Having won their inaugural CONCACAF U-20 Championship title in 2017, hosts USA returned to the regional summit in the age category after nearly three weeks of action in an expanded 2018 edition of the competition in Bradenton, Florida, this month.
Tab Ramos’s side proved too strong for arch-rivals Mexico in the final, as a pair of goal from Alex Mendez gave the Stars and Stripes a 2-0 victory at the IMG Academy.
The North American pair had already assured their spots at next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup by finishing top of their qualification groups, with Honduras and Panama completing the quartet of teams that will represent CONCACAF at Poland 2019, as the Central American duo finished in the runners-up positions during the qualification group stage.
USA’s successful title defence was underlined in the 46 goals they scored over their eight matches in Florida.
They led all 34 teams in scoring with 39 goals during the first-round group stage, as the Stars and Stripes easily won Group A. A further five goals were scored in wins over Costa Rica and Honduras in the qualification group stage, as they reached the tournament final.
Three USA players contributed with 22 of those goals, as Mendez (8), Ayo Akinola (7) and Ulysses Llanez (7) found the back of the net with regularity.
Mexico’s bumpy road to qualification
Mexico are no strangers to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, having won 13 previous titles before appearing in this year’s tournament. Yet, the journey to Poland 2019 for Diego Ramirez’s side was not without its challenges. They won Group B in the first round on goal difference from Jamaica after both sides finished tied on 13 points. A 10-0 win over Aruba proved decisive for El Tri to advance to the qualification group stage. The Mexicans only then made Wednesday’s final by virtue of having a better Fair Play record than Panama after both sides finished Group H with identical points, goal difference and goals scored.
Central American contribution
Though they both missed out on the final, the performances of Honduras and Panama made for impressive reading. The central American pair registered 100 per cent records in the first-round group stage, with the Hondurans scoring 30 goals during their five matches in Group C. In the qualification group stage, the Panamanians joined the Mexicans as a win over El Salvador locked up their spot in Poland next year, while the Hondurans edged central American rivals Costa Rica to a U-20 World Cup berth by virtue of a better goal difference in Group G.
CONCACAF U-20 Championship Awards
Golden Ball: Alex Mendez (USA)
Golden Boot: Jose Macias (MEX)
Golden Glove: Brady Scott (USA)
Fair Play: Mexico
“Fortunately today, we got what we came for. The first goal we set was to get the ticket [for the U-20 World Cup], it was yes and fortunately today the players, who are the real protagonists and those who made it happen, played a very smart game because it was a very close match. They played in a very intelligent way and they secured our ticket to the World Cup.”
Mexico coach Diego Ramirez after his team’s 1-0 win over El Salvador in the qualification group stage that secured El Tri’s berth at Poland 2019.
13 – USA have gone unbeaten in their last 13 CONCACAF U-20 Championship matches going back to Costa Rica 2017.