Ahead of the U-20 CONCACAF Championship final, Goal.com's Noah Davis previews the game, breaking down the United States and Costa Rica's chances.
What: CONCACAF U-20 Final
When: 7 p.m., Sunday, March 15
Where: Marvin Lee Stadium; Macoya, Trinidad
With the big prize -- a trip to the U-20 World Cup in 2009 -- already won, the youth sides from the United States and Costa Rica will battle for regional bragging rights in Sunday's final. Both teams squeaked by their semifinal opponents (Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras, respectively) in penalty kicks and the match in Marvin Lee Stadium should be a tight battle between the squads that have been the class of the tournament throughout.
How They Got Here
Thomas Rongen's side started off the tournament in convincing fashion, getting goals from Peri Marosevic, Dilly Duka, and Billy Schuler in a 3-0 blowout victory over Jamaica. The team then ran into trouble against Honduras, tying 0-0, which left it needing a result against the final group play opponent, El Salvador, to advance. While La Selecta's young side fought hard, it eventually fell 2-0 to the fitter, deeper Americans, and the Red, White, and Blue won Group A and a spot in September's World Cup. In Friday's semifinals, the U.S. couldn't solve the defense of host Trinidad and Tobago, but the American wall held strong as well and PKs were needed. After his team fell behind 3-2, man of the match Brian Perk saved the T and T's next two kicks from the spot and carried the U.S. -- which still hasn't surrendered a goal -- into the finals.
The Ticos also won its group with seven points, but did so unexpectedly. An opening match 1-0 victory against pre-tournament favorite Mexico set the stage for Costa Rica's run to the top of Group B. Josue Martinez scored in the 38th minute to shock El Tri. The team followed up with a 0-0 tie with T and T, and sought a point against Canada to carry it through to the semifinal round. It did two better, as a 72nd-minute tally from Marcos Urena gave his squad the victory. On Friday, Honduras proved a worthy opponent for 120 minutes, but fell in PKs, 4-2, as the Ticos advanced to face the U.S.
Player to Watch
United States -- Gale Agbossoumonde
Before the tournament, the 17-year-old prospect replaced defender Ike Opara and Rongen told Goal.com he was there to "gain experience, help us out, and become the backbone of the next team." In reality, he's done much more, anchoring the defense alongside captain Kyle Davies and becoming one of the few players to stay on the pitch for all 390 minutes of U.S. action. He even helped on the offensive end, getting an assist in the team's first match. The center back has proved it once again that playing two years up isn't a problem, just as Dion Daniels, a director at the IMG Academies where Agbossoumonde refined his game, predicted. He'll need to continue his stellar tournament if the Americans plan to keep their clean sheet streak alive.
Costa Rica -- David Guzman
A veteran of Costa Rica's U-17 World Cup team in 2007, which placed second in its group and lost to Argentina 2-0 in the round of 16, the Deportivo Saprissa midfielder is drawing on that experience to dramatically improve his play in T and T. Guzman scored his squad's first goal against Canada and has played a large role in the three other matches. He'll be called upon to help breakdown the American defense and, unless he finds some space, it could be a long night for the Ticos.
What to Expect
Neither team has lost in its last 10 CONCACAF U-20 matches, but something will give on Sunday. Simply put, the United States has to be the pre-game favorite. The team's defense has been impenetrable and Rongen's side is the tournament's deepest. The manager has spread the minutes around and he'll have plenty of fresh bodies to choose from against Costa Rica. La Sele will challenge the Americans -- probably more so than any other side in the tournament -- but in the end, the U.S. will walk away with its first regional championship.
United States 2-1 Costa Rica
Noah Davis covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com.