COMMENTARY | Starting off the FIFA U-20 World Cup against Spain was always going to be difficult for the United States. Head coach Tab Ramos thought it best to take the fight right to Spain rather than sit back and hope to catch the opposition on a counter, and that decision saw the US go down a goal in under five minutes. It was the overall play of the Team USA defense that was the main talking point among American supporters during the contest, and not at all for reasons that would flatter that group of young men.
A healthy Will Packwood (broken leg) was but one of a few key components missing from the pitch on Friday evening. How Spain tore the US up in the opening and closing stages of the first half brought up a question that is often asked whenever any level of the US Men are in action: Why is our back line routinely the weakest part of the team?
Soccer analysts may, when this topic arises, bring up our country's youth development and/or the way that young American defenders are taught. I actually find the answer to be much simpler than that. Elite teenage athletes that are over 6-foot tall and in the 180-pound range aren't playing as center backs in the US. They're probably playing basketball or American football, and those that are playing soccer are likely being used by coaches as forwards due to their size and pace.
It's a harsh truth for US Soccer, one that isn't going anywhere anytime soon. What that leaves teams such as the one that was downed 4-1 by Spain on Friday is combinations of defenders that, all due respect to them, are not in the same level as are those found in the back lines of top-tier footballing nations. That doesn't mean that the likes of DeAndre Yedlin, Caleb Stanko and Javan Torre should give it up.
They are all simply very much so works in progress.
There was but a single bright spot for the Baby Yanks in their three-goal defeat. Luis Gil was an attacking presence throughout his 90+ minute shift, and his goal that was scored 13 minutes from time was world class. A Spain turnover deep in their own end of the field presented the 19-year old with the ball a few steps from the penalty area. Gil moved to his right before tapping to his left in order to beat his marker, and the Real Salt Lake man then teed up for a glorious left-footed curler that evaded the goalkeeper and landed in the top-right corner of the net.
Logic indicates that the United States may not be long for this tournament. Remember that plenty of scouts, not just friends and family, are attending and watching these matches. Gil having even two more performances that mirror what he accomplished on the field against Spain could see him making an exit from Major League Soccer sooner than later. That could be a good thing for both player and country.
The US U-20 squad is one that absolutely has talent (the previously mentioned Gil and Jose Villareal immediately come to mind), but with a showdown with France on the horizon, it's likely that this competition with be a humbling experience for the young American side more than one that they'll remember with fondness. That's OK. You often learn more from losing than from winning, as they say.
The US got quite the lesson in game one.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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