Villarreal's header lifts U.S. Under-20s to win vs. Costa Rica, will face Canada for place in World Cup

Photo by ISIphotos.com


Tab Ramos wanted more possession and better team defending from the U.S. Under-20 National Team heading into Friday’s match against Costa Rica and he got both.

It helped that the Costa Ricans seemed to offer little in the way of resistance.

The Americans dominated possession for stretches, but struggled to generate real chances until Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Jose Villarreal skied up to head home a Luis Gil corner kick in the second half to help give the U.S. a 1-0 victory in CONCACAF Under-20 qualifying in Puebla, Mexico.

The victory locked up first place in the group, and set up a quarterfinal match on Tuesday against Canada, which qualified for the quarters by routing Nicaragua, 5-1 on Friday night.

The U.S. and Canada will square off on Tuesday night, with the winner booking a place in the Under-20 World Cup.

Ramos made four changes to the squad that beat Haiti, inserting new fullbacks Juan Pablo Ocegueda and Eric Miller as well as midfielders Mikey Lopez and Danny Garcia. Daniel Cuevas was left out of the match despite having been the team’s top player in their opening win against Haiti (it remains unclear whether or not that was due to injury).

The result was a team better suited to maintaining possession, but one that played more like a 4-6-0 formation, with no true forward to provide a target for the midfield, an issue Ramos tried to resolve at halftime with the insertion of Mario Rodriguez. The Americans dominated possession, but that possession rarely resulted in threatening chances in the final third.

While the Americans failed to create serious chances, Costa Rica’s offense was even less of a threat. With the exception of the random free kick drawn by a clumsy U.S. challenge, Costa Rica seemed content to pump long balls forward, bypassing the midfield and playing into the U.S. defense’s strength.

Ramos made a pair of half-time changes, inserting Rodriguez as a target forward while replacing Miller with Boyd Okwuonu.

The Americans finally broke through when Luis Gil lofted a corner kick into the penalty area to Villarreal, who beat his mark and skied up for a perfect header for the game’s lone goal.

Costa Rica came right back and forced a tough save out of U.S. goalkeeper Cody Cropper, but eventually the Costa Ricans reverted back to their attacking struggles, failing to mount consistent attacks.

What did you think of Friday’s match? Disappointed with the U.S. team’s inability to score multiple goals? Happy to see the team’s midfield control possession more? Disappointed that Daniel Cuevas didn’t play?

Share your thoughts below.

    • Gary Page

      I saw only the first half and missed the second. We should compare notes. Basically it went like Ives described it. The US did much better in keeping possession, stringing passes together and moving the ball around pretty well. Costa Rico looked sluggish, almost disinterested. They started to show a little life in the last 5 minutes of the half. The US had a couple of chances in the first half but shots weren’t even close to on target. Still, it was much better than the Haiti game. Don’t understand why Cuevas wasn’t playing though as he was by far the most dangerous looking US attacker. At times Gil and Villareal looked good on the ball, but sometimes Gil tried to do to much on his own, IMO.


      • Maykol

        Interesting. Well in the second half it was similar . Us dominated position, but not very many shots. I kinda misssed cuevas. Costa Rica didn’t look dangerous at all until after us scored, and that was mostly due to so many set pieces they had to take


  • A

    We dominated them completely in all facets of the game. Same game with an unbiased official ends with Costa Rica 2 men down and the USA with 2 or 3 more goals.

    Costa Rica’s entire game plan was to hack or pull down any American player making a run at the defense. We had 3 separate fast breaks just that I can remember ended by a Costa Rican player grabbing a fist full of the back of the jersey and pulling our guys down. Official let them continue to do it.

    Not to mention a host of other moments like the half dozen takedowns on the left wing of Garcia and Rodriguez in the second half or the time Gil was streaking across the top of the 18 and a Costa Rican midfielder intentionally kicked him from behind to trip him.

