Datebook: U-20 World Cup
“I think this was an amazing effort from the team,” said Ramos, on the win in which 17-year-old Josh Sargent scored his third goal of the tournament. “When you play an African team at a World Cup, and you run them into the ground in the first half the way we did, by pressing them and not allowing them to play, I think it shows a lot about the character of the type of players we have here.”
The USA faces Saudi Arabia on Sunday (5 a.m. ET, FS1, Telemundo) in its final Group F game.
“We hope it’s a long tournament,” said Ramos. “We only think about the next game. We control our destiny. We know if we win [against Saudi Arabia], we finish first in the group. And that doesn’t happen very often, so we’ll be happy to do that.”
Coach Tab Ramos
The last time the USA won its group at a U-20 World Cup came in 2007, when Coach Thomas Rongen’s team, which included Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, prevailed in a group with South Korea (1-1), Poland (6-1) and Brazil (2-1) and then beat Uruguay with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani (2-1) in the round of 16 before falling in the quarterfinals. Ramos' 2015 team also reached the quarterfinals.
In Ramos’ first U-20 World Cup as coach, in 2013, the USA was eliminated in group play after a loss to Ghana, which ended up finishing third. Ramos compared the Senegal team to Ghana.
“We faced Ghana in 2013 and we lost 4-1,” Ramos said. “It was a very good Ghana team, which made it to the semifinals of that tournament. It’s always difficult because [African teams] have great athletes and they attack from both sides with a lot of numbers.
“So that’s one of the things that we were preparing for [against Senegal]. We thought if we can keep the game on their side of the field, and we can keep them away from being from being comfortable playing -- they have to chase us. What’s that going to look like? And let’s see if we can do it. And in the first half we did. I think we surprised them.”
Sargent scored the winner in the 34th minute. Senegal outshot the USA, 15-8, but many of their efforts were from long range and required only two saves from U.S. keeper Jonathan Klinsmann.
“You can’t slow them down,” Ramos said. “What you do is try and keep the ball away from them, and we kept the ball in the first half fairly well. We created opportunities and kept them on their heels. That forced them to have to change their game. And I think that was the key to the beginning and the key to the fact that they really had a hard time playing against us.”
The U.S. defense fared much better in its second game with the return of Cameron Carter-Vickers, who entered the tournament recovering from an injury.
“We had to sit him out the first game to make sure he’s a 100 percent healed,” said Ramos. “He was probably ready to play our first game, but we saved him a few more days and I think it was worth it. He really proved to be the anchor of the defense and with him and EPB [Erik Palmer-Brown] together -- it’s a pretty good pairing. And they did great.”
The win over Senegal moved the USA into first place of Group F. The top two finishers and four third-place teams in the six groups reach the knockout stage, so the USA is well poised to advance. But a first-place finish would likely present the USA with a less formidable round of 16 opponent – the runner-up in Group E, probably New Zealand.