Photo by ISIphotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
Tab Ramos wanted more possession and better team defending from the U.S. Under-20 National Team heading into Friday’s match against Costa Rica and he got both.
It helped that the Costa Ricans seemed to offer little in the way of resistance.
The Americans dominated possession for stretches, but struggled to generate real chances until Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Jose Villarreal skied up to head home a Luis Gil corner kick in the second half to help give the U.S. a 1-0 victory in CONCACAF Under-20 qualifying in Puebla, Mexico.
The victory locked up first place in the group, and set up a quarterfinal match on Tuesday against Canada, which qualified for the quarters by routing Nicaragua, 5-1 on Friday night.
The U.S. and Canada will square off on Tuesday night, with the winner booking a place in the Under-20 World Cup.
Ramos made four changes to the squad that beat Haiti, inserting new fullbacks Juan Pablo Ocegueda and Eric Miller as well as midfielders Mikey Lopez and Danny Garcia. Daniel Cuevas was left out of the match despite having been the team’s top player in their opening win against Haiti (it remains unclear whether or not that was due to injury).
The result was a team better suited to maintaining possession, but one that played more like a 4-6-0 formation, with no true forward to provide a target for the midfield, an issue Ramos tried to resolve at halftime with the insertion of Mario Rodriguez. The Americans dominated possession, but that possession rarely resulted in threatening chances in the final third.
While the Americans failed to create serious chances, Costa Rica’s offense was even less of a threat. With the exception of the random free kick drawn by a clumsy U.S. challenge, Costa Rica seemed content to pump long balls forward, bypassing the midfield and playing into the U.S. defense’s strength.
Ramos made a pair of half-time changes, inserting Rodriguez as a target forward while replacing Miller with Boyd Okwuonu.
The Americans finally broke through when Luis Gil lofted a corner kick into the penalty area to Villarreal, who beat his mark and skied up for a perfect header for the game’s lone goal.
Costa Rica came right back and forced a tough save out of U.S. goalkeeper Cody Cropper, but eventually the Costa Ricans reverted back to their attacking struggles, failing to mount consistent attacks.
What did you think of Friday’s match? Disappointed with the U.S. team’s inability to score multiple goals? Happy to see the team’s midfield control possession more? Disappointed that Daniel Cuevas didn’t play?
Share your thoughts below.