The U-20 U.S. national team defeated El Salvador, 2-0, in the two sides’ win-and-you’re-in CONCACAF U-20 Championship playoff on Saturday to book their place in the 2015 U-20 World Cup (May 30 to June 20) in New Zealand.
Following a rough start to the group stage — a draw with Guatemala and defeat at the hands of Panama — Tab Ramos’s side rebounded with an 8-0 thrashing of Aruba, a 2-0 victory over the host Jamaicans and a 1-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the group stage finale. A second-placed Group A finish set up the Yanks’ date with third-placed Group B finishers El Salvador.
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San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson saw Saturday’s first goalscoring chance fall his way as the 19-year-old raced in behind the Salvadoran backline, latched onto a through ball but pulled his first-time shot just wide. Thompson’s one-on-one chance would set the tone for the rest of the first half, though, as the Americans controlled the run of play and continuously threatened to score the game’s opening goal.
Columbus Crew midfielder Romain Gall found himself bearing down, one-on-one with the goalkeeper inside the first 15 minutes as well, but fell victim to the extremely shoddy Montego Bay playing surface as the ball took an unfortunate bobble mere moments before Gall was to fire on goal. Instead, his attempt ended up a weak shot which was easily saved.
6-foot-5 Molde (Norway) forward Ben Spencer followed up a shot off the crossbar and headed the rebound into an empty net to put the Yanks ahead in the 37th minute. 53 minutes from U-20 World Cup qualification.
Gall nearly doubled the Americans’ lead five minutes later when his left-footed shot/cross flashed across the face of goal, but the ‘keeper watched it roll harmlessly wide as Spencer and a whole host of other U.S. players’ outstretched attempts fell inches short.
Disaster struck for the USMNT U-20s just six minutes into the second half. El Salvador were awarded a penalty for what appeared to be a handball by Thompson. U.S. ‘keeper Zack Steffen came to the rescue, though, saving the ensuing penalty kick at full-stretch to his right.
New York Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga came inches from putting the Americans two goals ahead with the 6-foot-3 center back towered over his marker to get on the end of Fulham midfielder Emerson Hyndman’s free kick service. Miazga’s effort was only pushed onto the crossbar and over by the fingertips of the Salvadoran ‘keeper.
Persistence paid off for the Yanks, though, as the combination of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Junior Flores and Club Tijuana forward Paul Arriola fashioned a pair of close-range chances in the 67th minute, with the latter’s rebounded effort being turned past the ‘keeper and into the back of the net. Flores’s dynamic run down the right side of the 18-yard-box opened up space to cut the ball back, where LA Galaxy forward Bradford Jameison IV’s shot caromed to Arriola, who cut inside and scuffed his left-footed effort, but was the beneficiary of some good fortune. 23 minutes from qualification.
El Salvador went a man down after Andres Flores looked to kick out at a U.S. player with 10 minutes to of regular time to be played. From there, the Yanks were able to see the game out, preserving their shutout and sealing their place in this summer’s tournament.
The USMNT U-20 defense, which struggled a bit in the opening game of the tournament, finished the CONCACAF U-20 Championship riding a streak of over 360 minutes (four full games) of having not conceded a goal.
— U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) January 25, 2015