PUEBLA, Mexico - After taking a two-goal, first-half lead, the United States held on for a slender 2-1 Group A victory over Haiti on Monday in the opening match of the 2013 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship at the Estadio Universitario BUAP.
The game started very brightly for the Americans, when Luis Gil converted a third minute penalty kick after Mexico-based Daniel Cuevas was taken down in the box.
Haiti, though, was undaunted by its early predicament and immediately went on the offensive. In the 10th minute, a quick flick in the box from the mercurial John Estama forced an alert off-the-line clearance by Shane O'Neill.
After another Haitian shot was saved by U.S. goalkeeper Cody Cropper, a 17th minute header by header Jose Villarreal nearly doubled the Americans' lead.
The U.S., though, took full advantage of its next opportunity nine minutes later.
A right-sided cross by Mario Rodriguez floated over the head of Gil to an unmarked Cuevas. The active 18-year-old forward took a touch and dispensed a left-footed rocket past Haiti goalkeeper Ronald Elusma, who had no prospect of making a stop.
The game did not slow down as both sides kept pushing onward, but neither could find the back of the net before the whistle.
Haiti came out roaring for the second half and was rewarded for its efforts in the 49th minute.
Wilberne Augusmat made it 2-1, overpowering Boyd Okwuonu in the box and firing a shot past Cropper.
Gil could have completed a brace, but after a skillful 56th minute turn turn in the penalty area, his shot from close range was saved by a well-positioned Elusma.
In the 60th minute, the relentless Estama had the net at his mercy from seven-yards out, only to blaze over the crossbar despite having time to level possibly.
With the U.S. looking somewhat unsteady in the back, Haiti's Jean Dany Maurice weaved his way through the box and unleashed an effort that Cropper saved.
As the half wore on, fatigue clearly impacted the players. It became increasingly evident that the hunt for another goal would yield little fruit.
Both sides have one group game left on their calendars. Haiti will face Costa Rica on Wednesday, needing at least a point to stay in contention for a quarterfinal place. The U.S. will meet the Central Americans on February 22.
February 18, 2013
Group A Result