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U.S. U-20s will lean on bench in World Cup clash with New Zealand

Goal.com logo Goal.com 31-05-2017

A 21-man roster sounds like plenty for a tournament, but that total can start to feel extremely inadequate as a injuries and suspensions kick in.

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This is where the U.S. Under-20 national team stands heading into Thursday's U-20 World Cup round of 16 clash with New Zealand. The Americans lost midfielder Gedion Zelalem to a knee injury in the opening match, and after facing an overzealous referee in the group stage finale draw with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. takes on the Kiwis with three starters suspended because of cards.

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"It's difficult anytime you go down a player," Ramos said. "We lost Gedion, and now we have a few guys suspended. But I believe in this team, so whoever has an opportunity to play I'm sure they'll do a great job."

Defenders Cameron Carter-Vickers and Aaron Herrera and midfielder Derrick Jones are suspended for the match, leaving Ramos to consider his options. The versatility of some of his key remaining players gives him a few directions he can go in.

Team captain Erik Palmer-Brown is a central defender, and has had an outstanding tournament, but he is capable of stepping into Jones' defensive midfield role. Palmer-Brown won the Golden Ball award at the CONCACAF Under-20 championships playing in that position.

Tyler Adams is another player who will be key to Ramos' planning. Adams plays defensive midfield for the New York Red Bulls but has been thriving in a box-to-box role for the U.S. at the World Cup. With Jones suspended, Ramos must decide between moving Palmer-Brown out of central defense or sliding Adams deeper in midfield.

The Americans face a New Zealand team that finished second in a group that included undefeated France as well as Honduras. The Kiwis handed Honduras a 3-1 defeat in group play.

"We know they're going to be a hardworking team," Ramos said. "We faced them in the last World Cup and they're going to make things difficult. We're learning, we're getting better. I feel that our team will be prepared. We know that it's a final. You have to come out and win it."

"It's a team that's not going to give up on any play," U.S. midfielder Eryk Williamson said. "We just have to know that, for 90 minutes, it's going to be a battle. It's kind of [about] who can suffer more towards the end of the game. It's just going to be grit for 90 minutes."

The U.S. defeated New Zealand, 4-0, at the U-20 World Cup in 2015, but none of the Americans who will play Thursday played in that match. The Americans will be the favorites against a New Zealand team that was out-possessed and out-shot in all three of its group stage matches, but they aren't about to overlook the Kiwis.

"Especially the last game, against Saudi Arabia, was kind of a wake-up call that every game at this point is challenging and every team can beat any team," U.S. defender Justen Glad said. "So we just have to come out every game with the same mentality."

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The Kiwis are led by recent Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 signing Myer Bevan. The striker has two of New Zealand's three goals in the tournament, and should draw attention from Palmer-Brown if the Sporting Kansas City defender stays at center back. New Zealand's squad also includes a handful of U.S. college players, including UC Santa Barbara forward Noah Billingsley and University of Virginia signing Joe Bell.

The Kiwis don't boast the pro experience that the U.S. squad does, but they make things difficult with their defensive-minded 5-3-2 system and high-pressing approach, which should put pressure on the Americans' creative players.

"They like to press. We watched a little video yesterday on them and the first 10 minutes, when they played France, you can tell they were all over them from the start," Glad said. "If we come out asleep or anything like that they're going to create chances and be dangerous."

Glad should step into fill the void in central defense left by Carter-Vickers' suspension, while Philadelphia Union defender Auston Trusty could be called on to play at left back, with Danny Acosta moving over to right back to replace Herrera.

The U.S. attack will again by led by 17-year-old forward Josh Sargent as the lone striker, with right winger Brooks Lennon looking to continue his stellar tournament. Their speed could cause problems for a New Zealand defense that looked vulnerable against quick attacking players during the group stage.

Fulham midfielder Luca de la Torre could be deployed in a more central role for the U.S. if Ramos decides to slide Adams into defensive midfield. That would pave the way for Real Salt Lake's Sebastian Saucedo to start for the second straight match.

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