    Or most egregiously the blatant rugby tackle cheap shot on the sideline at midfield that sparked the brawl. That wasn’t even called a foul. It started a brawl and Costa Rica got a throw in.

    This is why it’s extremely hard to not just throw your hands up in anger when watching the US play any central american/Caribbean team–half the time it isn’t soccer and the officials do nothing to protect our players.

    Gil is going to be a stud in a few years. Europe for sure. Has to learn how not to loft corner kicks.

    Danny Garcia is wildly technical.

    Team looks quite capable–and this is basically an A/B team with all the great players we are missing.


    • Moe

      Are you going to ignore that one US player, uhhhh Trap I think or some shit, he is lucky he didn’t get a red card.


    • Moe

      Are you going to ignore that one US player, uhhhh Trapp I think, or something, he is lucky he didn’t get a red card.


      • Hogatroge

        Art though going to ignore that singular US player, perhaps the one named Trapp I believe, or the like, verily he is fortunate he didst not receive a card of red!


    • Dustin

      “A” you don’t sound so objective yourself. You sound like you’re taking the classic stance of the US Fan that is upset the referee didn’t give them everything they want. As I recall after our goal we constantly wasted time and should’ve had two players sent off in a melee at the end of te game. The US isn’t innocent, there are two teams on that field.


  • Red

    Happy with the result but now they must up it another level in a pressure filled game v. a Canadian team that will be physical and will bunker and try to hit us on the break. So far 2 games, 2 wins.


    • mike

      imo..He is on another level then his his teammates., Overall there is a lot of individual talent in this group..but as for playing as a team they are a work in progress and will not advance far until they start playing better as a group


      • Matt in Japan

        Yeah, I agree. They all seem very talented, but still need to do a lot of gelling. I suppose the other U20 sides are pretty similar though.


  • OBRick

    The entire game I was wondering if Costa Rica wanted to play Cuba in their next game to avoid having to maybe play Canada.


    • The Imperative Voice

      It’s complicated, they avoid Canada in one sense by settling for second because even if Canada won later that day they would also finish second. But if Canada had lost it would have been eliminated.

      I do see Canada as a wild card of sorts because of the US-Canada U20 Marbella result earlier this year. And that’s The Game.


  • WorldCitizen

    On the upside, in the crucial game (for U-20 WC qualification), there will be two teams of pasty white boys on the field instead of just one. That way, the non-white tropical putz who gets assigned to referee the game will have a harder time being more prejudiced against one team than the other.


    • George Baldwin

      Many of our players are not ‘pasty white boys’. At least take a look at the team before you write stupid comments.


    • marky mark

      As far as I can tell, there’s a couple of kids of african stock and a few more of latin/ native american persuasion and just a bit more of european stock. So one team on Tuesday will be a bit less pastly than the other one


    • Hogatroge

      This is ridiculous. You sound like Roger Rojas before the Honduras-USA match when he called the US team “blondies.”

      Not a single light-haired American player (excepting bald Bradley) saw the pitch, and our team’s diversity is pretty much unequaled except maybe by Germany.


      • somedude

        Brazil may rival us in diversity. Argentina too.

        But as long as our players are born and raised in the USA they’re as American as anybody else here. Their heritage shouldn’t be an issue.


    • Gnarls

      Hard to tell if you intended to sound completely racist or if it was a failed attempt at comedy. Either way, poor form.


    • Zeus

      I’m on the fence as to whether I this comment is offensive or not, but I definitely found it funny!


  • chris_thebassplayer

    Good to get the win. I’m still concerned that we rarely threatened from open play. I’d like to see Gil move the ball quicker. Garcia was good. I’d like to see Mario Rodriguez take a seat and have Villareal up top with Garcia and hopefully Cuevas on the flanks…Cuevas is the key if he is fit. I’m not excited to play Canada. We know what they will do, they’ll put the hard work in, pack the D, clog the lanes and absorb pressure…try to steal a goal on a counter or corner or go to PKs. We might even see the christmas tree again. Very similar situation to the game with them in Olympic qualifying… our back line is weak, and the formation is built to attack, but not built to attack a bunker D. It will be very interesting to see if we learned anything from that loss. If we spend a lot more time practicing our marking on set pieces or limit the risk on the counter. Of course, if we can get the opening goal it changes their whole approach. I think it’s going to be a very tight nerve racking game.


