The USA can make history on Saturday when it plays Ecuador in the
quarterfinals of the Under-20 Men's World Cup in Poland.
It's the only team to reach the final eight of the last three U-20 World Cups, but it fell in the quarterfinals in 2015 and 2017, extending its record of having never won back-to-back games in the knockout phase of a FIFA men's tournament at the senior or youth level.
In 2015, the USA fell to eventual champion Serbia in a shootout after their game ended 0-0. Two years later, it lost to Venezuela, 2-1, in overtime. Despite taking both opponents to overtime, the USA was badly outplayed and needed big performances from goalkeepers Zack Steffen against Serbia (two saves in the shootout with the game on the line) and Jonathan Klinsmann against Venezuela (six saves) to stay in the games.
Ecuador was one of the 2019 pre-tournament favorites, having won the Sudamericano Sub-20 in Chile. It split its three games in the group stage but missed penalty kicks in the 1-0 loss to Italy and 1-1 tie with Japan that cost it three points. In the round of 16, La Tri came from behind to beat Uruguay, 3-1, and advance to the quarterfinals for the first time.
U.S. coach Tab Ramos told Goal.com that Ecuador "looks like a complete team. In that sense, we're going up against an opponent that we don't see with any holes."
In both 2015 and 2017, the USA ran out of gas in the quarterfinals. So far, that has not been an issue in Poland. The USA struggled in the first half against Qatar in its third group match but came on strong in the last 30 minutes and won, 1-0. In the round of 16, the Americans rallied from a 2-1 deficit with two goals in the last 17 minutes to beat France, 3-2.
The difference between the 2015 and 2017 teams and the 2019 team is that the USA can attack from more positions and it has much greater depth.
Center forward Sebastian Soto has scored four of the seven U.S. goals, and they were set up by four different players: Alex Mendez, Chris Gloster, Richie Ledezma and Tim Weah, who scored the winner against Qatar.
Uly Llanez and Ledesma came off the bench to spark the sluggish U.S. attack against Qatar. Justin Rennicks, who scored the winning goal, and Llanez did the same thing against France.
U.S. lineup toss-ups:
GK: Brady Scott or David Ochoa?
LCB: Aboubacar Keita or Mark McKenzie?
DMF: Chris Durkin or Brandon Servania?
RW: Konrad de la Fuente or Llanez?