Just about none of it happened as it’s been drawn up in practice, but the US still managed to take all three points from the first matchday of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship thanks to a 2-1 win over a very game Haitian side in Puebla, Mexico. Colorado Rapids homegrown player Shane O'Neill went the full 90 at center back while his Rapids teammate Dillon Serna was an unused substitute.
The Americans jumped out to a two-goal lead thanks to first-half strikes from Luis Gil and Daniel Cuevas, but spent the rest of their day chasing a Haiti team that had multiple chances to find the equalizer.
It was Santos Laguna attacker Cuevas who got the Yanks off to a flying start, intercepting a poor Haiti switch 80 yards from goal before outpacing the defense down the left flank two minutes in. He was tripped up on the edge of the box, earning a penalty and a dream start for the US. Gil coolly sent ‘keeper Ronald Elusma the wrong way for the 1-0 lead.
The US defense, which struggled all day – especially out wide – immediately began to show cracks. Haiti launched a series of attacks coming mostly from loose midfield play, with US netminder Cody Cropper forced into a series of timely interventions.
Nonetheless, the next gilt-edged chance fell to the US, with Gil heading wide from six yards on a corner 17 minutes in.
Cuevas, who was always dangerous in transition but like the rest of the US struggled in possession, took matters into his own hands nine minutes later. Gil sent Mario Rodriguez through, and the center forward’s cross found Cuevas alone at the back post. He had time to settle and take a touch before firing past a stranded Elusma, and it seemed the rout was on.
Haiti had different ideas, however, and began to dominate the game in midfield. They repeatedly beat the US offside trap for breakouts on Cropper, while the US central defensive pairing of Caleb Stanko and Shane O’Neill couldn’t seem to get on the same page.
The inevitable Haitian breakthrough finally came less than five minutes into the second half as Wilberne Augusmat put on an individual clinic. He nutmegged a pair of US defenders, then pulled the ball back onto his favored left foot before firing top shelf past a sprawling Cropper, cutting it to 2-1.
The US spent most of the rest of the game on the back foot, subjected to serious pressure throughout thanks largely to their own ineffectiveness in possession and sloppiness in defense. A switch from the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, and some neat defensive midfield play from Sporting KC rookie Mikey Lopez stemmed the tide somewhat down the stretch, but US coach Tab Ramos will have seen plenty to work on.
Haiti are back in action on Wendesday when they face Costa Rica. The US face Costa Rica on Friday in the final game of the three-team group stage.
The top two teams in the group will advance to the quarterfinals.
0-1 Luis Gil 3' (pen)
0-2 Daniel Cuevas 26'
1-2 Wilberne Augusmat 49'
USA: Cody Cropper; Javan Torre, (c) Caleb Stanko, Shane O'Neill, Boyd Okwuonu; Wil Trapp, Benji Joya, Luis Gil (Jerome Kisewetter 79'); Daniel Cuevas, Mario Rodriguez (Juan Ocegueda 88'), Jose Villarreal (Mikey Lopez 64')
HAI: Ronald Elusma ; Jean Dany Maurice, Ismael Voltaire, Charles Alexandre, (c) Jude Saint Louis; Evens Saint Jean, Amicy Esso Faudelyn, Luckner Horat Jr., Wilberne Augusmat; Chery Johnley, Jhon Estama