The U.S. U20’s defeated Cuba 2-0, Friday night in Puebla, Mexico to set up a showdown with arch rivals Mexico in Sunday’s Concacaf Championship Final. Although both teams were already through to the U20 World Cup, U.S. coach Tab Ramos had made it clear that he wanted this team to get to the final. He also made it clear that he wanted Mexico, Ramos got what he asked for when Mexico topped El Salvador 2-0 later Friday night.
Ramos’ team did their part, taking an early two goal lead and comfortably protecting that lead the rest the way. The crowd at Puebla’s Cuauhtemoc Stadium had barely settled into their seats when the U.S. had their first serious threat.
In the game’s third minute American attacker Daniel Garcia got behind the Cuban defense and was one v. one with the keeper. An indecisive Garcia wasted his chance and then went down under the keepers close attention. The referee made the call, no penalty, yellow card to Garcia for simulation. It looked like a good call from the official.
But the ref wouldn’t be able save the Cubans just five minutes later, when Mario Rodriguez beat the fragile Cuban backline. Benji Joya put a lovely ball over the top of that Cuban rearguard, and Rodriguez calmly took his chance.
The dangerous Daniel Cuevas doubled the U.S. advantage with a deflected strike in the 11th minute. Cuevas scored in what we are coming to see as typical Cuevas fashion. The Santos Laguna man loves to run at the defense and that was what he did to Cuba for his goal. With Cuevas running at a backpedaling defense, it was no surprise when he unleashed a powerful shot from the top of the box. Cuevas got some help from a deflection, but it was no more than he deserved.
The Americans came into this match severely weakened by the return of key players to their teams as well as some injury problems. With a World Cup place secured, midfield maestro Luis Gil headed back to his club, Real Salt Lake. Team captain Caleb Stanko and backup forward Jerome Kiesewetter headed back to their German clubs, and Ramos was left with only 14 field players when Jose Villarreal and Eric Miller picked up knocks.
The rest of the squad did well. Shane O’Neill marshalled the back line with a vocal assist from keeper Cody Cropper. Dillon Serna held up well at right fullback, despite having never played the position before. Will Trapp and Mikey Lopez were solid in the middle of the park, and Benji Joya showed his quality on that opening assist on Rodriguez’ goal. And of course Rodriguez and Cuevas got it all started for the U.S.
Now it is on to that matchup that Ramos wanted. The final against Mexico. The Mexican’s will be expected to win on their home turf, Ramos has injury concerns with Villarreal and Cuevas, and Cropper is scheduled to head back to Southampton before Sunday’s final.
In any case the, the objective has been achieved, and with the pressure off of both teams, Sunday’s final should be a good one.
USA: 1-Cody Cropper; 16-Dillon Serna, 5-Shane O’Neill, 14-Javan Torre, 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda; 15-Mikey Lopez, 6-Wil Trapp; 9-Mario Rodriguez (19-Brandon Allen, 72), 8-Benji Joya (capt.), 17-Danny Garcia; 20-Daniel Cuevas (2-Boyd Okwuonu, 77)
Substitutions Not Used: 7-Jose Villarreal, 12-Kendall McIntosh, 22-Zack Steffen
Head coach: Tab Ramos
CUB: 1-Sandy Sanchez, 2-Andy Vaquero, 3-Enmanuel Labrada, 6-Yosel Piedra, 8-Jordan Santa Cruz, 9-Maykel Reyes, 10-Hector Morales (17-Pedro Anderson, 52), 14-Aricheell Hernandez, 15-Adrian Arturo Diz Pe (capt.) (4-Yolexis Collado, 62), 16-Daniel Luis Saez, 18-Abel Martinez
Substitutions Not Used: 5-Brian Rosales, 7-Randy Valier, 11-Dairon Perez, 12-Delvis Lumpuy, 13-Lazaro Mezquia, 19-David Urgelles, 20-Ricardo Suarez
Head coach: Raul Gonzalez