While soccer fans have been glued to their televisions over the past week watching the Women’s World Cup, the USMNT friendlies and the Champions’ League final, the United States has advanced to the knockout round of another tournament: the under-20 World Cup.
Tab Ramos’ squad has looked impressive during the group stages of the tournament, defeating Myanmar and New Zealand to advance to the knockout round, only to lose to Ukraine in their final group game. The United States will look to bounce back in their Round of 16 matchup against Colombia early Wednesday morning, as they try to replicate their best ever performance at the world’s preeminent youth tournament.
The United States’ success at the U-20 level has undoubtedly come from their two creative players at the base of midfield: Emerson Hyndman and Gedion Zelalem.
Hyndman, the captain of the United States’ U-20 squad, is a 19-year-old dynamo in the middle for the national team, utilizing his energy and technical ability well beyond his years to both beat defenders off the dribble and find important passes to create attacking chances for teammates.
Emerson plays his club soccer at Fulham in the English Championship and will look to feature for the London club more and more next season. If he continues his run of play for the U-20 national team, Hyndman is a dark horse candidate to make an appearance on the USMNT Gold Cup roster.
Opposite Hyndman in the midfield is Gedion Zelalem, the 18 year-old Arsenal prospect who recently made the change from Germany to the United States and has looked extremely impressive in doing so. While Zelalem was criticized early by a number of American fans for being small and looking extremely frail during his limited Arsenal appearances, he has silenced all doubters during the U-20 World Cup with an incredible level of skill for his age.
Check out this rabona cross against New Zealand. There hasn’t been an 18-year-old American talent with that kind of skill, maybe ever. Zelalem is another name who could feature for the USMNT in the Gold Cup, depending on his play in the knockout round.
Above all, United States fans need to understand that the partnership between Zelalem and Hyndman will be key to the play of the U-20 national team. Gedion even touched on this in an interview with U.S. Soccer saying, “I think me and Emerson combined very well. He’s a pleasure to play with. We’ve played two games but I feel like we’ve played together a year or two.”
Colombia will be a dangerous attacking team that will challenge the United States throughout the game. They boast a pair of midfield creators of their own, with Alexis Zapata and Andres Tello providing the engine of the Colombian midfield. The key for a United States’ win will be containing pacey striker Joao Rodriguez, who has the ability to break through any defense to score goals for his national side.
While Colombia has a ton of skill and the attacking prowess to compete with any team in the tournament, ultimately, their defense is too leaky to beat the United States. Expect a lot of goals in this one. It will be a wide open match, with the overall skill of the United States being too much to handle for a Colombian defense that has struggled throughout this World Cup.