By: Kyle McCarthy
The United States’ U-20s will face either Canada or Nicaragua for a place in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup after securing a straightforward 1-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday night.
Jose Villarreal notched the winner with a majestic header shortly after the hour mark to seal top spot in Group A. The triumph ensured the Americans must dispatch either the Canadians or the Nicaraguans in the CONCACAF U-20 quarterfinals on Tuesday night to claim one of the four available berths to the showcase in Turkey later this year.
Although the likely date against Canada presents a difficult challenge, the Americans will enter that match in the wake of an improved performance from the display offered in the 2-1 win over Haiti on Monday. As the U.S. starts to prepare for the do-or-die clash on Tuesday night, here are three points worth noting from the final fixture in Group A:
1. US coach Tab Ramos and his players spent the past four days working on possession: Ramos made four changes (including both fullbacks) and preached the need to keep the ball against the Costa Ricans. His players heeded those directives. The back four looked more solid with a pair of natural fullbacks on the field. The midfield dictated the proceedings and moved the ball around more freely. The forwards checked back often enough to provide an outlet. The entire deportment and structure provided the side with a firmer foundation to search for the result.
2. The emphasis on keeping the ball blunted the American attack: The revamped approach did not produce an enthralling match. Neither side increased the tempo to the level required to carve out opportunities. In the match against Haiti, the Americans sidestepped their dearth of creativity by relying on quick movements through midfield. The slow cadence of the game restricted those openings in this affair and shifted the emphasis to free kicks and set pieces.
3. One well-taken chance decided the affair: Villarreal separated the teams after 63 minutes by exploiting slack set piece defending from the Costa Ricans. As the Costa Rica defense watched Luis Gil’s looping corner kick drop at the far post, the LA Galaxy forward climbed over everyone and thumped his header toward the far post. In this dour contest, it only took one predatory piece of finishing – and, admittedly, a save from Cody Cropper and the intervention of the crossbar after that juncture – to secure top spot in Group A.