U.S. U-20s Rally Against Canada, Clinch World Cup Berth

Two years after their predecessors fell short of qualifying for the 2011 U-20 World Cup and one year after the American U-23 side failed to qualify for the London Olympics, the current U.S. U-20 side made some amends on Friday, knocking off Canada 4-2 to advance to the CONCACAF Championship semifinals and secure a berth in this summer’s U-20 World Cup in Turkey (June 21-July 13).

With former U.S. youth and senior international star Tab Ramos holding the coaching reins, the young Yanks rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the do-or-die game, reeling off three goals in 17 minutes to take a 3-1 lead into the break. A fourth came just after the intermission to all but wrap up the game. Canada pulled one back in the 63rd, and then the teams traded chances the rest of the way.

To the highlights:

U.S. fans can take satisfaction on several levels from this result. The team got the job done without midfield star Marc Pelosi (who broke his leg playing for Liverpool’s U-21s) and center backs Walker Zimmerman and Will Packwood. The U.S. was also missing defender John Anthony Brooks, a German-American who has played for both nations’ U-20 teams.

The side performed in pressure-packed circumstances (WC qualifying, with the above-mentioned previous failures hanging over their heads) and in a hostile environment (Puebla, Mexico, where the locals jeered just about every U.S. touch).

Additionally, a few players stood out as potential candidates for the USMNT a few years down the line, including stocky, speedy striker Daniel Cuevas, goal-poacher Jose Villareal, and Real Salt Lake playmaker Luis Gil.

One other notable element was that Ramos did not hesitate to shift his team out of the Klinsmann-mandated 4-3-3 formation when game situations warranted it. The team looked much more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 (with two holding midfielders), and they controlled games in that setup, whereas in the 4-3-3 they were overrun in midfield. Something to consider going forward (and something U-23 coach Caleb Porter did not do in his team’s failed Olympic bid).

Here’s some postmatch reaction from Ramos and his players:

The U.S. will meet Cuba in the (much-less-meaningful) semifinals on Friday (6:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer), but with qualification already assured, a number of players, including Cuevas and Gil, will be heading back to their club sides.

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U.S. 0, Canada 0: The, Uh, Highlights

Well, this should be a short clip. The United States B-team took on a fairly weak Canada side last night in Houston, and while they dominated possession, the Yanks failed to break down the bunkered-in Canucks, generating very few chances in a drab 0-0 tie.

Take a look:

The game capped off the U.S.’s three-week January camp, and you might have thought, going in, that a team that had been training together intensively since early January would show some cohesiveness and some sharpness. (Not mid-season levels of either, but some.) Instead, they were disjointed in the attacking third, and unable to deliver that final ball—characteristics that coach Jurgen Klinsmann attributed afterward to their having tired legs.

But, but … oh, nevermind.

This January camp was intended to blood some new players and determine which, if any, of the guys from this group might make next week’s trip to Honduras for the opening of the final stage of World Cup qualifying.

Judging by what we saw last night, we’d say center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, though they weren’t exactly tested by Canada, stand a good chance of going to San Pedro Sula next week, along with midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who Klinsmann loves for his lane-clogging abilities in front of the back four.

Beyond those three, Eddie Johnson looked dynamic at times and did well to keep possession up top, and Benny Feilhaber, when he came on in the second half, looked like the only U.S. midfielder capable of unlocking Canada’s D with a deadly pass. Josh Gatt, though full of too much adrenaline, and looking a little uncomfortable on the left, showed that his speed can be a deadly weapon.

Chris Wondolowski seemed on edge to us (no doubt feeling the pressure as his national-team opportunities dwindle) and he fluffed a couple of half chances. But he does have a knack for getting in good spots in the box, so you never know if Klinsmann would consider using him with a better supporting cast around him.

In any event, it was a very forgettable performance, so let’s file it away and look ahead to next week and Honduras.

CONCACAF Champions League: Toronto FC 5, CD Aguila 1

El Salvadoran side CD Aguila were the consummate guests in their visit to BMO Field last night for their CONCACAF Champions League opener against Toronto FC.

They held the deepest defensive line imaginable, allowing TFC to make themselves comfortable in midfield, and their defenders kept a courteous distance from Reds attackers in the final third, letting them tee up shots at a practice-session pace (see Reggie Lambe’s 48th-minute strike).

It looked like Emily Post designed their game plan, and the lopsided scoreline could have been worse.

Check it out:

Big nights for TFC youngsters Lambe (two goals), Ashtone Morgan (two assists), and Luis Silva (goal, two assists).

Toronto returns to CCL action on Aug 28, when they host Santos Laguna and U.S. international Herculez Gomez.

U.S. Drops Canada 2-0; Dempsey Unveils “Squirrel Kick”

Jozy Altidore scored in the 15th minute and assisted on Clint Dempsey’s strike just past the hour mark as the U.S. opened the Gold Cup with a convincing 2-0 win over Canada last night in Detroit.

