Photo courtesy Victor Straffon / Straffon Images
After a Man of the Match performance in the United States U20s’ 1-0 victory against Mexico on Monday evening at the 2017 CONCACAF U20 Championship, which put the side on the verge of qualification to the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup, Sporting Kansas City’s Erik Palmer-Brown wore a tired smile.
“Man, I left it all out on the field,” the U.S. captain told the U.S. Soccer YouTube channel. “I was so happy, but so exhausted. Our biggest thing was to leave everything out on the field, 90 minutes, an hour-and-a-half, and I think we all did that.”
That kind of effort was to be expected for the U.S. U20s to earn their first competitive victory against Mexico since 1986, and put the side in prime position to claim their first championship at the tournament. Palmer-Brown and midfield cohorts Eryk Williamson and 2016 USL Cup winner Tyler Adams laid the foundation, stifling the Mexico midfield and forcing repeated turnovers throughout the game.
The result left Palmer-Brown’s goal from Real Salt Lake forward Brooks Lennon’s corner kick just before the half-hour mark as the decisive moment in the contest, which saw the U.S. hold Mexico to only three shots overall, and none on target.
“I think what was important for us was that tactically we wanted to push them from the start of the play,” said United States Head Coach Tab Ramos. “We didn’t want them to feel comfortable at all in the game, and I thought the boys did a great job. It requires a big effort in order to not allow a team to play, and we did that today.”
While Palmer-Brown effectively locked off distribution to Mexico’s Ronaldo Cisneros, who had scored in each of El Tri’s first three games to lead the tournament with five goals, the New York Red Bulls’ Adams did his work higher up the field. Returning to the lineup after being forced out of the United States’ first game due to injury after just half-an-hour, the performance illustrated why the 18-year-old had been considered a key figure for the side entering the tournament.
The U.S. also got important contributions from fullback Marlon Fossey, who regularly pinched up the flank to earn six steals of the 31 takeaways earns by the side, while former Real Monarchs SLC loanee Justen Glad helped keep Cisneros without an official shot in the game.
With Friday’s game against El Salvador now sitting between the U.S. and a place in both the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup this May, and a place in the tournament’s final, the side appears well positioned to achieve both of its goals going into the contest.
“It felt great, but what I think felt the best was that the team just gave everything it had and didn’t really give options to Mexico to win the game,” Ramos said. “We know Mexico is always a high-scoring team, we know they always create a lot of chances, and we gave them very little – if anything at all – today, so I think the team made an incredible effort and they got the result.”