U-20s: O'Neill, Serna go 90 as US advances to finals against Mexico
PUEBLA, Mexico – Down to just 13 fully fit outfield players, the US Under-20 national team sailed into the final of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship with a comfortable 2-0 win on Friday against Cuba as Rapids homegrown players Shane O'Neill and Dillon Serna went the full 90 at center back and right back, respectively. Now head coach Tab Ramos has his eyes firmly fixed on lifting the trophy.
“If we could win this final, it would be something monumental for our team and for the federation,” he said in the postgame press conference. “We're very excited going into the final. That was one of our goals going into the tournament. I felt the team did a good job.”
LA Galaxy starlet Jose Villarreal has lit up the tournament so far, but was left on the bench against Cuba due to an ankle problem that isn’t thought to be serious, while four members of the squad left Mexico after Tuesday’s semifinal.
It’s far from an ideal situation, and Ramos was forced into selecting Serna at right back – a position the player revealed after the game he had never played before.
“I had Shane talking to me, we both play for Colorado so the chemistry is there,” explained the Colorado Rapids Homegrown signing. “I thought I did my job.”
Despite the lack of players, the US coach is happy with the way his team has adapted to the difficult circumstances.
“I think the players have responded well," he said, "even though we’ve had to change the lineup many times.”
News on whether tournament breakout Daniel Cuevas will be available for the final will have to wait, but Ramos did reveal that it's likely goalkeeper Cody Cropper will stay for Sunday’s matchup (7 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
“We can’t really lose too many more, because we need 11 for Sunday,” the coach said with a wry smile.
The former US international and MLS star also highlighted how important playing in front of partisan fans is for his young group.
“You could see as the stadium started to fill the fans were starting to cheer for Cuba,” he said. “So I thought the atmosphere was good for us and, if we get the opportunity to go to the final against Mexico, that’s an experience that I hope my players get to live.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.