The United States began the CONCACAF U-20 Championship with a draw against Guatemala, and a disappointing one at that. The Americans were the better team for the majority of the match and had several chances to go two, three or four goals up, but they failed to and were stunned by a late goal in the opener of the tournament that also serves as U-20 World Cup qualifying.
The U.S. didn't put on a great show in the first half as they struggled to connect from the defense to the midfield and then later, find the finishing touch. They had a huge physical advantage in defense and were never really troubled, but when they put the ball on Kellyn Acosta's foot, he was short on options. The holding midfielder couldn't transition the ball quickly as his teammates sprinted upfield and failed to check for the ball.
When the U.S. did get the ball forward, it was often slow and after Guatemala had time to set up their defense. That made it tough to break the Guatemalans down, although Tommy Thompson did his best. The San Jose Earthquakes man was fabulous and the only real bright spot for the U.S., creating chance after chance, but he also missed the best chance of the first half. He was hardly alone, though, as the U.S. made a habit of missing the goal in the opening 45 minutes.
The match went to halftime scoreless, although there was no doubt who the best and more talented team was. The U.S. got a second half boost when Emerson Hyndman came in and right away, he was the best player on the pitch. He helped in transition and then got forward to create chances in the final third.
Hyndman also set up the American goal. After a first half of wasted set pieces by Paul Arriola, Hyndman got the dead ball duties in the second half and he hit a great corner kick that found Carter-Vickers at the back post. The big centerback leaped and he looked the part of the son of a former professional basketball player. Carter-Vickers skied, then headed the ball back across the goal and into the side netting for the winning goal.
The Americans continued to push after they got their goal and dominated play. Guatemala couldn't keep the ball, let alone create chances, but the U.S. still lacked cohesion when looking for the final ball and sloppy when the ball did get into the box. They took too many touches, were slow to shoot and fired wide too often, allowing Guatemala to stick around.
In the 90th minute, Guatemala finally got themselves a chance on a corner kick and while the U.S. cleared it initially, the ball only went 20 yards out, where Andy Ruiz was waiting. There, the FC Dallas academy player hit the ball on the full volley, ripping a shot into the corner that left Zack Steffen no chance and earned Guatemala a win.
Tab Ramos won't be especially thrilled by the Americans' opening match as they were far from sharp and should have put the match away long before Ruiz's incredible goal. But they still showed flashes of what could be and still controlled the entire match so all wasn't lost. Now they turn their attention to Panama for their next match, which may be their toughest of the group stage, and one they need to win after drawing Guatemala.
If the U.S. wins Group A, they qualify for the U-20 World Cup and play for the CONCACAF title. If they finish second or third in the group, they will go to a playoff for a spot in the World Cup.