PUEBLA, Mexico - An in-form Jose Villarreal scored two goals and the United States qualified for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup with a 4-2 quarterfinal win over Canada on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship.
The action-packed encounter treated those in attendance at the Estadio Universiatario BUAP to beautifully crafted goals, acrobatic saves, tenacious commitment and a player ejection.
Both the U.S. and Canada stumbled at the quarterfinal stage during the 2011 CONCACAF event. On this occasion, though, the Americans were especially assertive in seizing the opportunity, scoring more goals in this game than it had in its two group games combined. The Canadians have now failed to qualify for the U-20 World Cup in their last three attempts.
It was Canada, however, that jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. Dylan Carreiro cracked an unchallenged, right-footed shot from 30-yards out that landed inside the left post.
Six minutes later, the U.S. equalized through Luis Gil. The influential Real Salt Lake midfielder received a pass from Daniel Cuevas and struck from eight-yards for his second of the tournament.
Shortly afterwards, Canada team captain and stalwart central defender Doneil Henry left the game with an apparent leg injury. His departure clearly had a negative impact on the Maple Leafs, as the defense lost its experienced anchor.
Demonstrating no pity, the invigorated Americans grew in confidence, especially in the offensive end.
In the 40th minute, Villarreal netted his first tally. Mario Rodriguez dribbled down the left and sent a cross to the edge of the six-yard box that the LA Galaxy forward slotted home efficiently with his left foot.
The U.S., sensing that Canada was still vulnerable, added another a minute into first-half stoppage time. A long-distance rocket from William Trapp took a severe deflection and sailed into the net past goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.
With a two-goal advantage in hand, Villarreal and Benjamin Joya combined nine minutes after the break. Joya dropped a pass back to the top of the box, which allowed Villarreal to finish ruthlessly with his right foot into the lower left corner.
Despite facing a three-goal deficit, Canada refused to go down without a fight.
Caleb Clarke, scorer of two goals in a 5-1 win over Nicaragua on Friday, redirected a Keven Aleman attempt that required a save by U.S. goalkeeper Cody Cropper.
The inspirational Samuel Piette gave the Canadians hope of an improbable comeback with 26 minutes left in the game. The Fortuna Dusseldorf midfielder tucked a laser underneath Cropper's crossbar from 25-yards to make the score 4-2.
Crepeau kept his team within shouting distance, coming up with huge stops on efforts by Benjamin Joya and Rodriguez.
Clarke missed wide right on Canada's last good chance in the 84th, minutes before Dillon Serna crashed Crepeau's crossbar with a slicing drive from the left.
In the third minute of time added on, Manjrekar James was shown a straight red card for a head-butt, leaving the Canadians a man short for the final seconds.
The United States heads to the semifinals and will play the winner of Cuba-Costa Rica on Friday.