SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Not since the days of Tony Meola and Marcelo Balboa had a U.S. Under-20 national team celebration a win over its Mexican counterparts in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship — until Monday night.
Buoyed by a first-half goal by Erik Palmer-Brown and a stout defense that limited Mexico chances to a handful, the Americans registered a 1-0 victory in the classification round at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa.
Saprissa, the venue of some embarrassing defeats by the full national side during World Cup qualifying, made the stadium a positive historical experience for the Americans.
The Americans snapped an eight-game loss streak to the Mexicans in this competition, dating back to a 3-0 first-round triumph in 1986. El Tri also had its overall unbeaten streak stopped at 20 games, losing for the first time since 2009.
A win over El Salvador on Friday would boost the USA into the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which will be held hosted by the Republic of Korea from May 20 to June 11.
Mexico faces a must-win situation against the El Salvadorans on Wednesday to clinch a berth in the tournament.
Palmer-Brown lifted the U.S. into the lead in the 29th minute. Brooks Lennon, who recorded a hat-trick in the 3-1 group-stage win over Haiti on February 21, lofted a corner kick into the penalty area that the U.S. captain headed toward the goal from the edge of the goal box. The ball deflected off Mexican defender Edson Alvarez past goalkeeper Jose Hernandez.
It was the first goal that Mexico had conceded in 317 minutes of CU 20 play, after registering clean sheets against Antigua and Barbuda (3-0), Canada (5-0) and Honduras (1-0) in Group A play.
Almost immediately after the goal, the Americans’ confidence rose as quickly the Mexicans’ dropped. In fact, El Tri struggled to find their previous form. Striker Ronaldo Cisneros, who entered the game with a tournament-high five goals, could not find rediscover his magic scoring touch as he was denied by the Americans’ alert and gritty defense.
Goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann was not severely tested as the U.S. recorded its first shutout of the competition.
As it turned out, Klinsmann’s father, former U.S. national head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, attended the match, his first appearance at a CONCACAF U-20 competition.
Incidentally, the 1986 U.S. squad qualified for the 1987 U-20 World Cup in Chile. The USA did not reach the second round, but the competition helped launch the careers of Tony Meola, Marcelo Balboa and several other players.