USMNT Report: U20s Lose Final Late to Mexico

In the U-20 CONCACAF Championship final, the USA couldn’t get it done against a strong Mexico in Puebla
by Herb Scribner   |   Monday, March 04, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

From first whistle to the last, Estadio Cuauhetmoc was buzzing and boiling with excitement. Puebla, the host city, was dialed in to see two rival sides – Mexico and US – make that final leap forward to claim the regional youth title.

But the Under-20 Unites States Men’s National Team, with its recent success in World Cup qualifying and this tournament, failed to win the championship, losing to Mexico 3-1 after two periods of extra time.

For the US, which has not won in any of its five appearances in this final, this also brought an end to a six-game winning streak in all competitions. Both sides are looking forward to the U-20 FIFA World Cup in Turkey, which they both qualified for last week.

MEXICO HIGHLIGHTS: Both teams got right to work in the final. In the 4th minute, Jesus Corona scored his third goal of the tournament off a defensive lap by the USA. This came after the US had its own slew of chances at goal. They would eventually capitalize on an attempt six minutes later after El Tri’s Hedgardo Marin was called for a handball in the penalty box. Benji Joya sent a screamer past goalkeeper Richard Sanchez to level the score, which was the first goal the Mexicans conceded in the tournament.

Sanchez redeemed himself in the 23rd minute with an excellent save off a corner kick. The ball sailed to Torre, whose header was stalled by the Mexican goalkeeper. Both teams traded attempts back and forth throughout the rest of the game, but neither could pull ahead. The final, then, went into extra time.

These extra periods saw the tone of the match shift significantly, as Mexico steamrolled ahead and left the tired US behind. Julio Gomez had a splendid overhead strike off a corner kick to send away the go-ahead goal to move ahead 2-1. In the second period of extra time, the US defenders had a tugging match inside the box, and Shane O’Neill received a straight red card for his all too blatant roughness. Jorge Espericueta’s converted the penalty in the 113th minute to finish the game off at 3-1.

Even in the dying minutes of the match, Mexico sunk the US with a goal by Jesus Escoboza that was eventually called back due to offsides. And that was it. Final whistle blew, and Mexico lifted yet another big youth trophy.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: Manager Tab Ramos said he was proud of his team despite the loss.

"This is an experience that obviously we couldn’t pay for. There’s no way in the world we could travel to get a game against our rival in their country for a trophy. I think our players proved a lot. They got a lot out of tonight," he said.

And Ramos was fully aware his players were suffering from tired legs towards the end of the game.

“There’s no question with about 10 minutes left in the game, in regulation time, that I started to think about the possibility of making some changes to try to either win the game right at the end or start thinking also into overtime," he said.

Ramos also said the Mexican crowd actually helped the team in learning how to deal with a different environment.

“I have to give the players a lot of credit," he said. "This is their first time playing in a situation like this and they responded incredibly. They played a great game and I’m very proud of that. I see it more as here are some players that are coming up through our system who can do this, and I think that’s really important for us.”

Midfielder Benji Joya was very appreciative of the environment the team faced, seeing as its going to be a good test for the young US side as it approaches the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

“The World Cup is going to be much like this. We’re just going to continue working and we have to get used to this. We’re going to Turkey and it’ll be the same situation. We have a strong group mentally and physically, and we will continue with that and keep putting it to practice.”

ANALYSIS: Maybe the USA didn’t take home the gold, but the team did stay neck-and-neck with an incredibly gifted Mexico youth side, which is something that both players and manager Tab Ramos can be proud of.

Mexico is tough to beat, especially since several members of Sunday night’s roster were a part of the group that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2011. Antonio Briseno, who was booked for a yellow card in this match, scored a goal in the U-17 World Cup Final against Uruguay even. Goalkeeper Sanchez and midfielder Gomez were also included in that roster. So if the world’s best couldn’t top some of these players, it’d be no easy feat for the US to do so either. Mexico, and this squad in particular, is one of the world’s best at youth level in recent years.

But the US definitely held its own with El Tri, and that’s what the team needs to remember going into the U-20 World Cup later this year. The Americans were confident throughout the match, holding possession and making several attempts at goal.

Conditioning and fatigue played a factor, and that’s what the US will look to work on moving forward. It’s important to note the US didn’t make a sub during regulation – with Brandon Allen and Boyd Okwuonu being the only healthy players on the bench. In the later stage of the 2nd half, tired legs played a very key role as the team could barely string passes together. In extra time, especially after O’Neill was red-carded and the team was left with 10 men, an over-worked US just simply ran out of gas despite the best efforts of many.

Watching the US stay with a class Mexico squad for the majority of the U-20 final shows the team and structure of the US soccer program is surely growing in a positive way. Players like Luis Gil, Daniel Cuevas, Jose Villarreal, Joya and Will Trapp played very well throughout the tournament, and will certainly be in the minds of the senior US men’s team’s coaching staff. Impressively, Cuevas, Trapp and Villarreal were named to the Best XI team of the CONCACAF U-20 Championships.

I’m not one to make predictions, but I’d expect to see Villarreal, of the LA Galaxy, make an appearance with the senior USMNT sooner rather than later. He scored a trio of goals in the tournament and had that very professional feel on the pitch. Gil and Cuevas were right behind him with two goals apiece. It’d be interesting to see how this US side would have performed if Gil hadn’t been competing with Real Salt Lake in its MLS season opener or if Cuevas didn't suffer an ankle injury. He always brought something dynamic to the offense with this team.

That’s what makes this team so fun to watch. Villarreal and Cuevas are both forwards and, unlike many of the US strikers, they have a commanding presence up front. It’d be interesting to see Villarreal’s and Cuevas’ growth. The former should have a good learning experience under former US coach Bruce Arena, and the latter is playing in the strong Liga MX with Santos Laguna, so there’s a chance they’ll grow much as players.

It was another strong performance by the USA U-20 side, which will move onto the World Cup, something Mexico will surely be heavily favored in after the aforementioned U-17 trophy win. Consider this: Mexico has won this championship 12 times while the US lags behind without a win. For the Americans to compete for a little more than 90 minutes with a historically strong side is nothing short of impressive. It shows the US may be closing in on Mexico at this age level, shortening the gap between the two rivals.

But, at the end of it all, the US couldn’t get it done over El Tri, and that shows the big difference. Mexico had the experience and completely owns this tournament; the country was ready to take the title. One day soon the Americans may get that illustrious championship and this tournament run shows they are getting closer to accomplishing that feat. Still, there’s still a lot of catch up to do with Mexico, which has just put away game after game throughout the lifespan of this tournament.

This match will be a nice segue into the 2013 U-20 World Cup, where Mexico will surely be a favorite among the rest of the world’s best. Maybe the US’ turn of fortune will begin there. It’ll be exciting to see how both of these CONCACAF teams fair on the bigger world stage.

NEXT UP: June 21 – 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup from Turkey.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.