U-20s: US top Cuba 2-0, will face Mexico in the final
The US Under-20 national team is headed back to the final of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship for the second time in four years, and a titanic matchup with Mexico is in the cards.
Thanks to goals from Mario Rodriguez and Daniel Cuevas inside the first quarter-hour, the Americans easily dispatched Cuba 2-0 in Friday's semifinal in Puebla, Mexico, three days after securing a spot in this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup.
A starting lineup populated with MLSers Mikey Lopez, Dillon Serna, Shane O'Neill and Wil Trapp did not show its full potential, but was rarely troubled as well-taken early goals from Rodriguez and Cuevas gave head coach Tab Ramos' side a dream start that a muted Cuban squad could not overcome.
Not for the first time in this tournament, however, flaws were visible in the US approach as their intensity levels dropped and complacency crept in after seizing that advantage. Ramos and his staff will also be sweating over the health of Cuevas, who was a live wire up front in Friday's semifinal but had to leave in the second half after he was felled by one of the evening's many clumsy Cuban challenges.
Perhaps drained by the tourney's compacted schedule, the islanders looked like a shadow of the team that swept aside Costa Rica and Canada in the earlier stages and they found themselves behind just eight minutes after the opening kickoff.
Rodriguez tracked down Benji Joya's long ball into the left side of Cuba penalty box, cut back sharply onto his right foot and squeezed a firm, low finish past between Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sánchez and his near post.
Things soon got worse for the Caribbean underdogs as Cuevas doubled the young Yanks' lead just three minutes later.
Setting off on an solo run at the Cuban backline after a turnover in midfield, the Santos Laguna attacker unleashed an ambitious shot from just outside the box and was delighted to watch it nick off a Cuban defender's foot and fly into the top right corner for a 2-0 advantage.
Shell-shocked by the USA's punishment of their weak start to the game, Cuba labored to find a rhythm as the first half unfolded, and were rewarded with a few corner kicks and promising strings of possession. US 'keeper Cody Cropper was forced into action on a few occasions and the rising volume of his shouts at his defenders underlined the danger posed by the Yanks' fading focus.
But Ramos' men weathered Cuba's late rally and reached halftime with their two-goal advantage.
After the break, the USA reasserted their hold over the game, holding the ball well and showing off some snappy passing sequences as Cuba's energy levels flagged.
Joya came close to netting a picture-perfect free kick in the half's early stages, whistling a bending blast over the wall and just wide of Sánchez's net.
The rest of the match played out in fairly sedate fashion, with the exception of the late tackles that inflicted pain on Cuevas' ankle and those of several of his teammates.
The US now face an intimidating task of facing hosts Mexico, who topped El Salvador 2-0 in the night's later semifinal and whose team contains many of the players who won the U-17 World Cup in 2011. Should the Americans triumph, though, it will be their first-ever victory in the CONCACAF tournament.