- Sebastian Soto surges into USA starting XI
- His brace propelled USA to crucial win over Nigeria
- “It was my time to show the world what I can do”
Though USA forward Sebastian Soto had never visited Poland prior to the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2019, there is a certain Polish footballer that the California-born teenager has admired from afar for years.
“My favourite striker is Robert Lewandowski,” Soto told FIFA.com after his two goals inspired the Stars and Stripes to an essential 2-0 win against Nigeria. “I’ve loved him since I started playing this position. My body type is like his body type. Watching how he’s played – he’s an idol.”
It was fitting, therefore, that one of the 18-year-old’s finest games in a USA shirt should come in his hero’s home country. Playing alongside wingers Tim Weah and Konrad de la Fuente, Soto owned the No9 role with aplomb, expertly timing his runs and finishing clinically.
The second goal in particular showcased his ability as a goalscorer. Soto shot through a gap in the penalty area toward the near post and allowed left-back Chris Gloster’s through ball to run while he turned his hips and adjusted his stride. Then Soto waited for Nigeria goalkeeper Olawale Oremade to commit. Once Oremade collapsed, Soto coolly chipped the ball into the net with his right foot.
Soto made the finish look effortless in real time, but the replay revealed a blend of confidence and skill that would have made Poland’s all-time leading goalscorer proud.
“We knew we needed to win,” said Soto. “We had a meeting where we said that this was our World Cup final. That’s how we treated it. Nothing less.”
Following a 2-1 loss to Ukraine in their opening match, USA coach Tab Ramos made a single change to his XI against the Flying Eagles. It was Soto, who began on the bench in the first game but got the starting nod in the second at Bielsko-Biala Stadium.
“Obviously the Ukraine game was a little bit different because they crowded the middle so much,” Ramos explained. “In this game we were playing against a team with four in the back. I really felt like we needed a true No9 to be in the box.”
“I was motivated,” Soto added. “The coaching staff told me it was my time to show the world what I can do. I just wanted to take advantage of the moment.”
With three points in the bag after Monday night, USA greatly increased their chances of making the knockout stage. They will now play their final game in Group D against Qatar on Thursday.
For Soto, this is only the beginning of what he hopes will be a long, successful career in international and club football. He joined German club Hannover last summer and made three Bundesliga appearances this past season. Though his club was relegated, that could mean more playing time for younger players.
When asked about his career goals, Soto didn’t hesitate. “[To] play in the senior World Cup and play in the Champions League,” he said. “And just make a name for myself and make my family proud.”