Under-20 World Cup: USA stays on track with 3-0 win over Fiji

After opening the 2023 U-20 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Ecuador, a third-place finisher at the last U-20 World Cup in 2019, the USA beat Fiji, 3-0, with goals by Diego Luna (photo), Cade Cowell and Caleb Wiley

The victory virtually guarantees the USA, which wraps up Group B play against Slovakia on Friday, passage into the knockout stage.

In Tuesday's second Group B game, Ecuador beat Slovakia, 2-1, which puts the USA in Group B's first place on six points while Ecuador and Slovakia enter their final games with three points. 

The USA will finish first in Group B with a tie or in over Slovakia. The worst case scenario for the USA would be a loss to Slovakia and an Ecuador rout of Fiji high enough for a goal difference to exceed the USA's goal difference (currently +4). But a third-place finish with 6 points should easily rank among the top four (of the six groups' third-place finishers) that earn round of 16 spots.

Fiji, coming off a 4-0 loss to Slovakia, had only 23% of possession and was out shot, 31-6, yet managed to frustrate the USA for more than an hour.

In fact, it was mostly a case poor U.S. shooting that kept the Junior Bula Boys level until Luna connected with shot from 17 yards in the 66th minute.

Of the USA's 16 first-half shots, just two required saves by Fiji goalkeeper Aydin Mustahib. Darren Yapi, Owen Wolff, Quinn Sullivan (twice, plus a weak shot to the keeper) and Daniel Edelman were among those who shot wide.

At halftime, Coach Mikey Varas replaced Sullivan with Luna while Wolff came off for Niko Tsakiris.

Cade Cowell, who showed first-half improvement by making Mustahib block his powerful shot down the middle in the 17th minute after missing the goal in the 14th minute, remained on the frontline.

Fiji pulled off a rare foray two minutes into the second half, Sterling Vasconcellos forcing Gaga Slonina to make one of his two saves. Then Tsakiris set Luna up for a shot blocked by a defender. Cowell's shot from outside the penalty area was saved by Mustahib. Cowell and Luna each shot wide before Cowell laid the ball off for Luna to strike hard and low into the far corner.

In the 88th minute, after settling a pass from Jack McGlynn in the penalty area, Luna served the ball to Cowell, who faked out Abdullah Aiyas and curled the ball into same far corner from 23 yards.

"Later in the tournament we're going to have to be more clinical early on and not wait that long, but we were talking at halftime, not to panic, the goals are going to come," said Cowell. "They came."

Early in stoppage time, Cowell slammed an 8-yard volley onto the crossbar — after Wiley's low cross popped up from Peter Ravai's block — and hit the post after Luna found him open in the penalty area.

Cowell had sat out the Ecuador game, serving the third game of a three-game suspension that carried over from the 2022 Concacaf U-20 Championship.

Wiley scored the final goal, stroking home from three yards after Brandan Craig's 25-yard free kick bounced off the post.

Only once in its previous 16 appearances has the USA opened the U-20 World Cup with two wins, in 2015 when it beat Myanmar, 2-1, and host New Zealand, 4-0, in its first of of three straight quarterfinal appearances. (Covid forced the cancellation of the 2021 U-20 World.)

“I think today we were a little off," Luna said. "I think it was a difficult game on the mental side. But getting the result is the most important thing.

“Slovakia is what we’re focused on now. We’ll put this game behind, be happy tonight, and then tomorrow get back to recovery for Slovakia."

The advantage of winning the group is it would place the USA in a round of 16 game against a third-place finisher.

Being in such solid position to reach the knockout stage with a game to spare will be a relief for Varas, who gambled on including on the roster of 18 field players Rokas Pukstas (Hajduk Split) and Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg) despite them not being released until the round of 16.

Luna and McGlynn received yellow cards, joining Joshua Wynder, cautioned against Ecuador, as players in suspension peril. A second yellow card results in a suspension for the following game. Players get a clean slate after the quarterfinals. (A second yellow card in the quarterfinal results in suspension for the semifinal).

May 23 in San Juan, Argentina
USA 3 Fiji 0. Goals: Luna 66. Cowell 88, Wiley 90+9.
USA — Slonina; Craig, Halliday, Ferkanus; Wolff (Tsakiris, 46), McGlynn, Edelman (Vargas, 79), Gomez; Cowell, Yapi (Wiley, 75), Sullivan (Luna, 46).
Fiji — Mustahib; Raheem, Ravai, Vasconcellos, Kubu (Navoce, 73); Begg, Aiyas, Dunn; Saqiri (Rabuka, 54), Ali (Razool, 73), Khan (Matau, 80).
Yellow cards: USA — McGlynn 38, Luna 90; Fiji — Saqiri 45.
Referee: Mohamed Maarouf Eid Mansour (Egypt). ARs: Zakaria Brinsi (Morocco), Abbes Zerhouni (Algeria). Fourth Official: Ahmad Al Ali. VAR: Ahmed Darwish (UAE).
Att.: 8,017

3 comments about "Under-20 World Cup: USA stays on track with 3-0 win over Fiji".
  1. humble 1, May 24, 2023 at 12:23 p.m.

    Did not watch this game.  Watched first half of game vs. Ecuador as that's was a game that actually showed something.  You can see - clearly - not a matter of being clinical - one of the most mis-used words in soccer - but more so - about being effecient and making the right decisions - playing the game - in the final third.  USA U20 is very efficient playing out of the back - with their 5+GK.  They get it to the MF - and they get decent balls into the box - what they miss - is the correct movement and placement in the box.  This is the hardest part.  Mikey Varas can staff, showing very good body of work going into this game - I give them a good chance to make this happen.  Better movement in final third.  Don't rush it. Patience. This is the way.  C'mon boys!  

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, May 24, 2023 at 11:38 p.m.

    5 Different Starters,
    Different Formation,
    What could Go Wrong.???
    Almost Everything, and it Did,
    And we Still Won... Sign of a Good Team
    Keep it Up.!!!
    Go USA.!!!

  3. R2 Dad, May 31, 2023 at 10:26 a.m.

    I gotta hand it to Luna--he's got game. But someone shoulda advised against the neck tatoos. Looking like a gang rival might not end well for this promising lad. 

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