US U-20 Men's National Team Falls 3-1 to Mexico in Hard Fought Championship Game
By Kim Tate
PUEBLA, Mexico (March 3, 2013) - The Under-20 Men's National Team impressed with efforts in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship game against Mexico yesterday, but ended up falling 3-1 in extra time in front of a sold out crowd at Estadio Cuauhtémoc.
Stand-in captain Benji Joya and his midfield partner Wil Trapp had excellent performances, as did goalkeeper Cody Cropper. The U.S. was the only team to score against Mexico, finishing the tournament with a 4-1-0 record. After the match, Trapp, Jose Villarreal and Luis Gil were named to the all-tournament team
As expected, the game started out quick and aggressively, seeing two goals inside the first ten minutes. The U.S. earned their first major chance early on, when Villarreal's efforts to get to the endline in the fourth minute were successful, clipping the ball to the far post. Mexico goalkeeper Richard Sanchez punched the ball away, allowing it to fall to the feet of U.S. forward Mario Rodriguez near the penalty spot but he missed his shot.
Moments later, Mexico grabbed the lead thanks to Jesus Corona who got on the end of a long ball and rode successive challenges from Javan Torre and Dillon Serna, before striking over Cropper into the net from 11 yards out.
The seventh minute almost saw Mexico with two goals if not for Cropper, who made a crucial diving stop to push out Corona's curling effort from 18 yards out.
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 succesfully converted the penalty by striking to to Sanchez' right, bringing the U.S. level in the 10th minute. It was Joya's first goal of the competition.
The remainder of the first half saw several attacking chances by both teams, neither of whom showed signs of exhaustion from playing five matches in 10 days during the competition.
There was more back and forth bewtween the teams in the second half, and the USA had another legitimate penalty claim in the 60th minute after Joya passed the ball forward, where Villarreal was able to find Rodriguez who had poked through into some free space. After getting a touch on the ball he was pulled down by Francisco Flores, but the referee signaled to play on and did not call for a penalty.
The best chance of the second half for USA came from Joya, who bent a 40-yard cross to the head of Rodriguez in textbook fashion. He struck it down but Sanchez stuck his leg out and defelcted the ball over the crossbar, keeping the score level at 1-1.
Mexico had two obvious chances once the 90 minutes had ended, but the first went over from close range and the second was nodded well wide off a free kick from Flores. In extra time Gomez' incredible finish proved to be the winner, meeting Espericueta's corner in the 99th minute to give Mexico a 2-1 lead.
The USA, still fighting hard but running on fumes, were reduced to 10 men after Shane O'Neill was given a red card for a clumsy challenge. Espericueta converted the penalty kick after Juan Pablo Ocegueda impeded Corona in the area. The clock ran down and Mexico took first place over the USA, winning with a final score of 3-1.
Additional Notes, courtesy of US Soccer:
- 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.
- 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. Daniel 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.