Sebastian Soto’s brace was the difference as the United States secured an important victory over Nigeria in the Under-20 World Cup.
The U.S. entered the contest off a 2-1 defeat to Ukraine in their opening game in Group D.
With Nigeria having secured a 4-0 victory over Qatar in their opener, and Ukraine defeating the Asian nation earlier in the day, Tab Ramos’ U.S. side knew defeat would put them in a difficult spot for qualification to knockout stages of the competition.
But the U.S. enjoyed a strong effort from the early going, and unlike in their opener, that lead directly to an advantage.
Soto, inserted into the starting lineup after coming on as a substitute in the U.S. opener, got free on a corner kick in the 18th minute, slamming home a header off Alex Mendez’s delivery to give his side a 1-0 advantage.
While the U.S. remained on top for much of the first half, they were unable to extend their advantage.
It appeared the U.S. had found the net again later in the half, only for it to be ruled out due to Timothy Weah being offside in the build up.
Nigeria enjoyed a spell of dominance after the ruled out goal, with Maxwell Effiong striking the crossbar with a brilliant drive from distance and Jamil Muhammed testing U.S. goalkeeper Brady Scott.
But Nigeria were unable to find an equalizer and the U.S. would waste no time in the second-half giving itself a measure of breathing room.
Off the second-half kickoff, Chris Gloster burst forward on the left and found Soto making a run in behind. The Hannover forward was able to slot it past Olawale Oremade to double the U.S. advantage.
However, the match got nervy for the USYNT as the second half progressed.
Mark McKenzie, in for the injured Chris Richards just minutes earlier, conceded a penalty in the 64rd minute, barging into Kingsley Michael.
However, on Video Assistant Review, it was determined Nigeria was offside in the build up, so the penalty was waved off.
The victory leaves the U.S. still third in the group on goal differential, but will be in fine position to advance to the knockout stages.
Tab Ramos’ side will be heavy favorites to defeat Qatar in the group stage finale on Thursday, with the Asian nation losing both their games by a combined 0-5 scoreline.
The top two teams from the group automatically qualify, but the four highest third-placed finishers will also make the knockout round.