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United States U20

USMNT U-20s dominate Concacaf field and give fans hope for the future

10:28 GMT+4 22/11/2018
USMNT U20s Mexico 11212018 Concacaf
Tab Ramos' squad dominated Mexico in the Concacaf Under-20 final, capping a stellar tournament by giving U.S. fans something to be thankful for

Just one day after the U.S. national team put an end to a forgettable year with an ugly performance against Italy, it was up to a group of American teenagers to give disenchanted U.S. fans something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Eve. 

The U.S. Under-20 national team gave American fans a glimpse of the promising future the USMNT hasn’t been able to showcase in recent months, dominating Mexico in a 2-0 win on the way to a second straight Concacaf championship. 

Facing a Mexico team featuring Club America sensation Diego Lainez, the United States turned in another complete performance, with goalkeeper Brady Scott making big saves, the U.S. defense delivering another good showing and the attack creating chances with sharp passing and movement. 

The Americans didn't just win the tournament, they dominated the field, and while the team's 2017 title was special because it was the first time the United States lifted Concacaf U-20 trophy, this year's run was more impressive because of how they outclassed all comers, including Mexico, playing an exciting brand of attacking soccer that showcased the team’s technical skill and not just its athleticism. 

"Once the tournament got rolling, and the team got to become a team after the third or fourth game, I thought our chances were pretty good," U.S. coach Tab Ramos told Goal. "This is a hungry team. We never stopped for a minute to think let's hold a lead. We were trying to get more goals, that's how this team plays." 

U.S. midfielder Alex Mendez stole the show on Wednesday, capping his stellar tournament with two excellent goals and another complete performance to earn the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s top player. 

"My mentality coming into this game was this is against Mexico, it's a great rivalry, and it's a final, so what more do the players want to motivate them," Mendez told Goal. "It gives that extra cherry on top [to beat Mexico] because it's where my roots are, so beating them now means a lot to me." 

Mendez outplayed Lainez while also doing his part to keep Lainez quiet, delivering his share of hard challenges to let the Mexican team know they would be in for a long night.

It was Mendez's combination of skill and toughness that left his Mexican opponents impressed, with some of them asking him if he was Mexican. It was easy to see why he made an impression on his opponents, given how influential he was in the match. 

"I wish I could tell you I'm surprised by Alex, but I'm not," Ramos said of Mendez. "He's just an incredible soccer player. He works really hard and all the things that we see in the games we're constantly seeing in practice. I think this is the beginning for him, and I hope he has a great future in Europe."

Ramos made a handful of changes to the team that beat Honduras on Monday and the lineup he settled on rewarded him with a balanced group effort. The Americans outplayed and out-hustled the Mexicans for most of the first half, with Paxton Pomykal and Mendez combining on the opening goal before pulling off a beautiful give-and-go that led to Mendez's strike in the second half. 

Mexico did eventually start finding chances, but Scott made save after save to keep the team's fifth straight shutout and silence the largely pro-Mexico crowd in attendance. 

Scott and the U.S. defense succeeded in keeping Lainez under wraps. The Mexican speedster did find some chances but was unable to put any of them away. 

"[Lainez] is a talented player, world-class player, but our main objective was to keep our lines compact and try to keep him from getting into positions to threaten us," U.S. defender Mark McKenzie told Goal. "I think the team did a great job tonight."

The U.S. team not only completed what was arguably the most impressive tournament showing by any USMNT team in history, be it senior or youth, the U-20s also helped give American fans reason to once again feel optimistic about the future. Even with the senior team still being in limbo while awaiting the hiring of a new coach, and even after a recent run of friendlies that were far from successful. 

"I'm really happy about this one because our youth national teams have taken a beating from everybody over the last year because our senior team didn't qualify," Ramos told Goal. "I've stayed positive, saying we have good players and I think winning back-to-back championships doesn't happen by chance." 

On Wednesday, U.S. fans were treated to a buffet of bright spots, from the attractive style of attacking soccer, to Mendez's breakout performance, to Scott's big-time saves, and most satisfying of all, the latest addition to the pantheon of Dos a Cero scorelines in the USA-Mexico rivalry.