In the CONCACAF U-20 Championship final Sunday night in Puebla, Mexico, Mexico took advantage of two goals in extra time to take down the United States 3-1.
The win gave Mexico their 12th U-20 CONCACAF championship and continued their dominance at the youth levels throughout the world.
Here are five thoughts from the game:
There are plenty of positives to take forward for the U.S.
While U.S. players, coaches and fans must certainly be bitterly disappointed at the final result, there are many positives to take from the game and the U-20 tournament.
First, and most importantly, the U.S. squad qualified for the U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer.
Second, the U.S. pushed Mexico to the brink, despite several disadvantages. The U.S. was missing several of its European-based players, it played the game in Mexico, there were at least two, clear missed penalty calls, and two of the U.S.’ best players on the tournament roster were unavailable for the final (Luis Gil returned to Real Salt Lake once qualification was assured after the U.S. won its semifinal matchup; Daniel Cuevas was unavailable due to injury).
The U.S. has some nice young talent
In addition to being positive about qualifying for the U-20 World Cup and playing a very even game against Mexico for 90 minutes in regulation time, the tournament showed many U.S. fans a taste of the talent being developed in the youth ranks.
Cody Cropper, who plays for Southampton in the English Premier League, had a very solid game in the net. In the final, he repeatedly stopped point-blank shots by Mexico. Cropper is primed to eventually help the U.S. continue its fine history of goalkeeping at the national level.
Jose Villarreal, who already has 14 appearances for the LA Galaxy at the age of 19, had an excellent tournament and troubled Mexico on the flank all night long.
Benji Joya, who already has four appearances for Santos Laguna (the same club as USMNT player Herculez Gomez), had a solid night. Joya earned and scored the U.S.’ penalty early in the first half, nearly scored again on a fantastic header that was pawed away by the Mexican keeper in the 23rd minute and nearly assisted a goal in the 77th minute when he served in a beautiful ball that Mario Rodriguez headed off the Mexican goalkeeper’s shin.
Wil Trapp, who plays for the Columbus Crew, was fantastic, marshalling the U.S. midfield all night long. Trapp was fantastic in possession, tracked back defensively and even got into the attack on a few occasions. He may have been the most underrated player for the U.S. in Sunday’s final.
Additionally, Mario Rodriguez, Luis Gil and Daniel Cuevas all had solid tournaments and all could be potential members of the full national team in the years to come.
Jesus Corona could be terrorizing the U.S. for the next decade
Jesus Corona, the Mexican striker, was brilliant for most of Sunday night’s final and is yet another example of the creative attacker that Mexican football is so good at producing.
Corona scored Mexico’s opening goal on a brilliant individual effort, beating two U.S. defenders and coolly putting the ball into the net despite heavy defensive pressure and an onrushing Cody Cropper.
Throughout the night, Corona displayed some jaw-dropping dribbling skills, was very active in the attacking third and difficult for the U.S. to contain.
There were plenty of bad/missed calls
The two biggest talking points on the night for USMNT fans were the two missed penalty calls by center official Enrico Wijngaarde.
In the 34th minute, American Jose Villarreal was clearly taken down in the box on what would have been a solid goalscoring opportunity, only to have no call be given.
Then, in the second half, Mario Rodriguez was taken out in the 60th minute on what was a clear goalscoring opportunity. On the play, the U.S. beautifully worked a set-piece combination, putting Rodriguez in on goal. He was taken out and, again, there was no call.
Either of those calls would have given the U.S. the opportunity to score what could have been the game-winning goal.
That being said, the original U.S. penalty in the 10th minute was harsh as Benji Joya’s shot hit the arm of a sliding Mexican defender. Surely, the defender knew little about it, but the U.S. was awarded the penalty and equalized the game on the ensuing penalty.
The other badly missed call came in extra time. In the 99th minute, Julio Gomez scissor-kicked a Mexican corner kick for the go-ahead goal. His celebration run took him right in front of American goalkeeper Cody Cropper, who deliberately stuck out his foot to trip Gomez. This act of frustration by Cropper should have resulted in his sending off.
This rivalry shows no signs of letting up
Despite the fact that this was a U-20 game, Mexican fans packed the stadium at Puebla to cheer on their youth team.
The Mexican fans also reportedly booed the American national anthem and booed the U.S. players as they received their silver medals after the game.
And, just as was evident at the U.S.-Mexico game at the Azteca last August, the Mexican fans were aiming laser pointers at the eyes of U.S. players on every set-piece opportunity.
The U.S.-Mexico rivalry, even at the youth levels, is one of the most intense in all of football.
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