Steffen’s saves powers USA U-20’s into World Cup Quarters


At this time last year, Zack Steffen was just another kid at the University of Maryland College Park. Just another kid playing college soccer with the hope and aspiration of making a career in a game in the United States that not everyone can break into. What a difference a year makes. After a year which saw Steffen make the move to Freiburg and become the USA U-20 starting goalkeeper has also seen him lift his national team to World Cup glory. His standout performance against Colombia in the 2015 U-20 World Cup has lifted the U.S.A. into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.

Rubio Rubin scored two goals in the United States under-20 World Cup match against New Zealand (photo credit: FIFA)

Rubio Rubin scored two goals in the United States under-20 World Cup match against New Zealand (photo credit: FIFA)

From the start of the first forty-five it was evident the difficult task that laid ahead. The Colombian attack, led by midfielder Alexis Zapata,  put consistent pressure on the USA back four and in particular center-backs Matt Miazga and Desevio Payne. But the United States held strong holding Colombia mostly to shots from beyond the eighteen yard box. A shot by Colombian forward Steven Lucumi shortly before the end of the half looked promising but was cleared away by Payne.

The U.S. attack took a hit a early when Bradford Jamieson IV was stretchered off after having sustained an apparent neck injury. His replacement, Jordan Allen, is more of a midfielder and thus USA coach Tab Ramos made the adjustment from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 with Rubio Rubin up top by himself. The move paid off in the sense that it helped contain a potent Colombian midfield but it hindered the U.S. attack.

With the U.S. moving into a more defensive position, Colombia gained the upper hand in terms of attacking pressure. In the 50th minute, Lucumi found himself in the U.S. penalty box with just Steffen to beat. His shot was on target but Steffen would block the attempt and receive help from Miazga in clearing the ball out of danger.

Despite having a 24 to 8 shot advantage over the United States, Colombia had very little opportunities inside the penalty box (just three shots on goal to the U.S.A.’s two). Both Payne and Miazga were directly responsible for using their size and strength advantage in forcing an undersized Colombian attack to go for long-distance shots.

Just eight minutes after avoiding near-disaster, Rubin would capitalize on a Colombian defensive mistake and punish the CONMEBOL powerhouse. Colombian defender Juan Quintero was unable to successfully clear a shot taken by U.S. midfielder Paul Arriola inside his own penalty box. After retrieving the poor clear, Rubin would take advantage of the opportunity and bury his shot past Colombian goalkeeper  Alvaro Montero for the only goal of the match. The goal was Rubin’s third of the tournament.

Colombia nearly pushed the game into extra-time when in the 83rd minute U.S. defender Kellyn Acosta was shown his second yellow card after pushing Jarlan Barrera in the box. However, on the ensuing penalty Steffen would make the diving stop to halt Barrera’s equalizer.

With the victory the United States will move on to play Serbia in the World Cup Quarterfinals at 1230am EST. This is just the third time that the U.S. has advanced beyond the round of 16 at the U-20 World Cup. The previous three occasions were in 1989, 2003, and 2007.

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