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U-20 CONCACAF Championship

Gil, Cuevas Lead U-20s to Win over Haiti in Mexico

Tab Ramos' United States U-20 team opened the CONCACAF Championship with a lackluster win against Haiti. Three points are three points, but the Americans will need to be better going forward.
BY Josh Deaver Posted
February 19, 2013
9:46 AM
In front of a raucous crowd at Estadio Universitario BUAP in Puebla, Mexico, the U.S. U-20 Men’s national team opened up CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with a disjointed 2-1 victory over Haiti on Monday night.

The U.S. secured a vital three points on the back of first half goals from Luis Gil and Daniel Cuevas, but a plucky and competitive Haitian side would not go quietly into the night. Les Grenadiers were every bit the Yanks’ equal for large swaths of the match, and U.S. coach Tab Ramos knows his squad must do better in order to make a sustained tournament run and qualify for the World Cup. “There were some good moments for us, but we have to maintain that for a longer period of time if we are going to be successful in this tournament,” the coach said in a post-game press conference. “It was a difficult match for us. We knew that Haiti had very good players. I think we did a good job in the first half, coming out strong and trying to put the game away.”

It was a promising start for the U.S., who opened the scoring in the 3rd minute. A defender clipped Santos Laguna forward Cuevas in the box. Gil converted the penalty kick for the early lead.

Following the penalty call, the Panamanian officiating crew promptly swallowed their whistles and the game quickly transitioned into an up-and-down, physical battle, which seemed to favor the athletic Haitian squad. The amorphous formation employed, which frequently resembled a 3-5-2, kept possession effectively for Haiti and allowed its speedy forwards to get behind the U.S. backline, who looked out of sorts all night. Whether it was a result of the limited roster pool or simply a lack of cohesion, poor positioning and communication gifted the opposition several half-chances in the opening 15 minutes.

The U.S. continued to push forward though, adding a second goal in the 26th minute. Gil played a clever ball to Mario Rodriguez streaking down the right side. The forward cross to an open Cuevas, who composed himself and found the top corner of the net from a tight angle outside the six yard box.

Down two goals, the Haitians began pushing the pace with reckless abandon in an attempt to get back in the match. Late in the first half, they peppered goalkeeper Cody Cropper with dangerous balls. The best chance came in the 34th minute, when a Haitian attacker squandered a 1-on-1 opportunity inside the box with wasteful finishing. Going into halftime, the Yanks held on to a precarious 2-0 lead.

The seemingly inevitable pull-back from Haiti came just four minutes after the break. Showcasing an inspired bit of skill, midfielder Wilberne Augusmat successfully nutmegged two U.S. defenders in the box before firing past Cropper's outstretched arms. The pro-Haitian crowd (see: pro-Mexico), largely tapped after the Cuevas goal, immediately sprang to life in an attempt to will the lively squad towards an equalizer.

The U.S. personnel struggled to contend with Haiti’s five-man midfielder and its speedy counter-attack on the wings, nearly paying for it several times early in the second half. In the 51st minute, Cropper was forced to parry a shot over the bar. Just after the hour mark, poor marking by Jevan Torre allowed another clear scoring opportunity that was luckily booted over the bar. It was a huge let off for a U.S. defense, but it still felt as if an equalizer was imminent.

The Yanks remained befuddled for most of the second half but looked more comfortable after bringing on Sporting KC rookie Mikey Lopez and changing formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. The increased defensive coverage allowed Ramos’ squad to hold onto the advantage until the final whistle, with Haiti creating very little in the final 15 minutes.

Still, it was an extremely unconvincing performance by the Yanks. Haiti was organized in implementing its game plan and, making its first appearance since 2007, refused to lie down in the face of an early two-goal deficit. On the other side, the U.S. got through the opening challenge of this tournament, but did so without inspiring much confidence going forward. If Ramos’ side has any aspirations to move on to Turkey for July’s World Cup, they will need to make several adjustments in order to be ready for a talented Costa Rican side on Friday.

However, regardless of the uneven performance or even what happens on Wednesday between Haiti and Costa Rica, for now the U.S. still controls its own fate. That’s something to celebrate.

  • Cuevas was superb in the opening 45 and was clearly the man of the match for the U.S. Although he faded somewhat in the second half, he still provided some dangerous service for the American attack.

  • The 4-3-3 was simply not the right formation to take on a free-wheeling Haiti side. The U.S was overmatched by a five-man midfield and was unable to keep possession or successfully pass out of the back for large period of the game, unsuccessfully resorting to “Route 1” ball at times. Switching to a 4-4-2 steadied the ship and allowed the U.S. to slink out with a victory.

  • Okwuonu looked lost on defense, Torre contributed little to the attack, and the center back combination of O’Neill and Stanko were not on the same page. Expect some fundamental changes to the U.S. lineup before Friday’s match against Costa Rica.

  • The exclusion of Juan Pablo Ocegueda from the starting XI was a puzzling move by Ramos. Ocegueda is perhaps one of the most reliable and experienced defenders on the U.S. squad, yet he was kept on the bench until the 88th minute in favor of Torre, who does not start for his college team and has played left back only sparingly in the national team setup.

    Josh Deaver is a former academic turned soccer obsessive. Follow him @USFootballGuy for daily updates.

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