Ulysses Llanez delivered a debut goal and man-of-the-match performance to lead the US men's national team to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in their first game of 2020.
The 18-year-old Wolfsburg forward delivered in a hometown international debut, dispatching a penalty early in the 50th minute to make the difference in this international friendly.
The first clear chance of the game arrived for the US in the 14th minute as Jesus Ferreira played Paul Arriola in behind, but Esteban Alvarado was able to smother the D.C. United winger's attempt on goal. The US had a few more looks in the half, but none as good as Sebastian Lletget's with the final touch of the half when he forced Alvarado into a fingertip save. Costa Rica also had a good look of their own in the 24th minute, as Giancarlo Gonzalez slammed a header off the crossbar following a well-worked set piece.
The USMNT's positive play was rewarded early in the second half when Reggie Cannon earned a penalty kick. The FC Dallas right back was brought down in the box by Randall Leal, a midfielder for Nashville SC. Llanez calmly stepped up and sent Alvarado the wrong way to open the scoring.
Llanez had a great chance to double his tally just after the hour mark, but he couldn't bring the ball around a sprawling Alvarado. The Costa Rican netminder came up big again later in the half, stopping Walker Zimmerman on a close-range shot that the LAFC defender couldn't get full purchase on.
- 50' — USA — Ulysses Llanez | Watch
- THE BIG PICTURE: This one was about getting some young players — including six Olympic-eligible starters and three such subs — some valuable experience ahead of qualifying for Tokyo 2020 in March. In that sense this game can be considered a success, with the narrow win an added bonus. The young US team put in an energetic performance that had an experienced Costa Rica XI on the back foot for much of the proceedings. There were still some nervy moments and lessons to be learned, with one notable scare while playing out of the back in the second half. Overall, it was a positive day for Gregg Berhalter's youthful team.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The sequence that led to Llanez's penalty kick was a great example of the proactive play the US showed so often, with Arriola finding the speedy Cannon on a well-timed overlapping run. It left the Costa Rican defender with no choice but to make a risky play for the ball that led to a foul.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Llanez coolly dispatched his penalty for the lone goal of the game, a just reward for his attacking endeavors. He should be feeling confident heading into Olympic qualifying, and will be hoping a full debut with Wolfsburg could arise in the coming months. A nod as well to the Tico 'keeper Esteban Alvarado, who registered several big saves to keep matters close.
- United States: at the Netherlands (friendly), March 26 (3:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN)
- Costa Rica: at Mexico (Concacaf Nations League), June 6