Jose Villarreal headed the United States U20’s to the top of Group A in the Concacaf World Cup qualifying, with a 63rd minute goal from a Luis Gil corner kick, that would be all the U.S. would need to defeat Costa Rica 1-0 tonight in Puebla, Mexico.
Tab Ramos wasn’t happy with his team’s performance in their opening 2-1 win over Haiti, so the U.S. coach replaced four starters for tonight’s game. Ramos had expressed disappointment with his fullbacks after the Haiti game and tonight he replaced them both. Juan Pablo Ocegueda was subbed into the first game, tonight he was on from the start. Eric Miller got the start on the other flank, while Mikey Lopez, another sub from the opener and Daniel Garcia also got the start. Garcia took over for Daniel Cuevas, who picked up a knock in a Man of the Match performance versus Haiti. Cuevas is not thought to be seriously injured.
The young Yanks were good from the start tonight, dominating the first half with a good passing game, although they never seriously threatened the Costa Rican goal in the opening 45 minutes. The Americans dominated possession, moving the ball smoothly among their attackers. Luis Gil, Benji Joya, Will Trapp, Mikey Lopez, Jose Villarreal and Garcia all impressed, with the Tico attack largely reduced to hit and hope.
Ramos made two changes at the break, taking out Trapp, with his yellow card, and fullback Miller, who had played well. First game starter Boyd Okwuonu replaced Miller and striker Mario Rodriguez, another first game starter, replaced midfielder Trapp. Costa Rica were somewhat better in the early stages of the second half, but when the U.S. goal came, it was well deserved.
Villarreal is not the tallest player, but he showed great hops on his goal, outleaping the Costa Rican defense and powering home a well placed header. The Ticos nearly equalized 10 minutes later, when Giovani Cantillano rattled the U.S. crossbar after freeing himself up with a fine turn in tight quarters. U.S. keeper Cody Cropper hadn’t had much to do, but the Southampton man was alert on a couple of occasions to deny Costa Rica.
As Costa Rica grew increasingly frustrated, the Tico’s tackles became more and more reckless. Tempers briefly boiled over after one such hard foul, with both sides squaring off before cooler heads prevailed.
The victory sends the U.S. into a Tuesday quarterfinal against the winner of tonight’s late game between Canada and Nicaragua, while Costa Rica will face Cuba. Ramos will be happy with this improved performance, and if the United States can match tonight’s effort, and add just a bit more firepower, it should be on to Turkey for the U20 World Cup this summer.
USA: 1-Cody Cropper; 18-Eric Miller (2-Boyd Okwuonu, 46), 4-Caleb Stanko (capt.), 5-Shane O’Neill, 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda; 6-Wil Trapp (9-Mario Rodriguez, 46), 15-Mikey Lopez; 8-Benji Joya, 10-Luis Gil, 17-Danny Garcia (11-Jerome Kiesewetter, 90+1); 7-Jose Villarreal
Substitutions Not Used: 12-Kendall McIntosh, 14-Javan Torre, 16-Dillon Serna, 19-Brandon Allen, 20-Daniel Cuevas, 22-Zack Steffen
Head coach: Tab Ramos
CRC: 1-Jairo Monge; 3-Jamhir Ordain, 4-William Fernandez (capt.), 5-Erick Cabalceta, 6-Mauricio Nuñez, 8-Luis Sequeira (10-Dylan Flores, 82), 11-John Jairo Ruiz, 12-Joseph Mora (7-David Ramirez 46), 16-Fabian Garita (14-Rodrigo Garita, 54), 17-Mayron George, 20-Giovanni Cantillano
Substitutions Not Used: 2-Jose Sossa, 9-Gabriel Leiva, 13-Steve Garita, 15-Brandon Welleans, 18-Bryan Morales, 19-Jean Carlo Agüero
Head coach: Jafet Soto