USA’s U-20 let three points slip vs. Guatemala in group opener

The United States U-20 men’s national team and Guatemala drew 1-1 Friday evening in Kingston, Jamaica as they opened their bid for a spot in FIFA’s U-20 World Cup on the opening day of the CONCACAF Under-20 championship that will send four regional representatives to New Zealand for the FIFA finals this spring.

A 59th minute header from Cameron Carter-Vickers, a Tottenham Hotspur prospect, had the Americans headed toward three points before Jose Ruiz produced a wonder goal in the 90th minute to give Guatemala a share of the spoils. It was a disappointing start for the Americans, who dominated play for long stretches, but failed to make their advantage concrete. Guatemala, absorbing pressure all night, took full advantage of their lone opportunity and might feel that they stole a point.

Earlier, Panama strolled past Aruba 4-0 without having to shift into high gear. Ismael Diaz scored twice for the Central American youth champions. Ervin Zorilla and Edson Samm also scored for Panama, who led 3-0 at halftime and took their foot off the gas in the second. Host Jamaica met Trinidad & Tobago in the Friday night finale.

Guatemala elected to play it deep in defense, allowing the Americans lots of possession but few actual openings. The tactic worked well early, only a 12th-minute Tommy Thompson shot causing Nicholas Hagen to work in the Central Americans’ goal. The San Jose Earthquakes’ prospect, working wide on both sides of the field, brought a decent save from Hagen with his drive from the left.

The United States continued to control midfield and had space to work out wide but their deliveries didn’t find any of the target forwards. It was a case of the Americans always having space to make the safe pass, but few opportunities to play the ball into the danger areas.

The last first half American chance came in the 43rd minute when Carter-Vickers couldn’t quite reach a cross at the far post and saw his first-time effort slide wide of the post. Guatemala put almost no pressure on Zach Steffen in the U.S. goal in the opening half, content to keep their defensive shape and stifle the American attack. The SC Freiburg prospect had virtually nothing to do as a result.

USA coach Tab Ramos made a halftime move, sending on Fulham prospect Emerson Hyndman for Borussia Dortmund’s Junior Flores in a midfield swap. Although Hyndman did impress in spots, it did little to change the Americans’ approach.

HEAR US OUT

Guatemala started attractively after the interval, pressing higher up the field and starting to create some chances. In the 55th minute when Paolo Ortiz got the better of his defender to reach a cross from the left, but his shot was always going wide left and did not trouble Steffen. Their harder work to contain the Americans didn’t last, however and the United States regained midfield control and their momentum even if much of their game continued to lack the needed cutting edge.

The American breakthrough came when they won a corner on the right and Carter-Vickers rose at the far post to head back to the opposite right corner. It was no more than Ramos’ side deserved on the balance of play, Guatemala unable to deal with the set piece, but it also gave the United States a false sense of security.

Hyndman nearly made it two when he created space for himself at the top of defense and curled a drive that hooked just past the top left corner in the 75th minute, one of the few times that the Americans pressed their territorial advantage to take an actually dangerous attempt on goal.

That lack of the killer instinct came back to haunt the USA in the final minute when the FC Dallas prospect absolutely buried his drive from 22 yards into the top left corner when the Americans failed to get the ball away crisply. Although it came in just the second match of the tournament, Ruiz’ strike will be hard to beat for goal of the competition.

Group B play begins with Cuba facing Mexico (live, Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, FOX Sports Two), Honduras meeting El Salvador and Haiti playing Canada. The top two teams in each group will qualify automatically for New Zealand. The second and third place teams in each group advance to a one-game playoff for the other two CONCACAF spots in the FIFA championship.

The Americans will be back in action Sunday against Panama (live, Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2).