2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship: Caribbean teams fail to qualify for World Cup finals

We attempt to give justice to 15 days worth of CONCACAF U-20 excitement with an extensive, thorough and in-depth review of all that happened, including expert comment and opinion from our global network of corespondents…

Picture credit for this article’s featured image: Mexsport Agency.

Please note that we have naturally provided more information and research on the Caribbean teams in this review (Key Players, Quote), given that is where the website’s primary interest lies. 

Dates: 9-24 January 2015. 

Location: Jamaica (Independence Park, Montego Bay Sports Complex).

Teams: 12.

Teams qualified: Mexico, Panama, US, Honduras.

Matches played: 33.

Goals scored: 102 (3.09 per match).

GROUP A –

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Green background = Direct qualification – Blue background = Playoff qualification – Plain background = Elimination – H = Host

Team: Panama

Manager: Leonardo Pipino

Group Stage Finish: 1st (15 points – 5 wins – 0 losses – 0 draws). Achieved direct qualification by reaching final, but lost as runners-up.

Highlight:

Reaching the final. No amount of words can describe how proud we were of the Panama team after this game against eventual champions Mexico. Even though Panama had not leaked a single goal in the group stage, they faced CONCACAF’s giant in Mexico and offensively the Mexicans had scored 18 goals in five games, conceding just three. Mexico was first to strike after an error from the Panama defence that allowed Guillermo Martinez to head the ball home. Panama played like the World Cup berth was still up for grabs; they attacked Mexico until the 70th minute, Ismael Diaz with some fancy footwork was fouled inside the box and earned the penalty for Panama. Fidel Escobar scored the spot-kick and Panama celebrated what they thought was the beginning of a historical comeback. At full-time the contest still hung in the balance. Both teams had dangerous shots on goal in extra time, but the tie was not decided and penalties ensued, where Panama lost 2-4 and Mexico was crowned CONCACAF champions at U-20 level for the 13th time.

Summary:

Panama came to Jamaica with the task of reaching their fifth U-20 World Cup having achieved the regional UNCAF title months before in El Salvador. And they did it in emphatic fashion. The team initially had jitters in the first game with unknown quantity Aruba – the unfamiliar rugged pitch plus the defensive rigidness of the Aruban team made it difficult for Panama to break the deadlock. It was Panama’s most promising player, Diaz, who started what became an eventual 4-0 victory in the 19th minute, connecting with Edson Samms’ pass. The team received many critical reviews from fans and media in Panama on how they managed the game. It was perceived that they slowed down in the second half when, some argued, they should have tried for more goals.

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Panama dominated Group A, achieving maximum points and qualification to the World Cup. (pic credit: Box Score News)

To me, it was the game against the US that really proved to the fans that a ticket to New Zealand was achievable. Not only because Panama came out on top, but also due to how Panama played it tactically and aggressively without fear against a formidable team that is the US. The key moment was when US-based Francisco Narbon, the only player in the squad that plies his trade outside of Panama, picked up a hamstring injury. Panama’s coach, Leonardo Pipino, surprised many by replacing him with striker Carlos Small and not with another defensive player. And this proved to be significant as Small scored the only goal and consigned the US to their only defeat in the tournament. But how did Small and his teammates celebrate? By taking a group selfie, of course, which made big news back in Panama.

After that great win against the US, Panama faced hosts Jamaica, a team that was disappointing on home soil and needed points to get back on track. Jamaica only had one point at this stage. It took Panama 56 minutes to achieve their first goal by taking advantage of a lapse in concentration in the defence and the speed of Samms proved too much, as he slotted home. The deadly Diaz then sealed proceedings with a beauty in the remaining three minutes. Against T&T, a miscue by the Trinidad goalkeeper on a seemingly easy shot from defender Amir Murillo gave Panama the three points and cemented their first place finish in the group. Incidentally, almost two years ago at U-17 level, Panama was able to beat T&T for a U-17 World Cup ticket with an error from the same ‘keeper, Johan Welch, after an Irvin Zorrilla shot. Having overcame Guatemala in the final outing, Panama sealed both first place and automatic qualification to the World Cup in New Zealand. Diaz was again the scorer, heading in a perfect Julian Velarde cross.

