For only the second time in CONCACAF Youth Tournament and Championship history, the U.S. has won four straight games in the event. The only other occasion was the eighth CONCACAF Youth Tournament in 1980, when the USA won all four first-round games and its second-round match before drawing 1-1 with Honduras in the semifinals and falling 2-0 to Mexico in the tournament final.
With their superiority on display early, the U.S. needed only eight minutes to get on the scoreboard. A long ball over the top from Benji Joya teed up Mario Rodriguez one-on-one just inside the area. Doing well to hold off his mark, he created a bit of space and then fired low to the far post.
Three minutes later, the U.S. doubled their lead through the handiwork of Cuevas. Picking off a pass in the center of the park, he embarked on a solo run through the middle of the Cuba defense and unloaded a shot from 24 yards out that deflected off a defender and left Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez stranded.
The two-goal deficit seemed to dampen the spirit of the Cubans and the game lost a bit of energy as the U.S. spent the remainder off the half keeping tidy possession.
The USA remained comfortably in control in the second stanza, balancing measured possession with timely attacks. Joya tried his luck on a free kick in the 50th minute that just bent past the wrong side of the post.
A mad scramble in front of the goal nearly resulted in a third goal with 15 minutes remaining, with several U.S. players swarming the area trying to pounce on the loose ball. A host of defenders, including Sanchez, did just enough to snuff out the danger.
Second-half substitute Brandon Allen - who replaced Rodriguez in the 73rd minute - nearly put an exclamation point on the win in the 89 th minute when he broke in on goal deep on the left side of the area, but Sanchez did well to close the space and make a point-blank save.
The U.S. entered the match with only three field players available as substitutes as several players returned to their clubs following the quarterfinal victory that secured a place in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup. In addition to Allen, Boyd Okwuonu replaced Cuevas in the 78th minute.
• This will be the fourth time the U.S. has advanced to the final of the CONCACAF U-20 qualifying tournament. The last three finals occurred in 1980 (a 0-2 loss to Mexico), 1982 (a 0-1 loss to Honduras) and 2009 (a 0-3 loss to Costa Rica). The tournament format was changed starting in 1986, and there was only group play and no championship match. The format was changed once again in 2009 to include a championship match.
• Despite losing to Honduras in the 1982 final, the U.S. advanced to the 1983 FIFA World Youth Championship as Honduras was disqualified for age irregularities. U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos was a player on the 1983 U.S. Under-20 squad.
• Dillon Serna made his first start in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, getting the call at right back alongside his Colorado Rapids teammate Shane O'Neill.
• Midfielder Benji Joya wore the captain's armband after Caleb Stanko held the honor for the first three games in the tournament. After the USA secured a FIFA U-20 World Cup berth against Canada, Stanko, Luis Gil and Jerome Kiesewetter returned to their respective club teams.
• Goalkeeper Cody Cropper will return to Southampton on Saturday and will not be available for the final.
• The USA's leading scorer of the tournament, Jose Villarreal, was unavailable because of an ankle injury. Daniel Cuevas played up front in the USA's 4-2-3-1 formation.
• The U.S. has moved to 3-0-2 all-time against Cuba in CONCACAF Youth Tournaments and Championships.
• The USA starting lineup on Friday featured seven players who had played in at least one game for a U.S. Soccer Development Academy team.
-U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team Match Report-
Match: U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team vs. Cuba
Date: March 1, 2013
Competition: 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship - Semifinals
Venue: Estadio Cuauhtémoc; Puebla, Mexico
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET
Weather: 67 degrees, mostly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 2 0 2
CUB 0 0 0
USA - Mario Rodriguez (Benji Joya) 8th minute
USA - Daniel Cuevas 11
USA: 1-Cody Cropper; 16-Dillon Serna, 5-Shane O'Neill, 14-Javan Torre, 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda; 15-Mikey Lopez, 6-Wil Trapp; 9-Mario Rodriguez (19-Brandon Allen, 72), 8-Benji Joya (capt.), 17-Danny Garcia; 20-Daniel Cuevas (2-Boyd Okwuonu, 77)
Substitutions Not Used: 7-Jose Villarreal, 12-Kendall McIntosh, 22-Zack Steffen
Head coach: Tab Ramos
CUB: 1-Sandy Sanchez, 2-Andy Vaquero, 3-Enmanuel Labrada, 6-Yosel Piedra, 8-Jordan Santa Cruz, 9-Maykel Reyes, 10-Hector Morales (17-Pedro Anderson, 52), 14-Aricheell Hernandez, 15-Adrian Arturo Diz Pe (capt.) (4-Yolexis Collado, 62), 16-Daniel Luis Saez, 18-Abel Martinez
Substitutions Not Used: 5-Brian Rosales, 7-Randy Valier, 11-Dairon Perez, 12-Delvis Lumpuy, 13-Lazaro Mezquia, 19-David Urgelles, 20-Ricardo Suarez
Head coach: Raul Gonzalez
Stats Summary: USA / CUB
Shots: 8 / 8
Shots on Goal: 6 / 1
Saves: 1 / 4
Corner Kicks: 2 / 8
Fouls: 8 / 10
Offside: 1 / 0
USA - Danny Garcia (caution) 3rd minute
CUB - Sandy Sanchez (caution) 3
CUB - Jordan Santa Cruz (caution) 80
Referee: Hugo Cruz (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Warner Castro (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Dion Neil (TRI)
Fourth Official: Raul Castro (HON)
ussoccer.com MNT Man of the Match: Shane O'Neill
- ussoccer.com -