Mexico topped the U.S. 3-1 in a thrilling Concacaf U20 Final (March 3, 2013), that saw the home side score one goal in each of the two overtime periods to claim
the title. A full house of more than 49,000 that crowded into Cuauhtemoc Stadium in Puebla, Mexico were treated to a well played match between two countries that had already qualified for the U20 World Cup this summer in Turkey.
The Americans started well, earning a corner just 20 seconds from kickoff. U.S. center back Shane O’Neill headed high, but it was game on. Then Mexico struck for the games first goal through the dangerous Jesus Corona. Corona used his quickness to beat two U.S. defenders, before firing past American keeper Cody Cropper. Cropper was reportedly headed back to his English club Southampton, but his teammates were happy he stuck around when he robbed Corona of a second goal, less than four minutes after his opener.
The U.S. responded well, coming right back at the home team. A period of U.S. pressure earned a penalty for a handball and the excellent Benji Joya buried it for 10th minute equalizer. End to end action gave the big crowd plenty to cheer about, and Cropper and Mexico keeper Richard Sanchez both came up big to keep the score at 1-1 heading into the break.
The fast pace continued on the re-start, with the ever dangerous Corona shooting high moments into the second half. The U.S. performance was their best of the tournament, with the talented Mexican team bringing out the best in Tab Ramos’ side.
The quality of refereeing has been very poor throughout this tournament and the U.S. fell victim to that lack of quality in the 60th minute, when a blatant penalty against Mario Rodriguez was somehow overlooked.
Each team had chances to win the game in regulation with Cropper coming up big to deny Jorge Escoboza in the 74th minute, while Sanchez appeared to get a foot to a Rodriguez header off of a fine Joya cross.
Ramos had yet to use his bench, despite the 7,000 foot altitude that combined with this busy tournament schedule, must have had his players feeling tired. His Mexican counterpart used his allotted three subs, but Ramos was limited in options. With three players sent back to their clubs and at least two more players, including the influential Daniel Cuevas out injured, Ramos went deep into the second overtime before bringing in striker Brandon Allen.
Mexican sub Jose Gomez scored a spectacular volley off of a corner kick 99 minutes in, leaving the tired Yanks a hill to climb. Fellow sub Espericueta lashed home a penalty at the 113 minute mark, effectively ending the contest and setting the misleading final score.
El Salvador defeated Cuba 1-0 in the third place game, although both countries, along with Mexico and the United States, are heading to the U20 World Cup to be played from June 21- July 13 in Turkey.
The performance of the American team in this tournament will be a boon to a U.S. youth program that was under pressure after some poor recent results. Ramos will also emerge with his reputation enhanced, having coaxed his team to play some stylish and effective soccer. Players like Joya, Villarreal, Daniel Cuevas, Luis Gil and keeper Cody Cropper gave noteworthy performances, raising expectations in the process.
With these games having been televised back home, the American soccer fan base will be keeping a close watch on these young players as they head back to their clubs and colleges. Brazil and Argentina both failed to qualify for the U20 World Cup and the feeling is that anything can happen this summer in Turkey.
MEX – Jesus Corona (Marco Bueno) 4th minute
USA – Benji Joya (penalty kick) 10
MEX – Julio Gomez (Jorge Espericueta) 99
MEX – Jorge Espericueta (penalty kick) 113
USA: 1-Cody Cropper; 16-Dillon Serna, 5-Shane O’Neill, 14-Javan Torre (19-Brandon Allen, 107), 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda; 15-Mikey Lopez, 6-Wil Trapp; 9-Mario Rodriguez, 8-Benji Joya (capt.), 17-Danny Garcia; 7-Jose Villarreal
Substitutions Not Used: 2-Boyd Okwuonu, 12-Kendall McIntosh, 20-Daniel Cuevas, 22-Zack Steffen
Head coach: Tab Ramos
MEX: 1-Richard Sanchez; 2-Francisco Flores, 3-Hedgardo Marin (14-Abel Fuentes, 59), 4-Antonio Briseño (capt.), 5-Bernardo Hernandez, 6-Armando Zamorano (7-Jorge Espericueta, 46), 9-Marco Bueno, 10-Jesus Corona, 15-Jose Van Rankin, 18-Uvaldo Luna (8-Julio Gomez, 75), 20-Jesus Escoboza
Substitutions Not Used: 11-Emmanuel Hernandez, 12-Manuel Lajud, 13-Jose Abella, 16-Carlos Treviño, 17-Carlos Fierro, 19-Luis Madrigal
Head coach: Sergio Almaguer