A mention for Pipino, born and raised in Argentina, who showed that he was not only a good coach, but also a great motivator and strategist. He was heavily criticised because he chose a team where close to 40% of the players had little to no participation in Panama’s first division (LPF) and mostly play for the reserve teams of those clubs. Many fans were skeptical because no foreign coach had been able to qualify Panama to any U-20 World Cup before. Pipino is the first one to accomplish this feat. Finally, it is worth remembering the name Ismael Diaz. Contracted to Tauro FC,  he’s had trials with Dutch team PSV Eindhoven. Rumours are circulating that West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur are also interested in him. A huge talent indeed, but he must deliver all over again in New Zealand.

– Written by Gilberto Bernard – Panamanian Football Fanatic.

Team: United States

Manager: Tab Ramos

Group Stage Finish: 2nd (10 points – 3 wins – 1 loss – 1 draw). Won in playoffs to achieve qualification.

Highlight:

Fulham starlet Emerson Hyndman caught the eye. (pic credit: Ponsuke 3)

The pivotal, steadying presence of Fulham starlet Emerson Hyndman in central midfield, the bright wing play of Romain Gall and Tommy Thompson, the (mostly) commanding center-back partnership of Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers, the confident goalkeeping of Zack Steffen…and the knowledge that this latest crop of American U-20s did just enough to dodge another high-profile humiliation in youth World Cup qualifying.

Summary:

Aside from a few decent individual showings, the Yanks’ main takeaway from this tournament is a ticket to New Zealand, as the team’s relieved celebrations hinted at after their nervy playoff win over El Salvador. Packed with professionals, touted as the best collection of young US talent in years, coach Tab Ramos’ side arrived in Jamaica with high expectations. But they stumbled out of the gate, drawing to Guatemala in their opener and falling prey to a Panamanian ambush in group game No. 2. That result effectively doomed the US to chase a playoff place, which they eventually achieved as the team’s roster depth proved influential.
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The US had to battle hard, but they secured their ticket to New Zealand in the end. (pic credit: VAVEL USA)

But with the exception of an 8-0 romp over minnows Aruba, they labored throughout. The US struggled to cope with the tournament’s uneven field conditions, grinding out wins over Jamaica and T&T squads which were clearly inferior in terms of talent but were allowed to hang around far too long. Even in the win-or-else playoff versus El Salvador, fluidity was hard to come by. It took a set-piece header, then a sterling penalty-kick save by Steffen to keep US noses in front before Paul Arriola calmed the jitters with a deflected tally in the 68th minute. These U-20s showed more grit than glitz, which is admirable, but more or less the status quo for the US – and doesn’t quite offer the bright hope for the future that the programme’s increasingly demanding fans crave. More, much more, will be required to muster a deep run at the U-20 World Cup starting in May and ending in June.
– Written by Charles Boehm – Contributor to MLS Soccer, Soccer Wire and Soccer Fusion Net.

Team: Guatemala

Manager: Carlos Ruiz

Group Stage Finish: 3rd (10 points – 3 wins – 1 loss – 1 draw). Progressed to playoffs but lost.

Highlight:

18-year-old FC Dallas midfielder Andy Ruiz scored an absolute beauty in his country’s opener against the US. He could not have struck it sweeter.

Summary:

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Carlos Estrada opens the scoring with an exceptional bicycle kick for Guatemala in their fourth group game against Aruba. (pic credit: Mexsport Agency)

Guatemala can count themselves slightly unfortunate not to have qualified for the U-20 World Cup. They put up a good fight in group play, winning three, drawing one and losing one, and that loss was against table toppers Panama. Spurred on by their eccentric coach Carlos Ruiz, the Guatemalans were tough to beat and took their chances ruthlessly. It was clear how much the players wanted to work for each other, especially the midfield, tirelessly covering ground and putting out fires. But not only were they a well-drilled unit, Guatemala had a sprinkling of quality forward players to help unlock defences, such as Mauro Portillo, Kevin Bordon and Ruiz, a blonde-haired central midfielder with a terrific long shot. They lost out in the playoff to Honduras by just one goal, therefore missing out on the chance to feature in their first U-20 World Cup since their participation in the 2011 edition.

