After their enthralling 3-2 victory over France, the United States have their eyes firmly on the task at hand against Ecuador in the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals.
What is there to know about the Ecuadorian side? MLSsoccer.com reached out to Jaime Macias, beIN Sports studio host, analyst and expert, for the lowdown on the U-20s opposition on Saturday (11:30 am ET | FS2) at Stadion GOSiR -- the same field where the US triumphed over France.
How good are Ecuador?
In short? Very good.
Earlier this year they were crowned South American champions for the first time in history, finishing ahead of Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Brazil. Ecuador's athleticism is nothing new, but this year the team have raised their level of technical and tactical ability.
With their ability to break in transition, Ecuador are expected to play either in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 where the wingers stay wide to spread the field and create gaps, not dissimilar to how Tab Ramos' side aims to find space.
“They are very good," Macias said. "Ecuador has always been very physically tough, so if you’re physically tough and add talent, competition, it’s a very good thing."
Part of the way this crop of youngsters has improved hasn't just been on the field, but off it.
"How the youth teams are structured in Ecuador is very different than it was before," Macias said. "There is a developing program not just for a player, but as a person. Apart from being talented, they grew up with a better education and knowledge of a lot of stuff. That has a direct impact on the performance of the national team.”
Players to watch
At the U-20 South American championships, forward Leonardo Campana won the Golden Boot. He hasn't scored yet at the World Cup, but has started all four games.
“The goalkeeper Moises Ramirez is very good, but he hasn’t had a great World Cup," Macias said. "The striker Campana who was the forward at the South American championships, he was third choice but ended up being the top scorer. He’s having a good World Cup but isn’t scoring as many goals as expected.”
Behind them, they have a few players already on the global radar, including Diego Palacios, who is reportedly a target for Barcelona, Ajax and PSV.
"When this tournament started playing people were talking about who wants who, there is said to be interest from Barcelona in Palacios," Macias said. "I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s the kind of impact he has had.”
Forward Stiven Plaza is based in Spain with Valladolid, while winger Gonzalo Plata plays for Sporting CP in Portugal.
USA or Ecuador: Which team is favorite?
Favorite is a relative term, so both teams may expect to be the stronger side.
“Ecuador will feel they are favorites, because the group stage results were not good but Ecuador were performing well," Macias said. "This team is very strong, scores a lot of goals. They played an amazing game against Italy but lost, now they have recovered their confidence.”
That confidence, though, may prove detrimental.
“This is a personal view, but Ecuador perform better against teams that are stronger," Macias said. "Probably, they’re relieved they’re not playing France. That could be a big mistake, that could be very dangerous. I don’t know if the US may have the same mistake in that they’re not playing Uruguay.”
Why MLS clubs should be scouting this team...
... because they have the abilities that translate well to MLS.
“Any one of the players would do well in MLS, because the type of players performing in MLS are this kind of player," Macias says, pointing to promising young South American players in the league. "MLS is a physical game, and a tactical one. Ecuadorian players are physical, I think they could adapt to MLS.”