  • Fredo

    Thought Lopez, Garcia & Rodriguez all held the ball too long. I liked Joya’s ball skills. Trapp was a mess. But, all that matters at this stage is qualify and advance.


    • chris_thebassplayer

      I agree, there was moments of nice combination play prior to the attacking third, but once they get up field they have a tendency to want to do too much individually…really bogs things down and kills opportunities. After seeing Gil and Joya, I’d prefer to see Joya in the middle at ACM and Gil pushed back, maybe in Lopez’s role. Rodriguez plays very slow. I liked Villareal up top, hope to see Garcia and Cuevas on the flanks and Benji quickly spraying it around to the those three.


  • ChrisTheLSUTiger

    Joya has got some skills and is an exciting player to watch. Apparently he’s got great work ethic too. I can’t wait to watch this kid develop.

    “It’s all a far cry from Joya’s days struggling through high school in San Jose, Calif. From his freshman year on, Joya survived on four hours sleep a night, balancing school with soccer training and a job as a janitor helping his mother clean office buildings.

    “I would go to work, my mom would take me to soccer practice, then I’d go back to work,” reminisced Joya. “I’d get home pretty late at like two in the morning. Sometimes I’d do my homework and sometimes I wouldn’t, to be honest, because I’d go back to school at seven in the morning, so I’d wake up at six.

    “It was all sacrifice because I love soccer,” he added. “I made time for it but I also love my family, so I would work so we could have a better life.””


  • Brett

    The only thing that was missing for me was physicality in attack. It seemed we did a good job of moving the ball and opening space, but when we got the ball in the tight spaces it was too easy for CR to knock us off the ball and win back possession. The lax officiating played into that as well.

    All in all, it was a normal USA vs CA style of match. They go route 1 and pack in the defense until they either score or allow a goal. Once they go behind, they start hacking and trying to injure people while flooding and creating chaos in the box to try to snatch a goal. I thought we should have put in 3 or 4.


  • Shane

    Would like to know who is teaching our young players to roll over five times and writhe around when they are fouled. Soccer will never grow as a mainstream sport in this country with that sort of behavior


    • Tyler K

      Because its really hurt the NBA right? I mean their bottom line just started crumbling… Please. That’s the last thing on the list of possible things preventing soccer from going mainstream


  • 2tone

    Thought they played well. Controlled the tempo and the flow of the game. I could care less if the team wins 1-0 or 3-0. They dominated most facets of the game. Cuevas had a knock. No need to risk him in a game that wasn’t exactly a must win.

    Canada will probably bunker and try to hit on the counter. DOn’t be surrpised to see Canada flood the midfield agianst the US.

    Start out the game in a 4-3-3, but if it’s quite clear that it isn’t working then move it into a 4-4-2 and throw both Kiesewetter and Rodriguez in up top.

    most likely starting 11 against Canada.







  • wilyboy

    Personally not thrilled that the US is playing Canada. They’ve developed a strange mojo against us of late at every level. Still can’t get over how they crushed us in the Olympics. Hope it’s different this time.


  • Paul Lorinczi

    I enjoyed the game. It was much better than Haiti.

    I personally saw players that can control the ball in tight spaces. I like Villareal myself. We have more players that can do things in tight spaces.

    This team looks like the potential the USA can be. Some technical players mixed with physical players made up of all colors of players available in this country – just like Brazil.

    Are we there yet? No, but this team appears to be a step closer. There is talent here and I am excited about what the future holds for USA soccer.


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