The group stage of the U-20 Men's World Cup has concluded and unlike rival Mexico, the U.S. has advanced out of its group. The USMNT finished second in Group A with a solid but unremarkable record: two wins and a loss. Advancing out of the group was expected, but now it is time to see if the U.S. can make a deep run in the tournament. The team plays Colombia on June 10th in the Round of 16. While the last group stage game against Ukraine is definitely cause for concern, the 3-0 loss is not as bad as it seems.
The U.S. had already clinched a spot in the Round of 16 before the game against Ukraine. The players were fully aware of this and while this is not an excuse for their performance, it certainly contributed to the team's lethargic play. Additionally, Tab Ramos did not play key starters Desevio Payne, Matt Miazga and Rubio Rubin. Ramos wisely rested Miazga and Payne as either of them would have missed the Round of 16 game if they had received a yellow card. Miazga and Payne were key members of the U.S. defense and replacements Erik Palmer-Brown and Kellyn Acosta had disappointing performances. With Payne, Miazga and Rubin back and the Ukraine game behind it the U.S. will be expected to play much better against Colombia.
The U.S. and Colombia seem to be evenly matched teams. Both teams are talented, but have yet to reach their full potential. Like the U.S., Colombia also finished second in their group although Colombia was in a more difficult group. Los Cafeteros' offensive leader is Rafael Santos Borre, who is tied for the team lead in goals and assists with one goal and one assist. Although Colombia's offense hasn't hit its stride, the team still is dangerous. Colombia is expected to play a 4-4-2, although if the U.S. plays a 4-5-1 the Colombians might do so as well.
The U.S. could play a 4-5-1 like they did against Ukraine, but is more likely that Tab Ramos will go with a 4-4-2. Expect the starting XI to consist of: Steffen, Moore, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Payne, Delgado, Hyndman, Zelalem, Arriola, Jamieson IV, Rubin.
Colombia's offense has not performed well and a U.S. defense that is expected to be back at full strength should be able to handle the misfiring Colombian attack. For the U.S. offense, Bradford Jameison IV's speed should create matchup issues for the Colombian defense. Additionally, if Zelalem and Rubin can start to connect more then the U.S. offense should power the team to victory.
The U.S. is fully capable of beating Colombia, but the USMNT is not so much better than Los Cafeteros that it can be considered the favorite. The game will likely be close and both teams genuinely have a 50/50 chance of advancing. Gedion Zelalem has looked increasingly comfortable playing with his teammates and along with Rubio Rubin he will need to play well for the U.S. to win. The winner of this match will advance to a quarterfinal game on June 14th against the winner of Serbia vs. Hungary.