KINGSTON, Jamaica (Sunday, May 6, 2007) -- A berth in this summer's Under-17 World Cup already earned, the United States used first-half goals by midfielder Gregory Garza and striker Ellis McLoughlin to defeat Costa Rica 2-1 and capture the CONCACAF Final Round Qualifying Tournament Group B title tonight at the National Stadium.
By qualifying for a 12th consecutive time, the U.S. is the only nation to advance to every world championship tournament at this age group. Since CONCACAF, the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, moved to two qualifying groups, the Americans placed first in their group four out of five times -- the last four in a row -- while also winning in 1983 and 1992 when there was only one.
Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago also advanced to the Under-17 World Cup with CONCACAF sending three teams from Group B. Haiti and Honduras also qualified in Group A, giving CONCACAF five representatives in the world tourney.
The U.S. knew before Friday's 3-2 setback to Jamaica that it had qualified. The Americans finished at 3-1 with nine points, followed by Costa Rica (2-1-1, 7 points) and T&T (2-2, 6) with Canada (1-2-1, 4) and Jamaica (1-3, 3) failing to move ahead. T&T edged Jamaica 1-0 in tonight's second match.
"This was a another tough match for us during qualifying, but our guys really stepped up today and showed they were the best team in this group," said coach John Hackworth, who led the U.S. to fifth place in the 2005 world championships in Peru. "We wanted to come out and score early, and that's exactly what we did. We played exceptionally well and I thought our defense did a remarkable job of holding off a great Costa Rica attack in the second half, especially with this being our fourth match is seven days. We're extremely happy to come away from Jamaica with the top spot."
Costa Rica came just inches from tying the game and winning the group in the 87th minute after forward David Guzman delivered a corner kick to Ticos defender Jordan Smith, who drilled his 12-yard header off the crossbar.
The U.S. led 2-0 at halftime Friday, only to fall when Jamaica scored three times between the 78th and 90th minutes. Tonight, the Americans also had a two-goal advantage at intermission, but managed to hold off the Ticos' comeback.
Neither team crated many quality chances on goal with Costa Rica holding an 8-5 shots advantage, while each side put three shots on frame.
The U.S. went ahead 1-0 after a quick restart in the 13th minute. Costa Rica defender and captain Roy Smith pushed forward into the center circle before trying to connect with midfielder Oviedo Bryan on the left flank, but the pass was off the mark and rolled out of touch. While Smith took his time returning to the back-line, U.S. defender Sheanon Williams quickly threw the ball up to open striker Billy Schuler at the top of the penalty area.
Schuler held off the retreating Smith and carried into the box before sending the ball along six-yard-line to an advancing Garza who buried his shot with his first touch.
"Schuler gave me a great ball from inside the 18-yard box and I just tapped it in," Garza said. "I was in the right spot at the right time. We were really determined to win this game and I think it helped a lot to get that first goal."
Six minutes later, another Williams throw-in led to a 2-0 lead. Deep down the left sideline, Williams had his toss into the box cleared back to him. After one touch, Williams spotted McLoughlin, who had shed his marker and was about 12 yards from goal. Williams curled a pass to McLoughlin, who settled the ball and then used the outside of his right foot to place his shot into the left corner of the net.
"That's what my job is, to score goals," McLoughlin said. "That's what I came down here to do."
McLoughlin, who was suspended for the last two U.S. outings after receiving a red card in the tournament opener, had his team-leading 14th international tally.
"It was hard, but for me I just focused on Costa Rica because I knew that was my next game," McLoughlin said of his forced sabbatical. "Our team did well when I was out, but it was hard."
Costa Rica had difficulty mounting an attack in the opening 45 minute, but gained momentum in the second half as the Americans seemed to tire, the result of four matches in seven days. Costa Rica had a bye Friday and had not played since Wednesday.
"No question, this is unbelievably difficult, both from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint," Hackworth said of the compressed schedule.
In the 55th minute, the Ticos narrowed their deficit to 2-1. U.S. midfielder Daniel Wenzel had won a ball in the middle of the field and tried to break Schuler free with a lead pass. Instead, Costa Rica goalkeeper Leonel Moreira came off his line to slide in and snatch the ball. His subsequent punt soared over the heads of American backs Mykell Bates and Thomas Meyer, allowing Ticos reserve midfielder Marcos Urena to run onto the bouncing ball and chip it over the head of goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who was moving forward.
"The goalkeeper took the punt and we let it drop," MacMath said. "It kept taking bounces and I didn't know if I should come out or stay, and I kind of got caught in the middle. He did a good job to finish as I came out and tried to be big. He just looped it as high as he could to score."
Urena, who entered in the 30th minute, gave the Americans fits. In the 60th minute, he collected a ball on the left flank, cut inside and unleashed a blast that sailed over the crossbar by inches. A short time later, Urena headed a Bruno Castro corner kick toward the left post, but U.S. midfielder Alex Nimo cleared it away.
McLoughlin had a couple chances to put the game away, but missed from close range. In the 75th minute, he was the recipient of a long ball in the box, but Moreira parried his shot away. Ten minutes later, a cross unexpectedly went over the heads of Schuler and two defenders, but McLoughlin's touch failed him and he shot right at Moreira from six yards away.
Notes: The Under-17 World Cup draw will be held May 17 in South Korea. Nineteen of the 24 entrants have been determined. Along with the five CONCACAF participants, the other qualifiers are host South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, Japan, Nigeria, New Zealand, North Korea, Peru, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo and Tunisia.
United States 2, Costa Rica 1
Lineups: United States - Zach MacMath, Sheanon Williams (Howard Turk 75), Mykell Bates (captain), Thomas Meyer, Brandon Zimmerman, Alex Nimo, Jared Jeffrey, Daniel Wenzel, Gregory Garza (Nicholas Millington 71), Ellis McLoughlin, Billy Schuler (Brek Shea 89). Costa Rica - Leonel Moreira, Jordan Smith, Roy Smith, Erick Rojas, Rodrigo Herra (Marcos Urena,30), Daniel Varela (Bruno Castro 50), Esteban Luna, Miguel Brenes (Julio Ibarra 76), Oviedo Bryan, Jorge Castro, David Guzman.
United States - Garza (Schuler) 13.
United States - McLoughlin (Williams) 19.
Costa Rica - Urena (Moreira) 55.
Shots: United States 5, Costa Rica 8.
Shots on goal: United States 3, Costa Rica 3.
Saves: United States 2, Costa Rica 1.
Fouls: United States 15, Costa Rica 18.
Corner kicks: United States 5, Costa Rica 9.
Offside: United States 3, Costa Rica 2.
Yellow card cautions: Costa Rica - Urena 39, Castro 39.
Referee: Elmer Bonilla (El Salvador).
Assistant referees: Hiran Perez (Cuba), Dion Inniss (Guyana).
Fourth official: Luis Rodriguez (Panama).
Attendance: not reported at National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica.
Weather: Warm, 80 degrees
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