U.S. U-20s beat Mexico, take a big step toward the World Cup
The United States took a major step toward qualifying for this summer's Under-20 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Mexico at the CONCACAF Championship on Monday. Jeff Carlisle wraps up what this means for the U.S. while Tom Marshall looks at the road ahead for Mexico's junior stars.
United States: Ramos' side are hitting form
Set piece prowess. Defensive solidity. Mentality.
For the U.S. men, that's long been the recipe for defeating Mexico at just about every level. Those traits, as well as some withering pressure up the field, were all on display in the Americans' victory against El Tri in the second stage of the CONCACAF U-20 Championships.
The U.S. team is now perfectly positioned to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the third straight time, but the job isn't done. The Americans only need to finish second in the three-team group, and a draw against El Salvador in four days will guarantee qualification. It's possible for the U.S. to advance even with a loss, but the fact that Mexico and El Salvador play on Wednesday means Tab Ramos' squad will know the result it needs to secure qualification to the World Cup, which starts in May in South Korea. A win will see the U.S. reach the final of the qualifying tournament, something it's never won outright.
This scenario seemed like a fantasy following the 1-0 defeat to Panama in the U.S. team's group stage opener. But as has been the habit of Ramos-coached teams during the past three cycles: the U.S. tends to improve as the qualifying tournament has gone on and against Mexico, the Americans played their best game by far.
Erik Palmer-Brown finds the back of the net with this beauty! Brooks Lennon delivered the corner on- U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) February 27, 2017
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The U.S. central midfield trio of Tyler Adams, Eryk Williamson and goal scorer Erik Palmer-Brown was exceptional, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The pressure they applied prevented Mexico from establishing any kind of rhythm and on the rare occasions when one of those three was beaten, there always seemed to be another defender available to get in a vital challenge to thwart Mexico's attack. Granted, Mexico's insistence on attacking down the middle and into the teeth of the U.S. defense certainly helped the Americans' cause, but Adams' work rate was phenomenal, Luca De La Torre and Brooks Lennon chipped in on the flanks and the U.S. back four also acquitted itself well.
Once Palmer-Brown put the U.S. up in the 29th minute, nodding home Brooks Lennon's corner, one got the sense that the Americans were in firm control.
If there was one disappointing aspect for the U.S., it was their decision-making in the final third, especially in transition. The Americans had a few opportunities to drive at Mexico's defense on the break but oftentimes, the wrong pass was chosen in situations when El Tri was applying little pressure on the ball. The result is that lone striker Jeremy Ebobisse was often starved of service.
That said, given that the U.S. hadn't beaten Mexico in U-20 World Cup qualifying since 1986, that is but a minor complaint. And the Americans' play prevented Mexico from ever really putting the U.S. under sustained pressure.
Now the U.S. is just one game away from reaching its World Cup qualifying goal.
Mexico: No bad luck in deserved defeat
Mexico's hopes of winning a fourth consecutive CONCACAF U-20 Championship are all but over following Monday's defeat against the Stars & Stripes. And make no mistake, there was nothing fortunate about the result.
Ramos' tactics stifled Mexico, who were never able to get its usual passing game going largely due to the United States' high pressing. El Tri was favored to win after having scored nine times and conceded none in the group stage of the competition but they were penned into its own half for most the game. The United States won the ball back 18 times in Mexico's half of the field (El Tri doing the opposite just once), highlighting both where the game was played out and just how the U.S. were successful time and time again with their high press.
El Tri had zero shots on target (and just three in total) and lacked poise as the U.S. pressed hard. Mexican national teams at every level are known for their technical ability on the ball but when the pressure was on, El Tri opted to punt the ball forward rather than confidently playing out with authority.
It's very rare these days that a Mexico national youth team at any level is subdued and controlled the way the U.S. did on Monday in Costa Rica -- coach Marco Antonio "Chima" Ruiz will be criticized. His substitutions failed to change the game in any meaningful way. Star striker Ronaldo Cisneros was left completely isolated and the 4-4-2 formation handed numeric superiority to the U.S. in midfield, leaving El Tri's forwards stranded.
Questions will now be asked, as is the norm when Mexico falls to defeat against its great North American rival.
The first has to be whether this group of players simply isn't up to standard, although their form in the U-17 World Cup in 2015 would suggest otherwise. The second is the increasing tendency in Liga MX toward playing foreigners. Not one of this Mexico squad is guaranteed to start games domestically when they return. Only Club America's Edson Alvarez is considered a regular. Finally, perhaps it would be beneficially for Mexico to have players this age playing in different countries to provide more of a mix of backgrounds and styles. All the 21 names on coach Marco Antonio "Chima" Ruiz's squad are Mexico-based.
If there is a redeeming factor, it was that Mexico was missing players. Pachuca midfielder Erick Aguirre, Santos Laguna full-backs Jorge Sanchez and Gerardo Arteaga, Toluca's Alexis Vega and Everton (Chile) defender Francisco Venegas will all be available for the World Cup should Mexico defeat El Salvador on Wednesday and take a giant step to qualifying.
Still, a defeat like the one on Monday should be cause for concern, not only because of the score-line, but because of the way Mexico was outplayed and out-foxed.