Action from the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship game between the USA (white jersey) and Panama on January 11, 2015, in Kingston, Jamaica. (Photo: Mexsport)
KINGSTON, Jamaica – For those participants in the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, the most straightforward route to a berth in the next FIFA U-20 World Cup is to finish atop one of the two groups. Since both are comprised of six teams each, those spots will have to be earned by navigating an intense five-game gauntlet in 13 days.
The Confederation’s other two qualifiers will be decided through a pair of two single-game playoffs on January 24 in Montego Bay, while the final will be contested that same day by squads with tickets to New Zealand already in hand.
Each of the 12 selections has contested two matches and nothing is decided. Panama and Mexico, though, are the only sides with unblemished records, topping the Group A and Group B tables, respectively.
The Panamanians have been impressive in wins over Aruba (4-0) and the United States (1-0), exhibiting talent in all sectors of the pitch. Head coach Leonardo Pipino, though, doesn’t want the fast start to divert attention from the complicated job ahead. There are, after all, three more group games to dispute and nine points to be captured.
"I'm happy for the players, they are good people and they deserve this joy, so I’m happy for them” said Pipino, following the win over the Americans. “We know that we still have not achieved anything. We are aware that we have to keep going. We will try to recover and rest and put all of our focus on the upcoming match."
With both of its outings being decided by one goal or fewer, thus far, the U.S. has obtained only a single point. USA head coach Tab Ramos stated satisfaction with his squad’s performance in the loss to Panama, a team he was quick to praise.
“I thought it was a very good match played by two good teams,” said Ramos. “Our team, in general, I was happy with the effort of the players. When it got to the last 20 minutes, we obviously had to throw more players forward because having given up two points the first game, a tie was not a great result for us.
“I think today was a match played by two good teams, and either team could have won. Unfortunately we didn’t win, and we’re the team that needed to win the most.”
Two years ago, Ramos guided the Americans to the CONCACAF final, before falling to Mexico after extra time, 3-1. The former standout midfielder is aiming for a return to the FIFA event, but expressed unease with the USA’s current position.
"I’m very concerned,” the 48-year-old remarked. “We were hoping that after two matches we’d have six points, so we’re not doing as well as we wanted to. But in general terms, obviously we lost two very important points in the first game, but I have no objection to today’s loss. We have to focus on the next one and get three more points before we head to Montego Bay and obviously try to get to six points there. That’s all we can do.”
After two days off, Group A returns to action on Wednesday with a tripleheader at Kingston’s National Stadium:
- Guatemala v Trinidad & Tobago, 3:00 p.m. ET
- Aruba v United States, 5:30 p.m. ET
- Jamaica v Panama, 8:00 p.m. ET
- For Group A table, click here.