You tend to know your rivals better than anyone else but that is not always the case in youth soccer. With it being hard to find ways to watch games, Canadian soccer fans are often restricted in how much knowledge they have of opponents at the under 20 level even when the opposition is the US.
That is why we turned to someone who knows more about this US team than almost anybody. Travis Clark, of topdrawersoccer, was kind enough to give us some info on what we can expect from the US on Tuesday night. Having followed many of the American players in the NCAA and watched as much of the U20 team as possible, if anyone knows what to expect from Tab Ramos' team it might just be Travis.
So without further ado, how you doin' USA?
WTR: The US looked a lot more defensively organized against Costa Rica than they did against Haiti. What was the key to that change and do what can we expect from them against Canada?
Travis: For me, the key was adding Mikey Lopez alongside Wil Trapp, and switching to more of a 4-2-3-1 look. In the game against Haiti, the midfield didn't support the back line at all, and that caused all kinds of problems. Thing is, Mikey Lopez is unavailable because of yellow card accumulation. So perhaps Ramos goes to more of a look seen against Haiti, a truer 4-3-3.
WTR: In two games we saw two fairly different looking US teams in terms of the way that they performed. Which one was closer to what you expect to see from them against Canada?
Travis: Quite honestly, it's impossible to predict how the U.S. will perform. I'd like to think that they would take it one step further, and improve, but as we've seen with youth national teams in the United States, that isn't something to bank on. This version of the U20s -- and the roster Ramos has called in -- is probably somewhere in the middle of what was seen against Haiti and Costa Rica. It's not that great.
WTR: The US only scored 3 goals in their two games but they do have some good attacking players. Who would be the biggest names for Canada to be worried about?
Travis: There are plenty of good attacking pieces. Jose Villarreal looks poised to continue a breakout career with LA, and he looked better against Costa Rica. Daniel Cuevas poses a threat on the left flank, and while he sat out the game on Friday, should be back in the starting lineup. Luis Gil, the RSL midfielder, hasn't had a breakout performance, but he needs to be dangerous from his attacking midfield spot for the U.S. to have a chance.
WTR: The US had a rough go in 2012 including losing to Canada 2-1 at the Marbella Cup. Was that just a down year for the program under Ramos or is there a deeper issue that needs to be addressed?
Travis: It's hard to gauge what those issues are. Ramos did take his group on challenging trips, but reports I heard weren't encouraging with regards to some performances. There are good enough players to be had at this age group, it's just a matter of Ramos perhaps overlooking them for reasons that are hard to admit. I would have grabbed 3-4 different players than he did -- although I'm no head coach.
WTR: What would you say are the key things that have to happen in this game for the US to come away with a win and the World Cup spot?
Travis: The U.S. U20s must get a good performance defensively all across the field (not just the back line) and win set pieces at both ends of the field. I think by doing that, they can pick up the win and move on. It won't be easy, and to me, it's 50-50 as to who wins this game.
It would seem that even folks south of the border are not all that sure about how this game is going to end up playing out. This game between Canada and the United States is shaping up to be one that really could go either way depending on which team is best able to rise to the occasion. With a World Cup spot on the line there certainly should be no lack of motivation to go around.