A 63rd-minute header from LA Galaxy forward Jose Villarreal was enough to see the US Under-20 national team to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday night in Puebla, Mexico, allowing them to secure top spot in Group A of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
The US, without opening-game hero Daniel Cuevas in the starting lineup and featuring a reworked defensive line including first-time starter Juan Pablo Ocegueda at left back, looked tenative in the opening stagees, matching the look of their Costa Rican counterparts, who lacked the incisiveness that gave the Americans so much trouble against Haiti
Both teams had free kick opportunities centrally just outside the opposition area, but neither was able to convert. Nor was either team able to create much penetration, largely relying on shots from distance, few of which hit the target.
The US finally made their advantage in corner kicks pay off when Villarreal rose up at the center of the area to nod the US into the lead just after the hour mark.
The Ticos sprung to life after conceding, and US goalkeeper Cody Cropper did well to stop a strong effort from forward Mayron George minutes after the opener. Costa Rica came close again soon after when Giovanni Cantillano slammed a shot off the woodwork with only Cropper to beat after some nifty footwork.
Though tempers flared as the game took a more physical tone towards the end, both teams finished with 11 men, and after Cantillano's chance, the US looked more likely to add a second than Costa Rica did to equalize.
The US will now face Canada in the quarterfinals on Feb. 26, with the winner qualifying for the 2013 U-20 World Cup in Turkey.