The U.S. performance was so good, it nearly (nearly) washed away the aftertaste of Saturday’s 4-0 defeat to Spain. The Americans dictated the tempo and, except for brief passages at the start and end of the second half, completely dominated the game against a solid Canadian team coming off a 2-2 draw with Ecuador.

Herewith, the highlights:

Unfortunately, that clip does not include Dempsey’s audacious flying backheel—a move he later dubbed a “squirrel kick”—on a cross that flew in behind his run to the far post just minutes before his goal.

The Fulham attacker made solid contact with the ball (while his body was horizontal to the ground) but the acrobatic shot was blocked by a Canadian defender and went out for a corner.

In addition to the standout performances of Altidore and Dempsey, the U.S. got solid games from centerbacks Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson, young striker Juan Agudelo, midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, and Tim Howard, who provoked the following postgame quote from Canada coach Stephen Hart: “Howard was absolute magic. I almost clapped.”

Next up for the U.S. is Panama—3-2 winners over Guadeloupe in their Group C opener—on Saturday night in Tampa (8:00, Fox Soccer Channel).

USMNT Roundup

Yeah, so, this happened:

The logic of scheduling a friendly with Spain—the world champions and a team looking to avenge a defeat to the U.S.—just three days before the start of the most important competition of the year was always doubtful.

We could see playing, say, Venezuela or Ecuador that day, or, if it had to be a European opponent, how about Luxembourg or the Faroe Islands? Spain just made no sense.

Bob Bradley clearly felt the same way, starting a makeshift lineup of inexperienced players while leaving veterans Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan (who was ill, but probably wouldn’t have started if he’d been healthy), Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey on the bench for the opening whistle.

The youngsters got embarrassed, and the question of whether it was a good “learning experience” for them is debatable.

So let’s just crumple that one up, toss it over the shoulder and look ahead to tonight’s Gold Cup opener against Canada (7:30, EDT, Fox Soccer Channel):

Alejandro Bedoya, who’s been in camp for a week or so and played 25 minutes against Spain, has officially replaced the injured Benny Feilhaber (ankle) on the U.S. roster. The former Boston College attacker is off to a great start with Orebro in Sweden, scoring four goals in 10 games. He had two assists and a goal in his last game with the club before joining the U.S. camp. See here (nice backheel on the second goal):

• This is probably Canada’s best team, ever. The roster is stocked with solid MLS players, including Dwayne De Rosario (New York), Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC), Terry Dunfield (Vancouver), Andre Hainault (Houston) and Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake). The Canucks also feature several players coming off successful European campaigns, such as Simeon Jackson, who scored 13 goals in 20 games to help Norwich win the NPower Championship and promotion to the Premier League next season, and PSV Eindhoven midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, who made 33 appearances and scored two goals as PSV finished third in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Winger Josh Simpson is another one to watch: He led Turkish club Manisaspor in scoring this season, bagging 12 goals from his spot on the left wing.

They’re a seasoned group with more talent than most people recognize, and they won’t be intimidated by the U.S. They’re biggest weakness is the backline, where they’re missing D.C. United centerback Dejan Jakovic (hamstring) and their wing defenders are suspect.

• Canada may have some extra motivation in this one, not that they’ll need it. The last time these two teams met, in the semifinal of the 2007 Gold Cup, Hutchinson scored an apparent equalizer in stoppage time that was disallowed for offside. Replays showed that the goal should have counted.

The U.S. won the game 2-1 and went on to beat Mexico 2-1 in the final on (we’ll take any excuse to re-post it) Feilhaber’s golazo:

You can bet the Canucks will have the ’07 game in the back of their minds, regardless of what they say publicly.

The U.S. will have to be up for it, and ready to match Canada’s intensity right from the opening whistle.

• It seems likely that Tim Ream, who went the full 90 against Spain, will not feature in the U.S. backline tonight, which leaves Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson, and Carlos Bocanegra as the top options in central defense (followed by Jonathan Spector and Maurice Edu).

Onyewu looked lost against Spain, and if Canada starts the speedy, 5’ 5” Jackson up top, the U.S. may not want two 6’ 4” centerbacks (Gooch and Goodson) in their starting lineup. We’d go with Bocanegra and Goodson in the middle, Cherundolo on the right and Jonathan Bornstein on the left (hey, the options there are—still—fairly thin, and Bornstein has the speed to stay with Jackson).

• Tidbit: Canadian midfielder Will Johnson and Michael Bradley were teammates on the Chicago Soccers youth team, also the onetime home of Spector and Jay DeMerit.

What do you think of the matchup? Who should start for the U.S.? Any chance Bedoya gets the nod in midfield and Dempsey starts up top? Let us know in the comments.