Mexico's U-20 Team Rolls in CONCACAF

Despite strong opposition from the USA, the best team in the region lifted the U-20 trophy
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, March 07, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

With much of the same core that won the 2011 U-17 World Cup in Mexico, the future of El Tri ran the table at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. The format of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship favors larger teams because 2 of the 3 teams from each group advance, and the draw put the U.S. and Mexico on opposite sides of the bracket meaning they could only meet in the final.

And that final did not disappoint. Let's take a look at how Mexico got there.

Group stage

Curacao defended deep against Mexico, which meant El Tri had to be patient to find their opening. Mexico made it look like an open training session against Curacao with multiple back-heel passes and two audacious 'chilena' attempts from full crosses early in the match. Jesús Corona broke the deadlock in the 21st minute with a powerful strike from outside the 18. The Monterrey attacking midfielder grabbed his second in the 33rd minute.

Playing as the advanced forward, Marco Bueno scored Mexico's third just 2 minutes later. Mexico knew it was going to have the lion's share of possession against a small Caribbean side like Curacao, but the team showed tremendous patience on the ball to probe and prod without trying to force a low percentage play. Mexico's 3 great first half goals were enough to brush aside Curacao in its opening match.

After controlling the match against the Caribbean island nation, Mexico did much of the same against El Salvador. Alonso Escoboza headed home a cross from Julio Gómez in the 15th minute. Smart headers would be the trend in this match as both Gómez and Antonio Briseño flicked in headers from free kicks in the second half. Mexico finished the game with another 3-0 victory in front of a raucous home crowd at Estadio Cuauhtémoc.

Knockout phase

Armando Zamorano opened the scoring for Mexico in the 12th minute against Jamaica in the quarterfinals. In what could be some small payback for the Reggae Boyz senior team stealing a point from the Azteca, Mexico's U-20 squad dismantled Jamaica 4-0. Bueno headed home for a second before the halftime whistle. Flores dazzled the fans in Estadio Cuauhtémoc with an inch perfect free kick in the second half. Escoboza added Mexico's fourth in the 75th minute.

Mexico's patience was put to a true test during their rematch with El Salvador. Unlike the first match, El Salvador welcomed Mexico's pressure and absorbed several promising chances. At times El Salvador played with as many as 8 players behind the ball and this defensive game plan succeeded until the 77th minute. At that point, Mexico team captain Briseño won a header from a cross by Jonathan Espericueta and Mexico was finally able to beat Salvadoran 'keeper Morales.

About 7 minutes later Briseño followed up on a rebound chance off the goalpost and doubled Mexico's advantage. This man of the match performance by Briseño lined up the showdown in the final match everyone had hoped for.

The main event

The best two teams made it to the final, but after the departures of Luis Gil, Jerome Kiesewetter and Caleb Stanko, there was no doubt that Mexico had a stronger side. There was the general stink of poor CONCACAF refereeing throughout the final; a very harsh handball call that U.S. international Benji Joya buried and an apparently clear foul by Briseño in the box that would have been his second yellow had it not been overlooked by the official from Suriname.

Beyond the controversy, which also included American goalkeeper Cody Cropper reaching out to intentionally trip Julio Gómez after his acrobatic overhead kick and eventual game-winner, the final was a tremendous match. You can read more about that match, which finished 3-1 thanks to two extra-time goals, by reading Herb's brilliant match report. The final was very much a classic and hard fought rivalry match, complete with some minor fisticuffs and animated benches.

Anchored by FC Dallas homegrown goalkeeper Richard Sanchez and captain Briseño, Mexico came into the final against the United States without conceding a single goal. In fact, Sanchez and Mexico's backline started every match and did so well that all 5 of them were named to the tournament’s Best XI. Briseño thoroughly deserves the player of the tournament as he did everything you would want your captain centerback to do; defend well, score headers and lead from the back. There are definitely bright things in store for his future.

Julio “La Momia” Gómez's game winner was strikingly similar to an overhead goal he scored in extra time against Germany in the semifinal of the 2011 U-17 WC in Mexico. You may remember that match and how Gómez of C.F. Pachuca clashed heads with another player and had to get bandaged up before returning to play looking like a mummy ('momia').

Jesús Corona of Monterrey joined the U-20 side with a good deal of first team experience in Liga MX, CCL and the Club World Cup. This familiarity with high level competition provided the professional attitude needed to operate as Mexico's withdrawn forward.

Pachuca's Marco Bueno was fantastic throughout the tournament and rightly kept promising 18-year-old, Chivas de Guadalajara product Carlos Fierro out of the starting line-up. All of Mexico's players excelled individually and, with the help of at least 34,000 spectators at each game, performed beautifully as a team.

The following players were also a part of the 2011 U-17 World Cup Championship squad:
- Richard Sanchez – Goalkeeper
- Antonio Briseño – Centerback, captain
- Fernando Flores – Right back
- Jonathan Espericueta – Midfielder
- Julio Gómez – Midfielder
- Carlos Fierro – Striker
- Marco Bueno – Striker

Sanchez, Briseño, Flores and Bueno started every match for Mexico in this tournament. Espericueta made three appearances for 180 minutes and Fierro made 3 substitute appearances. Julio Gómez made 3 starts and came in as a substitute against the United States.

These players formed the backbone for the team that went undefeated on its way to the U-17 WC title and undefeated on the way to the U-20 CONCACAF title. Over the 7 wins in the U-17 tournament, Mexico only conceded 7 goals while scoring 27. And over the 5 games of this tournament, Mexico scored 15 goals while only conceding a single goal.

Not that the world needed another reason to pay attention to Mexico's developing players, but this current crop is the most promising yet. Rightly so, this team will be among the favorites at the U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer.


Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.