CONCACAF’s two soccer giants will duke it out for the region’s Under-20 title on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2013 final.
Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola’s lone goal in the 51st minute was enough to lift the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team over Honduras, 1-0, in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. The win sets up a final with neighbor Mexico, which is in fine form just like the U.S. heading into the final.
[READ: UEFA Nations League recap]
CONCACAF switched its format this year, hosting 34 of the region’s 41 teams in a much larger tournament than before, taking place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Both the U.S. and Mexico walked through the group stage: The U.S. beat the U.S. Virgin Islands 13-0 and even Trinidad and Tobago, 6-1, while Mexico routed Aruba, 10-0.
In the second stage of the competition, the U.S. and Mexico both topped their groups, the U.S. routing Costa Rica, 4-0 before the Honduras result on Monday, while Mexico beat El Salvador and tied Panama.
After a disastrous 2011 U-20 run, which saw the U.S. miss out on World Cup qualification, the program has rebounded, sending teams to the 2013, 2015 and 2017 U-20 World Cups. This year’s squad could be better than some of the previous ones, with many players even eligible for the 2021 World Cup cycle. Ulysses Llanez has been a revelation up front, Akinola has continued his terrific form from the U.S. U-17s with seven goals in this tournament, and Philadelphia Union defensive pair Matthew Real and Mark McKenzie have been solid along the backline.
Amazingly, this isn’t even the U.S.’ best squad if it had everyone to pick from. On-loan defender Chris Richards joined halfway through the competition from Bayern Munich, Indiana University’s Trey Muse wasn’t called in, and European-based players such as Josh Sargent and Jonathan Amon are still eligible, as is now U.S. Men’s National Team regular Tyler Adams.
Mexico as always will be a difficult opponent to beat. The star of the show is 18-year-old Diego Lainez of Club America, who has already been capped by El Tri, while Jose Macias has scored 10 goals in the tournament.
The U.S. and Mexico square off on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. ET.