Mikey Varas on leading the USA into Under-20 World Cup knockout stage

The USA swept Group B at the U-20 World Cup in Argentina — wins over Ecuador (1-0), Fiji (3-0) and Slovakia (2-0) — and in the round of 16 faces New Zealand on Tuesday (1:30 p.m. ET; FS2, Universo)

Joining the team for the knockout stage are Rokas Pukstas and Kevin Paredes.

Midfielder Pukstas arrived after helping Hajduk Split to a 2-0 win over Sibenik in last Wednesday's Croatian Cup final. Winger Paredes was a 66th-minute sub in VfL Wolfsburg's final Bundesliga game of the season, a 2-1 loss to Hertha Berlin on Saturday.

Coach Mikey Varas answered questions from U.S. media in a video press conference on Monday.

On the arrival of Pukstas and Paredes and how they'll be used ...

MIKEY VARAS: KP and Rokas have been with us in multiple camps. They're tremendous people from a culture standpoint and also from a performance standpoint. That's why we made the calculated risk that we did. And they've fit in great already.

It's amazing to see their faces as they come in. It's actually a boost of energy to have a fresh faces come in and see the smiles when another brother joins their group. ...

Both players are available. How much they're gonna play is going to depend on the game plan, which for now is top secret. We're going to slowly but surely integrate them into the group to make sure that we benefit from their performance. But also making sure that we put them in a position to succeed.

Kevin Paredes and Rokas Pukstas.

Kevin just got off a flight today [Monday]. Rokas arrived a couple of days ago. They're available and they'll be ready to help in whatever role they're called upon.

On the team already having benefitted from players with first-team pro experience. ...

MIKEY VARAS: First-team minutes are always important. More important than first-team minutes is making an impact at the first-team level.

It's a great step forward we've made as a country in general, with so many young players playing in MLS and so many coaches being brave enough to give them those minutes.

On shutting out all three first-round opponents. ...

MIKEY VARAS: The backline has stepped up in a massive way. Gabriel Slonina’s done a great job making big saves.

The boys in the back have done a great job not only expecting the ball to come into their zone, but wanting the ball to come into their zone so they can make a big play.

But it doesn’t only involve the backline and the goalkeeper.

You have the midfielders who have run like crazy to limit the amount of chances we concede, and the frontline presses relentlessly. So a complete team effort.

On changing formations during group play and how they'll come out against New Zealand. ...

MIKEY VARAS: The second part is top secret. ...

The first past: It's about playing to your roster's strengths. And at the same time seeing how you can exploit the opponent.

We felt that for the first game [vs. Ecuador] 3-4-3 was the right approach. The second game we felt 4-3-3 was going to be a more aggressive approach against Fiji. Then we felt to control the game against Slovakia, a 3-4-3 was the best bet.

Our biggest strength is our team culture, our second biggest strength is our ability to adapt and be flexible.

These guys have been tremendous: How much we've challenged them and how well they've stepped up to the occasion. They're soccer IQ is really impressive.

It's not something we just introduced now. We've constantly changed things on them so that when we get to this moment they are more adaptable.

On continuing the streak of the past three U.S. teams, under Coach Tab Ramos in 2019, 2017 and 2015, reaching the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals.

MIKEY VARAS: I think it's important that we don't attach ourselves to the success past cycles. Those were those guys' stories and the past staff's stories.

They did a tremendous job and what they did was motivate our group to push the boundaries even more.

Our job is to make sure to put in a performance that gives us the best chance to winning the next game.

1 comment about "Mikey Varas on leading the USA into Under-20 World Cup knockout stage".
  1. Santiago 1314, May 29, 2023 at 8:01 p.m.

    Dang, Adapt your Tactics to your Talent and the Opponent.!?!?!?
    Better get this guy out of the USSF, before he Rubs Off on the Rest of the Coaches.!!!

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