Mexico came back from a disastrous first half against the United States to get an extra time win against the favored hosts by a score of 2-1 to win their fourth straight U-17 Concacaf title. Mexico came into this game as the slight underdog and missing their best defender, Jesus Gomez, due to suspension. Mexico was able to ride out after being totally dominated in the first half, perhaps counting themselves lucky to be tied at halftime.
While Mexico never had a game where they looked as dominant as past editions (except for their third group stage match against Trinidad and Tobago), they were more consistent than in some recent youth tournaments. They showed spirit and mentality in coming back against Puerto Rico in the Round of 16 and in a tougher situation in the final against the United States.
Mexico, the United States, Haiti and Canada all got their tickets to the U17 World Cup to be held in Brazil later this year.
The first half started great for Mexico in what would not be a sign of things to come. Israel Luna went past the US defense and had a good low shot that just went wide off the left post. A couple of minutes later, Gianluca Busio, who was a nightmare for the Mexican defense, had his first good shot save by Eduardo Garcia.
The game kept being even with Luna having another shot saved by the US keeper. Then after a free kick, Mexico couldn’t clear the ball and a US player headed it back to Griffin Yow, who headed the ball in to score the 1-0 for the US.
Besides a close shot from Gio Reyna, the play was even but Mexico then tied the game when Efrain Alvarez made a great cross straight to the head of Santiago Muñoz to head in the 1-1.
The tie looked to make a more exciting match, but instead it woke up the US who started to dominate the game led by Busio. It was Busio himself who made a great shot that forced Garcia to save it straight into the post. It was only minutes later when once again Busio made a great save in the area and his shot hit the post and went out.
After Mexico made a mess off a free header in attack, they were lucky once again when it was Gio Reyna who hit the post. A mistake by the Mexican defense had left Reyna alone, but he hit his shot too hard and it bounced off the top post and out.
Reyna and Busio once again combined in the area but Busio’s shot was cleared by a defender who slid in front of keeper Garcia. The ball fell to Reyna, but his shot was saved by Garcia.
Mexico almost gifted the US a goal when a cross from Yow went through the area and defender Emilio Lara and Garcia had a miscommunication that almost ended with Lara scoring in his own net. The first half ended with Mexico very lucky to not being trailing by 2 goals as they played their worst half of the tournament.
Mexico hoped to change things in the second half, but once again it was Busio getting an opportunity through the middle that went wide.
Mexico had a little more success, and after a free kick opportunity Luis Martinez came close to scoring. Slowly Mexico had equipped themselves better in the second half and the game went back to being as even as prior to Busio’s breakout. After a free kick, the US failed to clear the ball and Martinez had a great chance but his kick went wide.
Ricardo Pepi came close to scoring off a corner kick when Garcia was beaten and fell but no foul was called.
Athough Mexico wasn’t getting chances it was a far cry from their display in the first half. Off a corner kick, a Mexican player got his shot off and it got deflected towards a wide open Muñoz, but he was called offside (and he had already missed the rebound).
Busio had another chance but unlike the first half, his shot was weak and straight to Garcia, a sign that the game had changed.
Santiago Muñoz got subbed out for Leonardo Correa and in his first play, Correa passed the ball in the area and found Bryan Gonzalez, whose shot went past the keeper - but unfortunately it went wide of the left post and was ruled to have been deflected. Mexico had another chance when a cross went over the US defenders’ head. It was crossed back in the area to a wide open Correa but he failed to control the ball and a US defender cleared it out.
After Mexico got a free kick, the ball was sent to the area and it bounced all the way to Israel Luna, who headed it to the crossbar. The ball bounced into the path of Victor Guzman, whose header went close but over the bar.
In the final minute of the second half, Mexico had a great counter opportunity as there was a three-on-two opportunity, but Bryan Gonzalez (who didn’t have a good 90 minutes but turned it up in extra time) ran straight to a defender. The second half whistle blew, and it was Mexico who finished the second half as the better team.
In extra time, Mexico improved a lot as the US wilted, although it wasn’t as clearly dominant as the first half was for the US. Extra time started with the US looking to improve from their second half and doing just that. Busio had another opportunity in the area, but his shot was blocked.
Mexico had their first great opportunity when a ball was sent to the area for Correa, who couldn’t control the ball but was still able to hold on to it and pass it to Jose Ruiz. Ruiz crossed into the area, where it was headed by Kevin Mariscal to the keeper from near range. Bryan Gonzalez then was able to get the ball in the area and get off a shot, but it went wide. Like the first 90 minutes, the US started stronger but Mexico finished better off.
The second half of extra time started with Mexico turning it on and having the better run of play, unlike the start of the first extra time. The US had a chance but it finished with a low cross that was easily handled by Garcia, who started the counter attack that would give the game to Mexico. Bryan Gonzalez made a run, and his cross went past US defender Kobe Hernandez and into the path of Israel Luna, who scored the 2-1.
With Mexico in the lead, the US had to go all out offensively, a situation that Mexico took advantage of by sitting back and countering. Ricardo Pepi made a couple of good runs, but they finished in the hands of Garcia or were cleared by a defender.
Off a counter, Mexico had a great chance for the 3-1 when a Bryan Gonzalez shot was deflected, which forced US goalkeeper Damian Las to make a save.
In the final moments, Tyler Freeman got a shot but it went to straight to Garcia in what ended up being their best chance. Mexico held for the win and their fourth straight U-17 CONCACAF title.
In addition to winning the title, Mexico also won the Golden Ball in Israel Luna, and Eduardo Garcia won the best goalkeeper award. That said, although they won the tournament, Mexico will have to analyze their performance, as they failed to impress against weaker opposition than the one they will face in Brazil.
Still, players like Luna and Bryan Gonzalez, and of course the expected stars like Efrain Alvarez and Jesus Gomez shined. Mexico, though, should work on building a more cohesive team, as they seamed at times to falter in that area, especially in their game against Puerto Rico. At the end, this team lived up to the expectations and once again took the CONCACAF crown in the age category they have been the most successful with.