Two Yoots: Pair of 19-Year-Old Americans Help Galaxy, Sounders Reach CCL Semifinals

For the first time in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League, there are two clubs from Major League Soccer in the final four. Seattle and Los Angeles both advanced to the semis this week, eliminating Tigres of Mexico and Herediano of Costa Rica, respectively, and both got key goals from 19-year-olds who came up through the clubs’ academies. That’s called living right.

Here’s the Galaxy’s Jose Villareal, who was born in Inglewood, Calif., in 1993. You probably remember 1993 like it was yesterday. Villareal is fresh from a standout performance with the U.S. U-20s at the CONCACAF Championships, where he bagged three goals in four games. Last night versus Herediano, he kept his personal momentum going, scoring the second goal to spark LA to a 4-1 win:

Go ahead, watch it again. See the stepover, the spin-o-rama, and the deadly left-footed finish to the far post. Pure class in a glass, as Ray Hudson would say.

The previous night in Seattle, the Sounders fell behind Tigres’s B squad and looked to be on their way out of the CCL. Their 19-year-old right back, DeAndre Yedlin, was beaten—some say fouled—on the play that led to Tigres’s goal and put Seattle in a 2-0 aggregate hole.

The young Seattle native—in his CCL debut and just his second appearance for the Sounders—quickly made amends, scoring a sweet equalizer and turning in an excellent, assured second-half performance.

Check out his goal:

Yedlin was not part of the U.S. U-2o team that qualified for this summer’s World Cup in Turkey, but if he keeps up his current form—he was named to the MLS Team of the Week last week, becoming the first rookie ever to earn the honor in his professional debut—you can bet that coach Tab Ramos will call him in for the tournament.

Bonus Yoot

Another player who was not part of that U-20 qualifying team, but could play his way onto it, is Villareal’s teammate in LA, 18-year-old Jack McBean of Newport Beach, Calif. A big kid with skill and a nose for goal, McBean is the youngest signing in Galaxy history, having put pen to paper with the team in April 2011 at age 16.

Here he is late in last night’s game against Herediano, taking a quick restart and curling a shot into the far side netting to make it 4-1 LA:

The MLS academy system, founded in 2006 and streamlined in ’08, is starting to bear fruit. The 2011 U.S. U-20 team featured just one academy product; this year’s edition featured four—as well as two (Benji Joya and Daniel Cuevas) who split their youth development between US academy sides and the Santos Laguna (Mexico) youth system.

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Did U.S. Soccer and MLS Turn the Tide in CONCACAF this Week?

JVillareal

 

The United States U-20 team shook off a slow start in the 2013 CONCACAF Championships and went on to produce solid wins over Canada and Cuba to advance to the final against Mexico in Estadio Cuauhtemoc in Puebla, Mexico, last Sunday.

In that game, with only 12 fit outfield players (several guys had departed for their club teams once World Cup qualification was secure with the win over Canada), and with more than 40,000 hostile fans looking on, the young Americans went toe-to-toe with the home side, giving just as good as they got, if not better. They gave up an early goal (after starting the game as the aggressors), but responded quickly with one of their own.

From there, both sides created chances in a wide-open free-flowing game. (Highlights here.) The U.S. ran out of gas late—hobbled striker Jose Villareal (above right) had to stay on the field because they had no subs—and gave up a pair of goals in extra time, but they made a statement in the game nonetheless.

Here’s coach Tab Ramos after the game:

“This shows the character of the players that we have coming up in the U.S. Not only are we playing in a difficult environment, but we take a goal early when we’re attacking and the players responded.”

He acknowledged that the main goal was to clinch a World Cup berth, and once that was done, the secondary aim was to try to win the tournament on Mexican soil. They came closer than just about anyone would’ve expected beforehand, and Ramos suggested the tournament was a valuable learning experience for his group:

“There’s no doubt that these are the games where you see the players and how they respond. I have to give the players a lot of credit because it was their first time playing in a situation like this and I think they respond incredibly. They played a great game and I’m very proud of that. I’m happy with my team. I’m satisfied that [the final] was a game in which either one of the teams could’ve won and I think the team did a great job.”

The coach can also take heart in the fact that this wasn’t even his top group of players. There were several first-choice players out injured, and as we said, several others left the team in mid-tournament to rejoin their clubs. The Yanks should be interesting to watch in the U-20 World Cup this summer, and they’ve clearly narrowed the gap between themselves and their neighbors to the South.

If results pan out the way the three MLS clubs involved in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals would like, much the same could be said of the U.S. domestic league and its more longstanding regional rivals.

The Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, and LA Galaxy all produced decent results in CCL play this week, and all have a fighting chance to advance to the semifinals.

Houston edged last year’s finalist Santos Laguna 1-0 in a hard-fought game at BBVA Compass Stadium, getting an 89th-minute goal from Brad Davis. They’ll be hard-pressed to hold on to that advantage in the second leg at the foreboding Estadio Corona, Santos Laguna’s home stadium, but we wouldn’t put it past Dominic Kinnear and his men in orange.

Seattle lost 1-0 on the road to Tigres, but they’ll come home to the rowdy confines of CenturyLink Field looking to overturn that margin in next week’s second leg.

The Galaxy have the best chance of all, having locked down a 0-0 first-leg draw away to Costa Rican side Herediano. Each team hit the crossbar, and LA had a goal (by the in-form Mike Magee) called back after a dubious offside ruling. A win at the Home Depot Center in the second leg and they’re through.

