U-20 World Cup: US midfield carries the defensive burden, dimming French stars
ISTANBUL – Tab Ramos was not pleased with many aspects of the US Under-20 national team's play in a 1-1 draw with France on Monday, but the coach did give a hearty thumbs up to the way his midfield limited the impact made by the opponents' dynamic duo of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Paul Pogba.
With Caleb Stanko – captain in last week's opener vs. Spain – removed from the backline for Shane O'Neill, and Javan Torre again struggling to handle opposing forwards, the pressure to cut off France's stars was greatly heightened. Benji Joya and Wil Trapp spent much of the night all but inside those two blue shirts, while Luis Gil joined them in an effective pressure valve system designed by Ramos to give his side a shot at victory.
Now playing their respective club ball for Sevilla and Juventus, Kondogbia and Pogba are among the finest young midfield talents in Europe. In particular, France captain Pogba is known for his stunning big-play ability.
While the junior edition of Les Bleus enjoyed nearly 60 percent of the game's possession, their star men had great struggles in creating big plays. Apart from a few decent runs which eventually came to nothing, they were shackled by the US midfield trio, giving the defense and netminder Cody Cropper less to do.
"I think our guys did a good job," Ramos stated in the postgame press conference. "We prepared for them and we knew Pogba had over 100 touches in the last game [a 3-1 win against Ghana last Friday]. We wanted to limit that and I think we did a pretty good job at limiting his passes forward."
Trapp, who wore the captain's armband while performing as perhaps the game's defensive standout among midfielders, credited Ramos for the successful plan.
"We just worked hard," he told MLSsoccer.com. "We had a game plan, it was effective and we stuck to it.
"I would say to an extent [we executed it]. There was a period where we had to weather the storm a little bit and they had a lot of the ball. But we worked our way out of it and got the goal soon after."