Another game, another shutout victory for the United States U-20 national team at the U-20 World Cup, this time a 4-0 drubbing of New Zealand to advance to the quarterfinals. The red, white and blue have pushed their shutout streak to 360 minutes of soccer as Gabriel Slonina is the only keeper at the World Cup yet to concede a goal. Owen Wolff, son of former U.S. men's national team player Josh Wolff, opened the scoring in the 14th minute and the squad wouldn't slow down netting three second-half goals to advance to the last eight for the fourth straight time.
There, the team will either face Gambia or Uruguay but they'll like their chances against anyone in the tournament at this point. With a stout defense and free-flowing attack, there are few teams who can stop the United States and they're only getting better. Cade Cowell netted his third goal of the tournament as he continues his breakout performance while Justin Che and Rokas Pukstas also found the back of the net.
Pukstas just joined up from Hajduk Split after helping them capture the Croatian Cup and it didn't take long for him to show what they were missing in his absence. Pukstas found the end of a Brandon Craig free kick and headed it past New Zealand keeper Kees Sims to make it 4-0 after the goals from Cowell and Che. Coach Mikey Varas was also able to get Kevin Paredes some time to gain fitness with the squad after he also just joined ahead of the knockout stage. Even after scoring four, Varas said that there is room for improvement with the team being more efficient with their chances but it's not something that is hurting them right now.
Having a team that is only getting better this late in a tournament is quite a feat for the United States and one of the reasons why they can win this tournament. They've still yet to be tested against top teams like England, but with France out of the tournament, it shows that talent can only take a team so far making what the Baby Yanks are doing even more impressive.
The shutout streak is something that Varas made sure to touch on following the game.
"At the end of the day, we have shutouts in all our games and that's something we can be really proud of. I think taking as much pride in defending as attacking is something that's a strength of the whole group," Varas said following the match. "So, as I mentioned in our last call, all of the players are contributing in that shutout but something I love about the group is that after big defensive plays, you see them celebrate those actions because we really feel like those are just like goals. When you make a big play that saves a goal from going in, from being conceded, we need to celebrate those moments."
It's one thing to have a physical advantage over your opposition but playing for each other and tracking back on defense takes much more from the team. The balance from attacking midfielders like Diego Luna to the trust in defenders to allow the wing backs like Che to flow forward means that at any time, anyone on the team can score and beat you.
There were four different goal scorers in the match and that echoes how the World Cup has gone as the only member of the squad who has scored more than one goal is Cowell with three. They also have a strong culture that shows in the team's celebrations with each other from team dances to hanging out off the pitch. The talent in this team is showing and they're looking to make sure that their stocks rise after this tournament. From calls into the senior team and potential transfer moves, the sky is the limit for this group of youth talent.
With the victory, the U.S. will play in the quarters on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.