It was a goal that felt like it was a long time coming.
Getting his first start of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse netted his first goal of the tournament, helping the U.S. U-20s to a resounding 6-0 victory over New Zealand in the Round of 16.
“It definitely feels as if I kind of let a weight off my shoulder,” Ebobisse said of his goal. “Obviously, going through [2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship] without scoring a goal…was a little bit tough mentally, but my teammates stuck by me, supported me and never doubted me.”
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The game remained close throughout the first 60 minutes of play, with the U.S. only leading by a goal against the Kiwis. In the 64th minute, however, forward Josh Sargent flicked a ball on to Ebobisse and with his back turned to the goal, the 2017 MLS SuperDraft fourth overall pick settled the pass, took two touches to his right and blasted the ball past the outstretched gloves of New Zealand goalkeeper Michael Would.
“The ball was coming from pretty high up and I had a guy on my back. I just took a strike and I was lucky to hit it so cleanly," said Ebobisse. "I knew Josh was going to play me the ball, and I knew I was going to finish it.”
His teammates, who combined to score five more goals on Thursday, matched the U.S. U-20 record for largest margin of victory, originally set in 1993.
“We knew New Zealand was going to work really hard in the opening 30, 45 minutes," said Ebobisse. "But we also knew they were going to run out of steam, so we just had to put in a mature performance, move the ball around, get them running, and we knew that the floodgates would open."
Ebobisse expressed pride not only in his team’s capacity to score goals, but their ability keep their opponent off-balance.
“I think it caught New Zealand by surprise,” he said. “They didn’t really know how to defend Josh and I with our runs and we were really good with alternating…It shows our depth and our adaptability to different situations the tournament presents.”
That adaptability will be crucial for the United States as they move forward into the quarterfinals. After defeating New Zealand, the Americans next face a strong Venezuela team Saturday (11pm PT, FS2), a team who have yet to allow a goal in the tournament.
While Ebobisse sees the matchup as a challenge, he emphasized that the team is prepared.
"I know they have some dynamic wingers and forwards but our defense has been shut-down the last couple games and I have full confidence in them doing the same," he said.
"It’s going to be important that we use all our different options on the wing and center of the field. We’re going to win. We’re confident.”