• Friday Mar 01, 2013

    U.S. eases past Cuba for U-20 final berth

    PUEBLA, Mexico - The United States advanced to the final of the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship for the second time in the competition's last three editions, posting a 2-0 semifinal win over Cuba on Friday at the Estadio Cuauhtemoc. The Americans will meet the winner of the second semifinal later in the evening between host Mexico and El Salvador.

    It was a particularly satisfying victory for head coach Tab Ramos, especially since three players - including influential midfielder Luis Gil - returned to their clubs after Tuesday's quarterfinal and World Cup clinching triumph over Canada.  Also, Jose Villarreal, the team's leading scorer in Puebla with three goals, missed the encounter due to an ankle injury.

    Cuba's stunning run, and three-match winning streak that earned it a well-deserved place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup later this year, came to an end. Defensive breakdowns in combination with a quick-starting U.S. attack conspired to dig the Caribbean Lions into an early hole, one from which it labored to emerge.

    The U.S. took a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute, when Benjamin Joya played a long ball down the left to Mario Rodriguez. The 18-year-old collected it in the box, cut to his right and struck exquisitely inside the near post.

    Still displaying some initial jitters, and possibly fatigue, the Cubans found it challenging to regain their balance. And, in the 11th minute, the U.S. took advantage of its opponents' tentative status once again.

    This time, the always active Daniel Cuevas stole the ball near the midfield line, dribbled down the middle unimpeded and fired off a left-footed shot from 23-yards that found the back of the net after taking a nasty deflection.

    Those early goals seemed to take the wind out of the game's sails.

    Cuba had difficulty stringing passes together and could not locate dangerous forward Maykel Reyes. Despite clear efforts to reverse its fortune, the fluid play that highlighted Cuba's first three games in the tournament failed to materialize.

    The U.S. came close to another goal early in second half, but Joya's free kick from the left dashed past the post.

    On Sunday, Cuba will face the Mexico-El Salvador loser in the match for third place, while the U.S. will compete in its first U-20 championship match since losing to Costa Rica (3-0) in 2009.

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