After some unconvincing play in group play, the US U-20 National Team put together a solid all-around performance to defeat El Salvador 2-0 and advance to the U-20 World Cup.
On a poor pitch with an opponent intent on making the game ugly, one could easily hearken back to the 'Nashville Nightmare" when El Salvador ousted the US from Olympic Qualifying in 2012 with a flukey late goal. The play was ugly for most of the 1st half, yielding very little in the way of chances.
The US broke through after a foul outside the 18 yard box late in the 1st half.
In the 37th minute from Emerson Hyndman found Ben Spencer's head in the box. Spencer's looping header pinged off the cross bar and did the favor of finding his head again from 13 yards out. He clinically speared it with pace past a helpless Carlos Canas to give the US the lead 1-0. Spencer was promptly awarded a yellow card for something and would be substituted off at the half after sustaining a good beating from the chippy Cuscatlecos Jovenes.
El Salvador had a golden chance to tie the score in the 52nd minute when they were awarded a penalty after a cross from the left struck Shaquell Moore's arm just inside the box. Jose Villavicencio struck a good penalty on frame, but Zack Steffen lurched high and to his right to expertly dispatch of the spot kick.
The US, buttressed by Steffen's heroics, soon doubled the score. In the 68th minuted after a scrum near the touchline that saw Emerson Hyndman rudely pushed to the ground (he suffered a shoulder injury and was quickly subbed off) the ball eventually fell to the feet of Junior Flores who drove down the end line. His pass to Bradley Jamieson IV led to a good shot that was parried away, but Paul Arriola (Ben Spencer's substitute) gathered the rebound and scuffed a ball that slowly slithered and caromed through the El Salvador 6 yard box and past the diving Salvadorean goalkeeper to put the US up 2-0.
El Salvador upped the pace of their cynical tactics, and it was not long before their antics were punished. Andres Flores earned a straight red in the 79th minute after trying twice to step on the heels of Junior Flores before lashing out with a swift kick to his rear. Reduced to 10 men, El Salvador were barely a rumor, and the US cruised home to victory.
After missing the finals in 2009, the Yanks earn a second consecutive trip to the U-20 final which will be the 9th of the last 10 Finals including the Yanks. Please celebrate the future of the national team in the comments.