Are the French junior and ladies’ teams getting what is known in celebrity circles as “the rub”?
We all know France is the defending FIFA World Cup gold medalist, and Les Bleus are a prohibitive favorite in almost every match these days. But the women’s team may be overvalued in Las Vegas for the upcoming Women’s World Cup, and I’m not sure a lot of folks in Europe accurately foresaw the events of the Round-of-16 at the ongoing U20 World Cup in Poland.
The United States Men’s Under-20 squad upset Team France at nearly 6-to-1 moneyline odds on Tuesday. Sebastian Soto, an electric forward who already has a Bundesliga gig with Hannover 96, scored this lovely goal to get an overconfident French backline’s attention in the early-going.
Does Soto always kneel in meditation and prayer after he scores? I can see a praying soccer genius from California becoming a sensation – the first real Men’s soccer sensation in a while – from sea to shining sea.
Supporters and speculators must be wary of giving the U20 squad too much credit for reaching the quarterfinals and facing Ecuador in a winnable fixture this Saturday. At the same time, if the level of resistance isn’t what it would be in a senior-level World Cup setting, that’s good news for any upstart including USA Soccer.
Just because France and Qatar are dominating the senior levels of Europe and Asia respectively doesn’t mean that beating them at the U20 is quite that kind of a cookie. Still, green-horn footballers must learn how to handle disappointment, and it has been encouraging to watch Team USA recover against Qatar and then pass a do-or-die test against a world powerhouse over the last 2 matches.
The branding of pro sports can be a dangerous thing for gamblers and bookmakers. Time and again, the Dallas Cowboys have been overhyped, overrated, and overvalued at betting books only to disappoint once the NFL season begins. It’s not necessarily a grand conspiracy against the other fan bases, though it can feel like one.
Familiarity is the main cause of the irrational. There are NHL fans who honestly believe the New Jersey Devils would beat Team Finland for Olympic gold, just as I’m sure a few Fulham crazies watch the Asian Cup and think none of the tournament’s award-winners not named “Son” could compete on a Premier League pitch.
So are FIFA tournaments free of branding bias? No, not at all. It’s actually sort of funny – national soccer programs want to excel and be supported across continents, but they’re not really in the business of branding like club teams are. Heck, the nicknames of a lot of international squads are essentially for fan-and-blogger use only…they don’t put ‘em on posters.
And yet the “brand” of Les Bleus or El Tricolor can “color” how gamblers see events that don’t involve the senior squads. “USA vs Mexico? Doesn’t America suck compared to them?” Well maybe…but not at U20.
Perhaps I was guilty of “transferring” my respect for the Qatar National Team onto the U20 Qataris before last week’s Group Stage match with the United States. I thought that the Asian side was a terrific pick to cover or even draw the fixture and the result bore that out, but was I thinking of the senior team’s recent upset win over Japan for continental gold? Most of those players aren’t allowed to join up with the “frosh” Qatar team.
So if we can’t handicap the United States against any U20 World Cup foes based on the health of the teams’ respective senior programs, where to begin?
Maybe with Team USA’s obvious quality and momentum. Not only did the Yanks upset France as heavy underdogs, their fortunes in the bracket may have gone from the brink to a blessing.
Certainly the Ecuadorians are a strong side, having whipped Argentina twice in the South American Championship before beating Mexico in the Group Stage of the U20 World Cup. Keeper Moisés Ramírez kept a clean sheet against Brazil’s teenagers in February.
But it’s still an easier task to play Ecuador than it is to face the high-powered French.
MyBookie is giving Team USA a much-more solid (+200) moneyline against (+137) for Ecuador, with an O/U line of just (2.25) which ignores the high-octane outcome of USA vs France and may reflect multiple Yank goalkeepers (Brady Scott and David Ochoa) having posted clean sheets at the event already.
Why set an O/U total based on the (handicapped) likely loser’s strength, however? Doesn’t the Costa Rican sportsbook expect the Ecuadorians to break through? At least its clients do.
Maybe the bookies don’t mind if the action is deluded…but they’ll be paying out fatter stacks of (+200) prevails.
Only 1 negative remains in the eyes of handicappers. Last time USA Soccer’s U20 team met Ecuador in a FIFA World Cup, it didn’t go so hot. The Americans allowed a goal in the 5th minute and another in the 7th minute, surrendering 2 tallies to unheralded winger Bryan Cabezas and having to mount an impressive comeback just to earn a point with a 3-3 outcome.
That was then, however, and Cabezas’ “Class of ‘17” graduated from the junior ranks long ago.
I’m expecting fireworks in Poland on Saturday and perhaps another upset win for the USA.
Recommended Wager: Over (2.25)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.