U-20 READY

Soccer 360 - - 90th Minute -

Qual­i­fy­ing through CONCACAF is never easy. No mat­ter the age level the re­gion al­ways seems to pro­duce a few spoil­ers and some se­ri­ous heartache. Af­ter hav­ing seen their se­nior side just one year ago fail to make it past the dreaded Hex the United States un­der-20 team faced an even taller task: an ex­panded field. But the young Amer­i­cans showed their met­tle get­ting past the field to claim top hon­ors. This year’s tour­na­ment was slightly bit dif­fer­ent than what sides had faced in the past. In their con­tin­ued ef­forts to give the min­nows of the re­gion more ex­pe­ri­ence CONCACAF an­nounced that the tour­na­ment would be ex­panded to 34 teams. The top sides in each of the six groups would then move on to a three­team two-group sec­ond round. The sides that fin­ished first and sec­ond out of each group earned an au­to­matic spot in the 2019 U-20 World Cup. The teams fin­ish­ing at the top of each ta­ble fac­ing one on other in the CONCACAF fi­nals.

That pro­duced sev­eral fas­ci­nat­ing up­sets in­clud­ing Panama pulling past Canada in the Group Stage. While the Cana­dian side did not fea­ture many of their top play­ers, los­ing to Saint Kitts and Ne­vis and the Canal Boys will cer­tainly give pause to those who were hop­ing for a World

Cup run. They weren’t the only side to face some tough com­pe­ti­tion. De­spite be­ing heavy fa­vorites to win the en­tire tour­na­ment Mexico (4-1-0, 13 points) only nar­rowly squeaked past Ja­maica (4-1-0, 13 points) based off of Goal Dif­fer­en­tial (+29 to +21). While the Reg­gae Boyz can cer­tainly hang their hats on a solid tour­na­ment, they may rue the own goal and penalty drawn in their 2-2 draw with El Tri that halted their chances at all 3 points. Mexico’s (1-1-0, 4 points,+1 GD) luck con­tin­ued into the sec­ond round where they nar­rowly got past Panama (1-1-0, 4 points, +1 GD) to earn top hon­ors in Group H with Fair Play points coming into play (-1 to -2). Mean­while in Group G the United States (2-0-0, 6 points) steam­rolled the com­pe­ti­tion go­ing un­de­feated and not al­low­ing a sin­gle goal. The fi­nal at IMG Academy in Braden­ton, Florida would see two of the re­gion’s gi­ants do bat­tle in what was ex­pected to be a tight, close af­fair. But as is the case in football very often what is ex­pected never came to fruition. With a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion and a de­sire to prove the next gen­er­a­tion could do bet­ter than the last the United States pulled away early and never looked back, down­ing their neigh­bors to the South 2-0. Alexis Mendez, a Los An­ge­les Galaxy prod­uct who would go on to move to SC Freiburg days af­ter the tour­na­ment, scored twice to give the US the win. For his ef­forts in the fi­nal and his eight goals through­out the tour­na­ment Mendez was hon­ored with the Golden Ball and Best XI.

Mendez wasn’t the only Amer­i­can to win in­di­vid­ual hon­ors. Goal­keeper Brady Scott was the re­cip­i­ent of the Golden Glove (Koln) while Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hanover 96), Mark McKen­zie (Philadel­phia Union), Bran­don Ser­va­nia (FC Dal­las),Ayo Aki­nola (Toronto FC), and Ulysses Llanez were named to the Best XI. Mexico’s Jose Ma­cias of Chivas won the Golden Boot and was a mem­ber of the Best XI along with his El Tri team­mates Gil­berto Sepul­veda (Chivas) and Diego Lainez (Amer­ica)

While the tour­na­ment may be over ad­di­tional chal­lenges lay ahead for Hon­duras, Mexico, Panama, and the United States. All four teams will be play­ing in the 2019 World Cup in Poland and will be aim­ing to give CONCACAF their first-ever U-20 ti­tle. While the road to World Cup glory might be treach­er­ous hav­ing run the gaunt­let in the re­gion these sides have proven that they can han­dle any­thing that is thrown at them.

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