By FRANCO PANIZO
The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team got off to a winning start in their quest to qualify for this summer’s Under-20 World Cup, but they did so by the skin of their teeth.
Riding a pair of first-half goals from Luis Gil and Daniel Cuevas, the U.S. hung on to claim an ugly 2-1 win over Haiti in the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship opener at Estadio Universitario BUAP in Puebla, Mexico on Monday evening. Cuevas was involved in both goals, drawing a penalty kick early that Gil converted before rifling home a shot to double the Americans’ lead in the 25th minute.
The Haitians, who outplayed the U.S. for large stretches in the game, attempted to mount a comeback and nearly pulled it off. Wilberne Augusmat beat right back Boyd Okwuonu on the dribble in the 49th minute and fired a shot past goalkeeper Cody Cropper to trim the deficit to one.
Haiti then created a number of chances against a poor U.S. defense, but a failure to finish saw Les Grenadiers fall short of what would have been an impressive rally.
U.S. head coach Tab Ramos opted to go with a 4-3-3 formation at the start of the game and it initially appeared as if the Haitians were in for a long day. Cuevas used his speed to race in on goal before being clipped in the penalty area in the fourth minute. Gil converted the ensuing penalty kick, shooting low and to the right.
The Americans created a couple of more chances, including on a header from Gil from close range, but were unable to build on their promising start until midway through the first half.
Mario Rodriguez hit a cross from the right side of the penalty area to a wide-open Cuevas, who had enough time to bring the ball down, look up at goal and smash home a hard shot from a tough angle.
The Haitians picked things up after that, taking advantage of some sloppy marking from the U.S. defense and inaccurate passing from the three-man midfield.
Haiti got on the board shortly after halftime and had plenty of time to pull level, but the underdogs who were being cheered on by the Mexican crowd never found an equalizer despite outshooting the U.S., 12-7, and earning 10 corner kicks to the Americans’ four.
Haiti next faces the other Group A team, Costa Rica, on Feb. 20 while the U.S. battles Los Ticos two days later in the group finale.
What do you think of the U.S.’s 2-1 win over Haiti? Who impressed/disappointed you? What needs to change before the Americans take on Costa Rica?
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