griger: 6'4" striker, dangerous in air due to size and heading ability.

Strength: Direct style of play and great at set pieces.

Weakness: Defensive transition. 

With Slovakia, the U.S. will come up against another team who plays a 4-3-3, although this one is much more defensive. Slovakia is comfortable conceding possession for long spells of the game, hoping to play for set pieces and take advantage of the imposing size of their line-up, with several players standing well over 6’2”. The key to this game will be a balance of patience in possession while taking advantage of any transitional opportunities that arise. During their qualification process, Slovakia gave up most of their goals moments after losing possession with gaping holes in their midfield. Look for Darren Yapi and Cade Cowell to excel in transitional moments with their elite pace and skill in open spaces. 

FIji – 4-2-3-1

Nabil Begg: Plays as a true #10, main creative force, and excellent delivery on set pieces.

Strength: Set pieces

Weakness: Talent gap emphasized by goalkeeping situation

Fiji will be a must-win game for the American team. The talent gap will be night and day, emphasized by Fiji’s failure to find a goalkeeping option that can consistently make routine saves and claim crosses. They will also be without several starters excluded for disciplinary issues, further depleting their already destitute talent pool. With Melvin Mani, a captain and one of the top scorers, not going, all the attention falls on Begg, a talented attacking midfielder who will undoubtedly show moments of brilliance despite Fiji’s struggles. 


Despite several clubs refusing to release American U20 stars for the World Cup, this is still a talented enough roster to advance past the group stages for the fourth straight tournament. All three teams are beatable, but Ecuador and Slovakia present immense challenges physically and mentally as two teams who faced the brink of elimination but pulled through with late-game heroics to qualify for the World Cup. Varas will likely play a 4-3-3 through this round as that matches his preference and the three opponents, but it will be interesting if he rolls out the 3-4-2-1 in the knockouts if they come up against a team playing a 3-back system, as he did when the U.S. played England in March. Who knows what the rest of the tournament will look like, but realistic expectations should have the U.S. proceeding out of this group without needing a wildcard spot.

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