The United States made it three wins from three games at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Slovakia in San Juan, Argentina, on Friday to clinch the top spot in Group B.
Forward Cade Cowell was the star for the young Americans, netting a superb solo goal on 38 minutes that sent them on the way to victory. Substitute Niko Tsakiris added a second deep into second-half stoppage time to ensure the U.S. would finish the group stage with maximum points and not a single goal conceded.
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The U.S. was already guaranteed a place in the round of 16 after previous wins over Ecuador and Fiji. Ecuador, on six points, will join the U.S. in the round of 16, while Slovakia, with three points, will have to wait to see if it qualifies as one of the four best third-place teams.
The U.S. will now face one of the best third-place teams Tuesday for a place in the quarterfinals.
It is San Jose Earthquakes star Cowell who will rightly take the plaudits from this latest win for Mikey Varas’ side. The 19-year-old’s goal showed why he has already been a regular in MLS for three years and has been regularly linked with interest from clubs in Europe.
After intercepting a pass on halfway, Cowell slalomed inside and out a series of Slovakia players at high speed before finding the net with a low left-footed shot.
The goal had been coming for the U.S. and for Cowell after he twice got close to breaking the deadlock before his memorable strike.
Cowell should have found the back of the net in the 27th minute after getting to a long ball forward from defender Brandan Craig ahead of Slovakia goalkeeper Adam Hrdina, lifting the ball over his head but completely whiffing on his shot into an open net.
Eight minutes later, Cowell did have the ball in the net after racing onto a through ball and beating Hrdina, only for the offside flag to immediately be raised.
But Cowell would not be denied, putting the U.S. ahead at the interval.
That goal could have been added to on multiple occasions in the second half as Cowell continued to cause havoc in the Slovakia ranks. Twice Diego Luna was unable to make the most of Cowell’s setup play, volleying over from close range and then striking the post with a side-footed effort from the center of the box.
Cowell almost had another stunning solo goal, too, only this time to be denied by the legs of Hrdina.
Instead, after Cowell departed early to deserved applause, it was his San Jose teammate Tsakiris who grabbed the second goal with a clever finish at the near post in the sixth minute of added time.