Cristian Casseres Jr. and Venezuela fall short of U-20 World Cup Qualification

Cristian Casseres

New York Red Bulls midfielder Cristian Casseres Jr. was at the heart of an U-20 Venezuelan side that fought valiantly for a spot at this year’s U-20 World Cup. Yet, a late collapse in the final stage of this year’s U-20 South American Championship saw La Vinotinto miss out on a second consecutive appearance at the international youth tournament.

Though Casseres looked relatively average throughout the tournament, the 19-year-old did leave a few impressionable marks in some key matches for Venezuela.

Group Stage

Venezuela – Colombia (1-0)

In a cagey tournament opener, neither side provided the jaw-dropping beautiful brand of soccer expected of tournament favorites.

Casseres struggled to work around the physicality of Colombia’s midfielders and looked to pass quickly to relieve himself of pressure. Gustavo Carvajal and Yeiler Goez did well closing down Casseres the second he got a foot to the ball.

To his credit, Casseres consistently delivered tantalizing set pieces in the first half. Venezuela failed to take their chances.

Defensively, Casseres was left out to dry by the sheer strength of his opponents. His passive tackling hardly helped with the situation and often allowed Colombia to break through his defensive line with ease.

Venezuela – Chile (2-1)

That physical disadvantage, however, did not hinder his influence against Chile. He and Jorge Yriarte worked in sync to suffocate Chile’s midfielders. The duo’s constant movement forced Chile to play slower. It also allowed Jan Hurtado and Samuel Sosa to pressure the defenders, creating turnovers.

The Yriarte-Casseres tangent created and scored Venezuela’s game winner when Yriarte connected with a pin-point free kick from Casseres. Chile lost their grip on Venezuela’s dynamic offense, and space opened for Casseres. He used it to swing in crosses from the left flank.

Casseres was a new man in this match. He played with maturity and composure and, more importantly, showcased the confidence that he lacked in match one.

Venezuela – Brazil (1-2)

A mixed bag performance followed on day three.

Casseres looked lively in attack. He often looked to overlap and link with Samuel Sosa on the left flank. His energetic performance was a nightmare for Brazil. It enabled him to find time and space on the ball in dangerous zones.

Yet, in transition, Casseres displayed less eagerness to track back or close down the Brazilian midfielders. His failure to press Marcos Antonio just outside Venezuela’s penalty box allowed Brazil to open the scoring. Casseres’ sense of defensive urgency returned around the hour mark in the match. But the mental shift came too late to prevent Rafael Dudamel from taking him off.

Venezuela – Bolivia (1-0)

To stretch Bolivia’s compact midfield in the final group stage match, Casseres was deployed just behind Hurtado.

Hurtado looked to hold up the ball and play Casseres in behind Bolivia’s high line. The move nearly paid dividends. The midfielder latched onto a flick-on from Hurtado but his shot curled just past the post.

An early second half red card to Hurtado saw Rafael Dudamel sacrifice Casseres for the sake of defensive solidarity. They held onto their one goal lead, and Venezuela finished top of Group A.

Under-20 World Cup Qualification Round

Venezuela – Uruguay (1-1)

In his first, full 90 minute performance at the tournament, Casseres delivered his best.

The culmination of defensive lessons he learned throughout the initial group stage flustered a sputtering Uruguay side. He shut down passing lanes without second guessing himself and was quick to slow down Los Charruas’ midfielders in transition. Casseres’ mobility in the middle third forced Uruguay into playing down the wings. It enabled Venezuela to isolate their wingers from the rest of the match.

Despite Venezuela having to settle for a draw, Casseres stepped up to the plate when the stakes were high.

Venezuela – Brazil (2-0)

In Venezuela’s rematch against Brazil, it was evident that Casseres learned from his mistakes in their first meeting. A near flawless display of defensive pressing and confident link-up play, Casseres displayed confidence in the center of the park.

He shadowed Antonio for the majority of the first half to ensure Brazil’s main source of creativity was neutralized. When Brazil turned to Emerson for an outlet down the right flank, Casseres was there to hassle the right back. At one point, Casseres pulled off an excellent recovery tackle to prevent his opponent’s entry to the penalty box.

Learning from the fiery affair against Uruguay, Casseres remained level-headed despite the Brazilians’ best efforts to get into his head.

Brazil maintained the majority of possession in the match, but Casseres’ collectiveness on the ball allowed him to work around their pressure.

Venezuela – Argentina (0-3)

Though the 3-0 loss would not support it, Casseres and his Venezuelan teammates played relatively well against Argentina. Another robust display from the midfielder forced La Albiceleste to play into tight spaces on either flank. It slowed their progression up the field.

However, the clinical finishing of Adolfo Gaich proved too much for Venezuelan goalkeeper Carlos Olses to handle. Casseres did well in transition, but the team as a whole struggled to finish their chances.

Venezuela – Colombia (0-2)

Venezuela’s loss to Colombia, though, did represent the shambolic defensive display from Dudamel’s on the night. Sloppy passes and touches from the backline let Colombia easily pressure Venezuela. They created uncomfortable situations and forced unnecessary turnovers from the defenders.

Again, Casseres could not cope with the combative approach of a physical and athletic Colombian side. Jaime Alvarado and Yéiler Góez had a field day throughout Venezuela’s half of the field. The Colombian midfielders’ quick-fire movement displaced Venezuela’s structure on the day. Iván Angulo’s man handling of Miguel Navarro pulled Casseres further out wide than he should have been.

Venezuela – Ecuador (0-3)

Venezuela’s final match against Ecuador completed the hat trick of meltdowns as they fell 3-0 to La Tricolor. Casseres’ defensive evolution seemed to unravel itself back to square one as the midfielder provided frail security for his backline.

His approach to defending Ecuadorian center back Gustavo Vallecilla in the build up to the second goal of the match epitomized his disappointing display. Casseres provided too much space to the tournament’s top scorer, Leonardo Campana. Vallecilla sent a perfect cross in, Leonardo Campana finished it easily.

Back to New York

There was a lack of unity within the team throughout these three matches, and it showed in the absentmindedness of some of Casseres’ inaccurate passes. Chris Armas will undoubtedly have to work with the midfielder on his overall defending, but his creative intuition and ability to work in a high-octane system is enough to be hopeful that Casseres will break into the squad this year.

Though it is a sour note for Casseres to end on before returning to training with the New York Red Bulls, the tournament did provide a strong understanding of what the Venezuelan can bring to his club’s midfield this season.

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