PUEBLA, Mexico — A valiant effort by the US Under-20 national team fell short in extra time as Mexico emerged with a 3-1 victory in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship on Sunday night.
Jesús Corona and Benji Joya exchanged goals in the opening 10 minutes to set the tone for this engaging contest. Neither side managed to produce the necessary second before extra time beckoned, but Mexico eventually pulled in the additional period through a Julio Gómez bicycle kick and a Jorge Espericueta spot kick to secure the title.
Colorado Rapids homegrown players Shane O'Neill and Dillon Serna (pictured above) started at center back and right back, respectively. O'Neill, who was show a red card in overtime, started all five matches for the U.S. while Serna played in three, starting the Semifinal and Final.
Mexico punished the US for squandering an early chance by opening the scoring after just four minutes. Corona embarked on a fine solo run after a piece of direct play and slotted home the opener to spark the Estadio Cuauhtémoc crowd to life.
Instead of buckling under the weight of conceding first, the US grabbed an equalizer from the penalty spot. The handball award from referee from Enrico Wijgaarden prompted howls from the crowd and protests from the Mexicans, but it stood. Joya stepped up confidently and stroked the penalty into the lower left corner.
The early exchanges foreshadowed the frenetic game to come. Both teams operated with pace and spurned the opportunity to retain possession for extended periods. Chances came at both ends as both sides before the interval allowed both teams to catch their breath.
The US opened the second half as the better of the two sides. FC Dallas goalkeeper Richard Sanchez rushed out quickly to snatch away from Mario Rodriguez's feet, while the Americans found themselves denied a certain penalty on the hour after Rodriguez was felled from behind in the penalty area.
Mexico gradually increased the pressure as the half progressed. Marco Bueno saw his header deflected away at the last moment five minutes from time to ensure the match entered extra time.
Gómez produced a goal worthy of separating the teams 10 minutes into extra time. Espericueta curled a corner kick in from the near side and Gómez met the service with a stunning piece of skill to give Mexico a precious lead.
Espericueta then clinched yet another crown for Mexico from the penalty spot with seven minutes to play to finally see off the determined charge from the 10-man American side.
Semifinals Mexico, the United States, El Salvador, and Cuba all qualified for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey later this year.