MLS has never had more than one semifinalist in the history of the CCL. If things go their way next week, they could lock up three of the final four spots.

That would send a message to the region, if not the world, and put the league in a pretty good position to lift its first CCL trophy in the tournament’s current incarnation. (D.C. United won an earlier version of the CCL, in 1998, when the event featured eight teams instead of the current 24.)

Depending on how things play out in the CCL this spring, and the U-20 World Cup this summer, this week in early March could go down as a pivotal one.

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.

U.S. U-20s Get Off to Shaky Start at CONCACAF Championships, Narrowly Edging Haiti, 2-1

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They took an early lead, and they got significant contributions from their two biggest guns, Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil and Santos Laguna striker Daniel Cuevas, but the U.S. U-20s raised more questions than they answered in their CONCACAF Championship opener yesterday in Puebla, Mexico.

After Gil and Cuevas gave the team a 2-0 lead within the first half hour, the Americans started to come unglued. They gave up a goal five minutes after the break and spent the remainder of the game on their heels trying to keep Haiti at bay.

They ultimately succeeded in doing that, but it was quite a ways away from convincing.

Click here for the highlights

The U.S. backline, which had several players playing out of position due to the absences of Walker Zimmerman, Will Packwood (both injured), and John Anthony Brooks (club commitment), was at sea for most of the second half. Not helping matters in that department was the midfield’s inability to keep the ball in the second session.

Tab Ramos’s boys have plenty of room for improvement, and if they do advance to this summer’s U-20 World Cup (June-July, in Turkey), they can only hope that players like Zimmerman and Packwood are back and ready to go, along with midfielder Mark Pelosi, a very talented player who had his leg broken in a Liverpool U-21 match this past Sunday.

As for Brooks, an athletic, six-foot-six defender who plays for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga2, he has appeared for the U.S. U-20s four times, but he holds citizenship in both the U.S. and Germany, and could commit to either side. He has participated in U-20 camps for Germany and appeared in one game for them in 2012.

The U.S. returns to action on Friday against Costa Rica (6:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

Haiti faces the Ticos tomorrow in a tough turn of the schedule for the island nation. If Haiti loses to Costa Rica in that match, they’ll be out and the U.S. will advance to the CONCACAF quarterfinals.

Peru’s U-20 Keeper: He’s a Little Unorthodox, But He Gets the Job Done

FC Dallas recently signed Peru’s top goalkeeper, Raul Fernandez, and they can only hope he’s a little less helter-skelter than one of his apprentices in the Peruvian national team set-up, U-20 netminder Angelo Campos.

Young Campos is currently backstopping la Blanquirroja in the CONMEBOL Youth Championship—aka qualification for next summer’s U-20 World Cup—and yesterday against Uruguay, he had himself quite the goalkeeping adventure. Take a look:

That was some rollercoaster. Let’s break it down.

Up: He aggressively comes off his line to deal with a ball over the top by Uruguay. That was good … in theory. You like a proactive goalkeeper.

Down: Whoa! Badly misjudged that ball, and the striker’s around him. That was bad. And now the striker shoots….

Up: That’s some hustle! Campos sprints all the way back, dives, and—yes! Stops the ball before it crosses the line. Wow.

Down: The momentum from his heroic sprint-and-lunge has sent him sliding all the way into the back of the net … and here comes the striker—empty net, ball on the goal line! Oh no!

Up: Holy recovery! What agility. Catlike, Campos regains his feet and beats the striker to the ball.

Down: Whoops, looks like he fouled the striker with that double leg sweep! (See step one: aggressive is good, reckless bad.)

Up!: The ref does not call the apparent foul. He was probably too impressed, like the rest of us, with Campos’s never-say-die effort on the play. So it’s no goal, no penalty, a sensational double save by the young Peruvian, and cardiac unrest for his coach.

Andscene.

U.S. – Guatemala U-20 Qualifier: the Highlights

For U.S. fans, they are the sad, sad highlights. For Guatemala, they’re a historic landmark—the victory marked the first time that nation has qualified for a World Cup at any level, in 92 years of playing the sport:

From the opening whistle, this one had the atmosphere of an upset-in-the-making. The crowd of 30,000-plus was rocking, the Guatemalan team was playing loose and feeling no pressure, while the U.S. was the opposite—increasingly so as the game went on and they failed to establish any kind of rhythm or control.

We thought that would change when Conor Doyle scored the equalizer with that well-taken chip, but no: The hosts came right back with the eventual game-winner just three minutes later.

Sure, the U.S. was missing striker Bobby Wood due to injury, and the dangerous Joe Gyau (remember that name) was not at 100% capacity, but still, this was a game the young Yanks should have won.

Most of the American players have bright professional careers ahead—careers which they can now resume earlier than expected—and this was arguably the most talented U.S. U-20 group ever assembled. But they will go down as the first American side in eight U-20 qualifying cycles (dating back to 1995) to fail to reach the World Cup.

U.S. U-20s Down Panama, Move Within One Game of World Cup Berth

There are 16 professionals on the 20-man U.S. roster for the U-20 CONCACAF Championships, but it was a college player, UCLA freshman Kelyn Rowe, who led the team on Saturday night.

Rowe found the net twice in the first 20 minutes against Panama, pacing the Yanks to a 2-0 win that gave them the Group B title and sent them to a do-or-die quarterfinal matchup with host Guatemala. That game is on Wednesday night (10:00 EST, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com).

U.S.–Panama highlights here: