[CONCACAF UNDER-20 CHAMPIONSHIP]The USA qualified for the 2013 Under-20 World Cup with a 4-2 win over Canada in the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Under-20 Championship Tuesday night in Puebla, Mexico.
The Americans came back from a goal down with four goals in 25 minutes -- two from Jose Villarreal and one each from Luis Gil and Wil Trapp -- to dispose of the Canadians.
The win qualified the USA for the U-20 World Cup finals for the 13th time. This year's tournament will take place from June 21-July 13 in Turkey.
"I have to give the players so much credit for today," said U.S. coach Tab Ramos, who will return to the Under-20 World Cup 30 years after he played in the finals himself. "Not only are they playing a very difficult game that has a lot of pressure, but at the same time they found themselves behind. I enjoyed seeing the satisfaction on the players' faces when they accomplished something big. I'm glad to be a part of today's result."
Two unconvincing wins left in doubt the capacity of the Americans to handle a pressure-packed match like Tuesday's quarterfinal.
The game's start did nothing to change that notion as Ben Fisk burned Boyd Okwuonu only for U.S. keeper Cody Cropper to punch away his blast in the 20th minute. But Canada went ahead five minutes later when Wil Trapp failed to close down Dylan Carreiro, allowing the Canadian midfielder to line up a shot that beat Cropper to the far post with room to spare.
But the U.S. reaction was almost immediate as Daniel Cuevas, the star of the 2-1 win over Haiti, found Gil in the area, and the Real Salt Lake midfielder eluded Daniel Stanese and slotted the ball past goalie Maxime Crepeau.
The turning point came in the 33rd minute when Canadian defender Doniel Henry, who plays for Toronto FC, was injured and had to leave the game. His replacement, Manjrekar James, and Stanese were no match in the middle against the U.S. attack.
In the 40th minute, the USA went ahead when Juan Pablo Ocegueda found Mario Rodriguez on the left wing, and Rodriguez blew past James and fed Villarreal, who had broken in alone from the right side and easily beat Crepeau. And right before halftime, the USA made it 3-1 when Crepeau could only punch Gil's corner kick to Trapp outside the area and the Columbus Crew rookie's volley deflected off Mauro Eustaquio and caromed past the helpless Crepeau.
To start the second half, the USA toyed with the Canadians, stringing nine passes together before Villarreal slotted the ball past Crepeau for a 4-1 lead. The USA lost the ball on the counterattack, but Cuevas won the ball to start a sequence that went Cuevas to Ocegueda to Trapp to Gil to Villarreal to Gil to Villarreal to Benji Joya and back to Villarreal.
But Ramos' boys have never made things easy for themselves, and Samuel Piette -- like Henry a holdover from Canada's 2012 U-23 team -- reduced the margin to 4-2 with a half-volley from 25 yards in the 64th minute.
Both teams later had chances, but the closest either team came in stoppage time when U.S. sub Danny Garcia hit the crossbar. Canada finished with nine players on the field after Jon Dollery had to be helped from the field after taking a ball to his face and James was red-carded for head-butting Joya.
WHAT'S NEXT.The USA will face Cuba, winner of Tuesday's other quarterfinal with a well-deserved 2-1 victory over Costa Rica, on Friday in the semifinals (TV: Fox Soccer, Univision Deportes, 6 p.m. ET) and then play in one of Sunday's placement games.
Four players won't be staying in Puebla. Gil will rejoin Real Salt Lake for its MLS opener, while Cropper, captain Caleb Stanko and Jerome Kiesewetter will return to their European clubs. Midfielder Mikey Lopez, who played well against Costa Rica but picked up his second yellow card of the tournament and was consequently suspended for Tuesday's match, will be available for selection against Cuba.
The two games, which mean nothing except regional pride, will give Ramos a chance to further evaluate his players before the Under-20 World Cup.
Several candidates for the Under-20 World Cup team were unavailable because of club commitments (John Anthony Brooks) or injuries (Walker Zimmerman, Omar Salgado and Victor Pineda). Ramos will need to evaluate his options at right back and perhaps consider DeAndre Yedlin, who had a strong preseason campaign for the Seattle Sounders. Broken legs will rob the USA of two sure-fire starters: Birmingham City's Will Packwood and Liverpool U-21 Marc Pelosi.
Feb. 26 in Puebla
USA 4 Canada 2.Goals: Gil 29, Villarreal 40, 54, Trapp 45; Carreiro 23, Piette 64.
USA --Cropper, Okwuonu, Ocegueda, Stanko, O'Neill; Trapp, Joya; Gil (Garcia 74), Cuevas, Rodriguez (Allen 90); Villarreal (Serna 84).
Canada --Crepeau; Dollery, Henry (James 33), Stanese, Lapenna; Eustaquio (Vukovic 76); Piette, Riggi (Aleman 46), Fisk, Carreiro; Clarke.
Referee: Javier Santos (Puerto Rico).