February 18, 2013
OPENING ON THE RIGHT FOOT
U.S. men top Haiti in U-20 opener, 2-1
PUEBLA, Mexico -- The United States scored twice in the opening 26 minutes and held on to defeat Haiti, 2-1, in its Group A opener of the CONCACAF Under-20 Men's Championship on Monday night.
The Americans need a tie against Costa Rica in its second and final group match against Costa Rica to clinch a quarterfinal berth. That game is set for Friday at 6:30 p.m. (FOX Soccer).
The top two teams in each of the four three-team groups will qualify for the quarterfinals. The four quarterfinal winners will qualify for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which will be played in Turkey later this year. The U.S. is looking to qualify for its 13th U-20 World Cup.
"It was a difficult match for us," U.S. head coach Tab Ramos said. "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. I felt that if we didn't get that third goal before halftime there was a good chance if [Haiti] got a goal that somehow it would turn into a game and it did."
Midfielder Luis Gil lifted the Americans into a 1-0 lead with a penalty kick in the third minute before they doubled the margin on a Daniel Cuevas score in the 26th minute at Estadio Olímpico Universitario Lobos.
The Americans wasted little time gaining the upper hand when Cuevas got around his defender on the left sideline, but was tripped just inside the box by a Haiti defender. Gil slotted the kick into the right side of the net for the 1-0 lead as goalkeeper Ronald Elusma dove in the wrong direction. It was Gil's third career goal with the U-20s in seven appearances.
Gil almost had a second goal when he made a darting run into the penalty area on Jose Villarreal's corner kick from the right side in the 17th minute, but his low header bounced hard off the pitch and over the crossbar.
Haiti never wavered and pushed into the attack with some quick runs up front and created some half-chances in front of the American net.
Gil started the scoring sequence on the second goal from the middle with a pass to Mario Rodriguez on the right flank. Rodriguez crossed to am open Cuevas at the back post. Cuevas powered home his shot into the upper right side netting for a 2-0 lead. Cuevas has scored three goals in a dozen U-20 games.
“I was wide open down the side on the back post," Cuevas said. "The defender ran in to cover the center so I had a lot of time. I got to control it and looked at where I wanted to shoot, too.”
In fact, the hostile crowd helped pumped up Cuevas.
“I was really happy with what I accomplished in this game," he said. "The environment motivated me. The crowd was booing us. I just wanted to play well, and luckily things worked the way we wanted them to. I got the goal, we got the PK and we scored, and we got the win.”
The Haitians came out on the attack after halftime, going with three men in the back. They found the back of the net in the 49th minute. Wilberne Augusmat, who was dangerous all game, got the ball inside the penalty area, moved around a defender and struck a close-range shot that was just out of the reach of goalkeeper Cody Cropper.
“Right after they scored their goal, there was about a 10-minute period where we really struggled to get the ball out of the back," Ramos said. "I think once we made a couple of substitutions the game changed a little bit. I was a little bit disappointed that we weren’t able to get that third goal late in the first half or early in the second half.”
Despite the goal, U.S. defender Shane O'Neill thought he and his teammates did a decent of stopping Haiti.
“I thought we did a pretty good job, especially in the first half," he said. "We caught them offside quite a few times. We were playing well. In the second half, we got a little flustered and a little unorganized. They scored one goal and we kept it tight once they scored that one goal, and it was good that we didn’t let them tie the game.”