MENDOZA, Argentina (Tuesday, May 30, 2023) - The United States U-20 Men’s Youth National Team advances to the Quarterfinals of the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup, defeating New Zealand 4-0.
Real Salt Lake playmaker Diego Luna featured in the starting XI and was monumental in the 4-0 victory, recording assists on two goals and making an exquisite run essential to the build up on the third. Luna’s pace on the ball, pitch awareness and vision were on full display, drawing cheers from the crowd and high praise from the coaching staff. Through four matches at the tournament, Luna leads the team in assists with three, while also adding a goal of his own.
Looking to advance to the Quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive World Cup, the United States broke out of the gates hungry for the opening goal. After a possible penalty was denied New Zealand in the eighth minute by a Video Assistant Referee review, goalkeeper Gaga Slonina came to the rescue in the 11th with a diving save to keep the scoreline level.
Just three minutes later, the United States found the back of the net, as Owen Wolff picked out the far bottom-left corner from long-range. The shot was hit low and beat the diving Kiwi ‘keeper Kees Sims, who pulled back his hand back thinking the ball was headed wide of the post. Luna was credited with the assist as his pass set up Wolff in a comfortable position to take the shot on target.
Despite plenty of scoring opportunities throughout the remainder of the first half, the United States settled for the 1-0 lead heading into the break.
The Yanks continued their relentless attack into the second half, pressing high and asking questions of the New Zealand backline. Luna’s vision and ability to find teammates in dangerous positions paid off once again, setting up Cade Cowell for the second time in the tournament in the 61st minute to double the lead.
Luna nearly had a goal of his own three minutes later, capitalizing on a turnover in the attacking third and dangling a defender before sending a shot just inches wide of the post. In the 75th minute, Luna gained possession in his own half and led a counterattack, turning on the jets and powering down the pitch in search of a third goal for the Americans. Just before the 18-yard-box he laid the ball off to a trailing Cowell who crossed the ball back to Luna in front of goal, but his shot was deflected and the rebound was tapped in by Justin Che to extend the lead. With the Quarterfinal appearance secured, Luna was subbed off in the 79th minute to a standing ovation from the traveling American fans.
Roka Pukštas applied the finishing touches on the impressive performance by the United States, heading home a freekick from Brandan Craig in the 82nd minute. Slonina and co. were airtight for the final minutes of the match, remaining the only team at the tournament who has yet to concede a goal.
With the win, Diego Luna becomes the ninth player on an active RSL roster to advance to the Quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup with the Stars and Stripes. He joins Chris Seitz and Freddy Adu in 2007 (as well as then UCLA Bruin and eventual RSL defender Tony Beltran), Jordan Allen in 2015 (as well as current RSL striker Rubio Rubín who was with Eredivisie side Utrecht at the time), Brooks Lennon, Sebastian Saucedo, Danilo Acosta, and Justen Glad in 2017 and David Ochoa in 2019.
The U-20 United States Youth National Team will face either Gambia or Uruguay on Sunday, June 4 at 5 p.m. MT, with the winner of that match progressing to the Semifinal on Thursday, June 8. The game will be available on FS2 and Telemundo (see USSoccer.com for more details).