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USA U-20 hangs on to 2-1 lead to beat Mexico at CONCACAF qualifiers

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Some dicey moments at the end, but overall an improved look for the US over their last game.

Japan v USA: Group D - FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 Photo by Steve Bardens-FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Starting XI: Amanda McGlynn, Naomi Girma, Kiara Pickett, Isabel Rodriguez, Karina Rodriguez, Samantha Coffey, Savannah DeMelo, Jaelin Howell, Abigail Kim, Ashley Sanchez, Sophia Smith

It was a cagey start to the last Group B game in the CONCACAF U-20 championship as the United States took on Mexico. After a narrow 2-1 win over Jamaica, the US U-20’s were looking for a more dominant display over Mexico.

The control the US was looking for took a while, though. Early attempts to press forward were very one-sided as the team looked to focus most of the action through Abigail Kim on the right side. Meanwhile, Sofia Smith and Ashley Sanchez gradually began jumping on more and more Mexico errors in the back and began looking for a definitive through ball or centering pass. Smith had a lovely chip into the box for Kim in the 21’, but Kim wasn’t able to really put her foot through it.

The breakthrough came in the 30’ off a more direct route as opposed to looking for the flank play. The midfield kept the ball off a goal kick, the forwards immediately went at the back line together, and Coffey slotted the ball in perfectly for Kim to make it 1-0.

The second goal didn’t take much time as a sharp Ashley Sanchez drew a handful of defenders, allowing Smith to take open space on the right side the US had been attempting to exploit all half long. Smith centered the ball for Sanchez as she completed her run, rounded a ballwatching defender, and finished one-time.

Sanchez and Coffey clearly got a big confidence boost from the goals, combining to exploit gaps in Mexico’s defense and create more chances before the half was over.

Viviana Villacorta came in for Savannah DeMelo to start the second half. She had a strong start, forming a partnership with Kim to control space on the right side of the field while Howell continued to dominate the space between the defense and midfield. Mexico was unable to build anything centrally for a while due to Howell.

The US made their second sub in the 65’ with Sofia Smith off for Civana Kuhlmann. Kuhlmann didn’t have quite the same penetrative ability as Smith and wasn’t as much of a presence in front of goal, but did have some good moments pulling defenders out of the central space and trying to put the ball in for teammates.

Still, as much as the United States looked to continue their control from the first half, they coughed up a goal in the 75’, just after Sanchez came out for Taryn Torres. Howell got beat by a player aiming right for the gap between Girma and Rodriguez that Howell should have been covering, and Rodriguez had an unlucky slip that gave the ball right to her mark in front of goal. Katty Martinez ate up the opportunity and scored to make it 2-1.

The US lost some cohesion after that, missing Smith and Sanchez’s smoother possession in the final third and mostly trying to fight Mexico with their solid physicality to disrupt any flow. They put a few balls into space, but in places where no white jersey could reach them. Mexico seemed to sense the opportunity for an equalizer while the US played to preserve their three points. But in the end, preserve the points they did, which puts them at the top of Group B. They will now face Group A second-place team Haiti in the semifinals on Friday, January 26.