The U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team captured Group A of the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship with a 1-0 win against Costa Rica at Estadio Olímpico Universitario Lobos BUAP.
U.S. Soccer Development Academy product Jose Villarreal broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute, rising high above his mark to get on the end of a Luis Gil corner and snap home a header to the near post. At the other end, U.S. goalkeeper Cody Cropper made four saves, including one from point-blank range to preserve the shutout.
The USA moves on to the critical quarterfinal match against the winner of Friday's late match between Canada and Nicaragua, who are battling for the runner-up spot in Group B. The four CONCACAF teams that advance through the quarterfinal stage qualify for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
Tuesday's decisive encounter kicks off at 6 p.m. ET at Estadio Olímpico Universitario Lobos BUAP. The match will be televised live on FOX Soccer and Univision Deportes, and fans can follow on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker and on Twitter @ussoccer_ynt.
Both teams had their tickets punched to the quarterfinal prior to kickoff and were jockeying for first place. Needing only a draw to claim the top spot, the U.S. looked much more comfortable and composed than four days earlier. Making four changes from the 2-1 win against Haiti, U.S. coach Tab Ramos deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with Villarreal as the lone striker.
Enjoying the majority of possession in the first half, the U.S. showed individual confidence on the ball and looked to find space wide. On the other side of the ball, Costa Rica attempted to use their speed with quick long balls over the top.
In the first half, each side had a good look at goal from a free kick in nearly identical spots. In the eighth minute, Villarreal stood over the ball from 25 yards out and just off center, but his left-footed effort was deflected by the wall and went out for a corner. Costa Rica got their turn in the 23 rd minute, only to see the shot sail well over the bar.
The game turned physical in the closing minutes of the first half, and by night's end the teams had amassed 45 fouls between them.
Ramos made two changes at half, replacing Wil Trapp with Mario Rodriguez to ensure his availability for the quarterfinal after the midfielder had picked up a yellow card. Boyd Okwuonu also came on for Eric Miller at right back.
The U.S. continued to apply pressure from the start of the second stanza as the game picked up pace. After the USA took the lead, the game grew increasingly intense and aggressive with several late challenges from the Costa Ricans.
The Ticos nearly snatched one back in the 66th minute when Mayron George held off his defender and ripped a low shot from the top of the area, but Cropper stood firm and parried the shot wide.
Seven minutes later, Costa Rica found another fine chance to equalize. With the area packed with players from both teams, Luis Sequeira managed to squirt through the defense and had a clean look from six yards out. With Cropper charging, he curled a high shot that caromed off the crossbar.
Ramos made four starting lineup changes from the Group A opener against Haiti. Outside backs Eric Miller and Juan Pablo Ocegueda got the call at right and left back, respectively, ahead of Boyd Okwuonu and Javan Torre. Midfielders Mikey Lopez and Danny Garcia earned their first starts in the tournament in place of Mario Rodriguez and Daniel Cuevas.
Gil now has a goal and an assist in the tournament after opening the USA's scoring in the 2-1 win against Haiti.
Lopez picked up his second yellow card of the tournament and will miss the quarterfinal serving a one-match suspension.
With his start on Friday, Lopez made his 13th career U-20 appearance, tops among the current U.S. roster.
Trapp and Caleb Stanko also received cautions.
The U.S. has moved to 4-3-4 all-time against Costa Rica in CONCACAF Youth Tournaments and Championships.
The USA starting lineup on Monday featured nine players who had played in at least one game for a U.S. Soccer Development Academy team.
-- U.S. U-20 Men's National Team Match Report --
Match: U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team vs. Costa Rica
Date: Feb. 22, 2013
Competition: 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship - Group A
Venue: Estadio Olímpico Universitario Lobos BUAP; Puebla, Mexico
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET
Weather: 72 degrees, mostly clear
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
CRC 0 0 0
USA - Jose Villarreal (Luis Gil) 63rd minute
USA: 1-Cody Cropper; 18-Eric Miller (2-Boyd Okwuonu, 46), 4-Caleb Stanko (capt.), 5-Shane O'Neill, 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda; 6-Wil Trapp (9-Mario Rodriguez, 46), 15-Mikey Lopez; 8-Benji Joya, 10-Luis Gil, 17-Danny Garcia (11-Jerome Kiesewetter, 90+1); 7-Jose Villarreal
Substitutions Not Used: 12-Kendall McIntosh, 14-Javan Torre, 16-Dillon Serna, 19-Brandon Allen, 20-Daniel Cuevas, 22-Zack Steffen
Head coach: Tab Ramos
CRC: 1-Jairo Monge; 3-Jamhir Ordain, 4-William Fernandez (capt.), 5-Erick Cabalceta, 6-Mauricio Nuñez, 8-Luis Sequeira (10-Dylan Flores, 82), 11-John Jairo Ruiz, 12-Joseph Mora (7-David Ramirez 46), 16-Fabian Garita (14-Rodrigo Garita, 54), 17-Mayron George, 20-Giovanni Cantillano
Substitutions Not Used: 2-Jose Sossa, 9-Gabriel Leiva, 13-Steve Garita, 15-Brandon Welleans, 18-Bryan Morales, 19-Jean Carlo Agüero
Head coach: Jafet Soto
Stats Summary: USA / CRC
Shots: 12 / 9
Shots on Goal: 5 / 4
Saves: 4 / 4
Corner Kicks: 9 / 3
Fouls: 21 / 24
Offside: 1 / 3
USA - Wil Trapp (caution) 22nd minute
USA - Mikey Lopez (caution) 40
CRC - Jamhir Ordain (caution) 54
USA - Caleb Stanko (caution) 85
CRC - John Jairo Ruiz (caution) 85
CRC - Mayron George (caution) 90
CRC - Giovanni Cantilano (caution) 90+4
Referee: Enrico Wingaarden (SUR)
Assistant Referee 1: Alejandro Ayala (MEX)
Assistant Referee 2: Gabriel Victoria (PAN)
Fourth Official: Jose Peñaloza (MEX)