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USWNT U-20s pound Paraguay, 6-0 — but were six goals enough?

The United States defeated Paraguay, 6-0 on Thursday in each team’s second group-stage match at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in France. The victory keeps the U.S. alive in the tournament and officially eliminated Paraguay.

Midfielder Savannah DeMelo led the way for the U.S. with a hat trick, and star forward Sophia Smith added a brace in the rout. Ashley Sanchez also scored for the United States.

The margin of victory is important for the Americans after they dropped their group-stage opener to Japan on Monday. Goal difference is the first tie-breaker, and may be a factor in a talented Group C. If Japan defeats Paraguay and the U.S. defeats Spain on Monday, all three of the U.S., Japan and Spain would be on 6 points. Currently, the United States’ plus-five goal difference is the best in the group, thanks to the victory over Paraguay. Spain, whose goal difference is at plus-four after a 1-0 victory over Japan on Thursday, defeated Paraguay, 4-1 on Monday.

Smith opened the scoring for the U.S. on Thursday with a dazzling individual effort that began with her collecting the ball near midfield. After a one-two combination with Viviana Villacorta, Smith beat Paraguay goalkeeper Isabel Ortiz at the near post.

Smith also set up the United States’ second goal – and DeMelo’s first – in the 39th minute with her run down the left wing. DeMelo finished off the rebound from Ortiz. DeMelo’s second goal, five minutes later, was a classy, one-time finish after Erin Gilroy turned her defender on the endline.

Sanchez tallied less than a minute after halftime, and DeMelo and Smith added a goal apiece in the second half to complete the 6-0 score.

The primary question is whether or not that was enough for the United States. Penelope Hocking, who replaced Smith in the 73rd minute, twice missed an empty net, while Smith also missed a tap-in three minutes before being replaced. DeMelo also had a shot cleared off the line by a defender in the 73rd minute. The U.S. must first defeat reigning U-19 European champions Spain on Monday for goal difference to be a factor (assuming Japan defeats Paraguay).

A scenario with the U.S. among three heavyweights tied atop the group wouldn’t be unfamiliar to those within the program. The United States’ struggles at the U-17 level are well documented – it’s the only World Cup age level at which the U.S. women don’t have a title – and in 2012 in Azerbaijan, they were the odd team out of a bizarre scenario. The U.S., North Korea and France all finished on five points. That tournament used goals-for — not goal difference — as the first tiebreaker, and the U.S. failed to advance after ‘only’ defeating Gambia, 6-0. North Korea beat Gambia, 11-0 and France defeated Gambia, 10-2. France would go on to defeat North Korea in the final in a penalty-kick shootout.

Could luck be on the side of the U.S. U-20s if a similar scenario plays out on Monday? That depends on the Americans defeating Spain on – no easy task – and by how much Japan defeats Paraguay. If all teams are tied on goal difference, the second tie-breaker is goals scored.

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