February 22, 2013
USA edge Costa Rica at CONCACAF U-20s
PUEBLA, Mexico -- Jose Villarreal scored the lone goal of the match to boost the United States to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica and the Group A crown at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship on Friday night.
The Americans (2-0), who recorded a 2-1 victory past Haiti in Monday night's opener, needed only a tie to clinch the group title.
Villarreal broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute, rising high above his mark to get on the end of a Luis Gil corner and snap home a header to the near post. At the other end, U.S. goalkeeper Cody Cropper made four saves, including one from point-blank range to preserve the shutout.
The U.S. will play either Canada or Nicaragua in the semifinals on Tuesday. Canada played the Central Americans in the second game of the doubleheader.
The four semifinalists will clinch a berth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which will be held in Turkey later this year.
Both teams had their tickets punched to the quarterfinal prior to kickoff and were jockeying for first place. Needing only a draw to claim the top spot, the U.S. looked much more comfortable and composed than four days earlier. Making four changes from the 2-1 win against Haiti, U.S. coach Tab Ramos deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with Villarreal as the lone striker.
Enjoying the majority of possession in the first half, the U.S. showed individual confidence on the ball and looked to find space wide. On the other side of the ball, Costa Rica attempted to use their speed with quick long balls over the top.
In the first half, each side had a good look at goal from a free kick in nearly identical spots. In the eighth minute, Villarreal stood over the ball from 25 yards out and just off center, but his left-footed effort was deflected by the wall and went out for a corner. Costa Rica got their turn in the 23 rd minute, only to see the shot sail well over the bar.
The game turned physical in the closing minutes of the first half, and by night's end the teams had amassed 45 fouls between them.
Ramos made two changes at half, replacing Wil Trapp with Mario Rodriguez to ensure his availability for the quarterfinal after the midfielder had picked up a yellow card. Boyd Okwuonu also came on for Eric Miller at right back.
The U.S. continued to apply pressure from the start of the second stanza as the game picked up pace. After the USA took the lead, the game grew increasingly intense and aggressive with several late challenges from the Costa Ricans.
The Ticos nearly snatched one back in the 66th minute when Mayron George held off his defender and ripped a low shot from the top of the area, but Cropper stood firm and parried the shot wide.
Seven minutes later, Costa Rica found another fine chance to equalize. With the area packed with players from both teams, Luis Sequeira managed to squirt through the defense and had a clean look from six yards out. With Cropper charging, he curled a high shot that caromed off the crossbar.
Tuesday's semifinal kicks off at 6 p.m. ET at Estadio Olímpico Universitario Lobos BUAP. The match will be televised live on FOX Soccer and Univision Deportes, and fans can follow on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker and on Twitter @ussoccer_ynt.