PUEBLA, Mexico (March 3, 2013) – Despite an impressive effort, an under-strength U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team fell 3-1 to Mexico in overtime of the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship final this evening in front of a sold-out crowd at Estadio Cuauhtémoc in Puebla.
Tab Ramos’ young team fell behind early, but rebounded with a first-half penalty kick dispatched by midfielder Benji Joya to finish regulation tied 1-1. In overtime, the hosts pulled away with two goals, including a spectacular overhead kick for the game-winner by Julio Gomez, to earn the championship.
The U.S. was led by great displays from stand-in captain Joya and his midfield partner Wil Trapp, as well as an impressive performance from goalkeeper Cody Cropper. The U.S. was the only team to score against Mexico and finished the tournament with a 4-1-0 record. After the match, Trapp, Jose Villarreal and Luis Gil were named to the all-tournament team.
The U.S. now looks forward to the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which runs June 21-July 13 in Turkey. The USA’s best performance in that event was a fourth-place showing in the seventh FIFA World Youth Championship in 1989 in Saudi Arabia.
With the U-20’s initial goal of World Cup qualification achieved, a few key players returned to their clubs and were unavailable for the showpiece final between CONCACAF’s biggest rivals. Cuevas was unfit to make Ramos’ starting 11 but Jose Villarreal was healthy enough to return to the lineup after missing out on the semifinal victory against Cuba.
The opening exchanges of the final were fast and furious, with the U.S. earning the first major chance. Villarreal did well to get to the endline in the fourth minute before clipping the ball to the far post. Mexico goalkeeper Richard Sanchez punched weekly and the ball fell invitingly for Mario Rodriguez near the penalty spot but the U.S. forward skied his shot.
Moments later Mexico grabbed the lead, with Jesus Corona opening the scoring for the home side. Corona got on the end of a long ball and rode successive challenges from Javan Torre and Dillon Serna before lifting the ball deftly over Cropper from 11 yards out.
The home crowd at Estadio Cuauhtémoc was delighted with the fast start for the hosts, and Mexico could have been two up were it not for Cropper. The U.S. goalkeeper dived superbly to his right to push out Corona’s curling effort from 18 yards in the seventh minute.
Cropper’s intervention was crucial and within minutes the USA equalized after earning a penalty kick when Hedgardo Marin handled Joya’s shot from the top of the penalty area. Joya stepped up and did the business himself, coolly slotting home the penalty kick to Sanchez’ right to bring the U.S. level in the 10 th minute. It was Joya’s first goal of the competition.
The teams continued to trade attacking chances in the first half, with Corona ballooning a shot over the U.S. goal from 10 yards. At the other end, Torre got his head to a Joya corner kick, but Sanchez sprung to his left to expertly turn the ball around the post.
After 28 minutes Cropper was called upon again to make a big stop. Uvaldo Luna provided an inviting cutback for Marco Bueno, who took a touch before rifling a ball toward goal. Cropper got his positioning spot on and confidently pushed away the powerful shot.
If the teams were tired from five games in 10 days it wasn’t showing and both teams answered the bell with vigor in the second half, with Cropper and Sanchez one-upping each other between the pipes.
Rodriguez was played over the top in the 48th minute but Sanchez was off his line early to dive at the attacker’s feet and push the ball to safety. At the other end Van Rankin struck a full volley from a corner but Cropper dove to his right to smother the shot without a rebound.
The USA had another penalty claim in the 60th minute after playing a nifty free kick near the top of the penalty area. Joya passed it forward, where Villarreal laid it off for Rodriguez who had streaked into the area. After getting a touch on the ball in traffic, he went down under pressure from Francisco Flores but the referee did not call for a penalty.
Later, Cropper stood strong on a shot from Mexico’s Jesus Escoboza. The winger got into the area before rifling a left-footed shot that caromed off Cropper’s chest and bounced clear.
Joya was the architect of the USA’s best chance of the second half, bending a delightful 40-yard cross onto the head of Rodriguez. The header was textbook stuff, down and difficult to stop but Sanchez was somehow able to stick out a leg and turn the ball over the crossbar to keep the scores level.
Mexico finished the 90 minutes with two clear chances. First, Marco Bueno headed over from close range and then Gomez nodded wide after a dangerous free kick from Flores.
Ramos’ depleted squad had given their all but in extra time the hosts pulled away. Gomez, whose acrobatic finish proved to be the winner, met Espericueta’s corner in the 99th minute to send the home crowd into raptures.
Running on fumes, the U-20s were reduced to 10 men after Shane O’Neill’s late red card for a clumsy challenge. Shortly thereafter Espericueta put the result out of reach, converting a penalty kick after Juan Pablo Ocegueda impeded Corona in the area.
- U-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos made one lineup change following the USA’s 2-0 semifinal win against Cuba with Jose Villarreal back in the lineup, recovered from an ankle injury. He played up top while injured Daniel Cuevas was on the bench.
- Midfielder Benji Joya wore the captain’s armband for a second-straight game after Caleb Stanko held the honor for the first three games in the tournament. Following the USA’s berth to the FIFA U-20 World Cup with a 4-2 win against Canada in the quarterfinals, Stanko, Luis Gil and Jerome Kiesewetter returned to their respective club teams.
- The U.S. has moved to 1-8-0 all-time against Mexico in CONCACAF Youth Tournaments and Championships.
- The USA starting lineup on Sunday featured seven players who had played in at least one game for a U.S. Soccer Development Academy team.