U20 Match Preview v. Ecuador
2023 World Cup
The United States U20s play arguably their toughest group stage opponent — Ecuador — in their first game. It is also a game where they will be very shorthanded, especially in attack. Cade Cowell is suspended from a scuffle in the semifinals of the qualifiers against Honduras and Kevin Paredes and Rokas Pukstas won't be with the team until after the group stage.
The game is on Saturday, May 20th at 2pm EST and will be broadcasted on Fox Soccer Plus. For me, that means I will be watching through my FuboTV subscription, but I am sure there are other ways to access Fox Soccer Plus.
A little about Ecuador
Ecuador is coming into the tournament with a lot of changes, most notably a new manager. Miguel Bravo has taken over from the Independiente organization. Ecuador was disappointing in the South American qualifiers, barely qualifying on a last game 2-1 win over Paraguay. Overall, Ecuador had two wins, three ties and four losses. Their wins were over Bolivia and the aforementioned Paraguay. There best result was a 1-1 tie against Uruguay.
The team has 10 new players that were not on the 23 player qualifying tournament roster. From what I have learned, many of these players were preferred players that were not released, including players from: Club Brugge, Pumas, Anderlecht, Reims and 16 year old, Chelsea-bound wonderkind, Kendry Páez.
The biggest changes for Ecuador is at the center-back position where they have replaced the entire position group. They have also added new attacking options both centrally and out wide.
Tactically, it is unclear how Ecuador will look because we have not seen them play under Bravo. Bravo's preferred shape is 3-4-2-1 that relies heavily on their wing-backs to provide width and he likes to attack through transition moments. Ecuador will likely bring pace and a direct counter-attacking mentality.
U.S. preferred lineup and tactics
The U20s have been pretty consistent with their shape under Mikey Varas, primarily deploying a 4-3-3 high pressing system and 2-3-5/3-2-5 possession system with the ball. They have played in a 3-4-3 early in the cycle when playing against a superior opponent, but they have gone away from that as the team has improved and solidified.
I expect Varas to stick with the 4-3-3 and they will look to win the ball back quickly when they lose possession. Ecuador will look to counter quickly and I think Varas will likely try to squeeze space and make it difficult for Ecuador transition quickly.
Offensively, I think they should build out with three in the back and have Justin Che play as a stay at home right-back to better prepare for Ecuador's fast transitions. My guess is Cuevas will start, but I worry about his lack of pace and strength to deal with Ecuador's attackers.
Given the lack of options at Varas' disposal, I don't think he has many tough decisions to make for the starting 11. I think it comes down to who he pairs with Jack McGlynn in midfield. He will either go with Diego Luna, a more offensive option, or Owen Wolff, a more box to box option. If he starts Wolff in midfield, he could start Luna at left-wing and start Caleb Wiley at LB. This would move Jonathan Gomez to the bench and leave zero attacking options off of the bench. For this reason I think Wolff should start in central-midfield and Wiley at left-wing.
I have to assume that this Ecuador team will be more potent offensively and more solid defensively, but they may also look out of sorts in the first half because this is their first game under the new manager. I think Varas will play it a little safe given the personnel at his disposal. I am predicting a 1-1 tie with a goal from Quinn Sullivan.
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