Whoever this Maykel Reyes kid is, he’s got his team on the verge of history. Thanks to three goals from the 19-year-old, Cuba is on the verge of qualifying for the U-20 World Cup, and while they still have to beat Costa Rica on Tuesday to get there, Reyes’s scoring prowess suggests the Cubans have a chance at another upset.
They started the tournament with one, defeating Canada 2-1 on Monday. Reyes grabbed both goals in what proved to be Group B’s decisive match, taking advantage of a Canadian defensive mistake for a 69th minute opener. Nine minutes later, Reyes converted on a corner kick to seal Cuba’s victory.
Two days later, Reyes was on the scoresheet again, scoring the third goal in Cuba’s 3-0 victory over Nicaragua. The win secured Group B for the Cubans, eventually helping them avoid the United States in the quarterfinals. It also make Reyes the tournament’s first three-goal scorer.
Despite a great start to the tournament in Puebla, the quarterfinal represents a make-or-break for Cuba, as well as everybody else. Win and you move on to June’s World Cup in Turkey. Lose and all your group stage exploits go for naught. You miss out on this summer’s finals.
That wouldn’t be new for the Cubans, who have never qualified for a U-20 World Cup, but thanks to Reyes, the team is 90 minutes away from making history. Unfortunately, Cuba being Cuba, we don’t know much about the 19-year-old attacker who has one senior national team appearance.
We know he took part in last year’s Olympic qualifying tournament, playing as a 19-year-old in the U-23 event. In Nashville he scored Cuba’s only goal as the team finished last in a group that included El Salvador, Canada, and the United States.
In Caribbean qualifying for U-20s, Reyes added three more goals, though he went scoreless in four games during the region’s final qualifying stage. Given the hot start to his international career, it was a veritable cold streak for the teenager.
Now the Cuban striker has found another hot streak, giving him seven goals in 11 U-level appearances. He’s also the early scoring leader at CONCACAF’s U-20s.
For the rest of our information, we have to rely on what we’ve seen on the field. On his first goal against Canada, Reyes showed he can use both feet before eventually punching his shot past Maxime Crepeau. The second goal was more opportunism than a display of skill.
Against Nicaragua, Reyes was able to get behind the defense to earn an early penalty kick, eventually giving the Cubans an early lead. On a number of other occasions, Reyes we able to turn the Nicaraguan defense, with his work finally rewarded in the second half when he headed home his team’s final goal.
Cuba’s going to be an underdog on Tuesday against Costa Rica, but if Reyes stays hot, the team may yet punch their first ticket to a U-20 World Cup. Against a Ticos team that has only scored once in the tournament, one Reyes goal may be all the Cubans need to make history.