Team: Trinidad & Tobago (T&T)

Manager: Derek King

Group Stage Finish: 4th (4 points – 1 win – 3 losses – 1 draw)

Key Player(s): Duane Muckette, Akeem Garcia, Shannon Gomez

Former captain of the T&T U-17 and U-20 teams, in 2011 and 2013 respectively, Duane Muckette is no stranger to taking initiative and shouldering responsibility. That’s exactly what the 19-year-old did in the midfield department over the course of the Championship; showing a desire to get on the ball and create opportunities for his teammates. Muckette is naturally an attack-minded player, and he was often seen surging forward in an attempt to cause havoc in the opposition box, but he can also sit in and shield the back-line. His strike against Aruba in T&T’s second outing, which they won 5-1, was of the highest quality, as he picked up the ball on the edge of the box and unleashed a spectacular shot into the top corner. It mattered little in the context of the game, but is was a reminder of this boy’s ability and he stands a great chance of developing into an even more all-rounded player this year in the US.

University of South Florida player Duane Muckette (left) kept things ticking over in midfield. (pic credit: socawarriorsnet)

The two Garcia’s in the T&T squad are seen as precocious talents, but it was perhaps expected that Levi – who will join AZ Alkmar in the Netherlands when he turns 18 in November 2015 – would shine brighter. That was not the case, as his namesake, Akeem (unrelated), proved his worth with a string of impressive performances. A small, slight wide player with very good dribbling and technical ability, A Garcia never hid away from taking on his man and reaching the byline. His adaptability was tested in the latter stages of the competition as T&T’s leading striker, Kadeem Corbin, was sent off in the Panama game. Garcia was shifted into a striking role for the second half and he improvised well. For the final match versus the US, the W Connection representative started up front by himself and by all accounts gave the US defence problems. Best used as a left winger drifting inside or going down the outside, A Garcia displayed great versatility and maturity. He was clearly identified as a threat to block by the opposition, too, given the fact he suffered the most amount of fouls at the end of group play (14).

What was most impressive about the team skipper Shannon Gomez was his remarkable energy and commitment to the cause. A speedy and aggressive right-back, Gomez was a commanding presence from the right-hand side and wasn’t afraid to gallop forward when the chance arose. He had the stamina to push on and support right winger Aikim Andrews but also to track back and cover his central defensive partners when the opposition broke. In the dying minutes of the Soca Warriors’ 0-2 defeat to Guatemala in Kingston, many of the T&T players had gave up and their concentration levels dropped off. Not Gomez, though, he remained focused and determined throughout. Indeed, that sort of leadership probably helps explain why he is the captain after all.

Highlight:

There weren’t many highlights for T&T in truth. Putting five past Aruba, and the way in which they scored those goals, was impressive. Muckette’s was the pick of the bunch.

Quote: 

The 34-year-old manager of T&T, Derek King, thought that it was a lack of preparation which ultimately proved his team’s downfall. (pic credit: Wired 868)

“The talent is there but preparation is the main issue.” Those are the words of coach Derek King at the end of T&T’s participation in the tournament. And it’s hard to argue with him: the talent pool definitely exists, but it is the proper organisation, structure and planning that is desperately lacking for T&T. King, who made his international bow for the Soca Warriors as a defender just aged 19, continued: “We were not outplayed by any of the teams here in this tournament but when you look at their resources and what their preparation looked like it could prove to be the difference. I’m not making excuses but teams like Canada and USA have much more in their buildups to these tournaments, and we still competed with everyone including Panama which went on to qualify for the World Cup.”

Summary:

It certainly isn’t a question of ability with this T&T squad. So what prevented them from advancing out of the group and qualifying for their first U-20 World Cup in six years? There’s a combination of things. Firstly, as the coach King mentioned, the team’s failure to adequately prepare themselves for the tournament meant they lacked the match sharpness required to compete against the likes of the US, Canada and Mexico. The TTFA’s financial woes have been well-documented – a problem permeating all the age categories of the national programme – and the money factor does play a part. T&T did manage to hold a training camp in Miami in the US, which started on New Year’s Day, and play two training matches before kicking off their opener against Jamaica eight days later. However, the Ministry of Sport and the Sport Company of Trinidad & Tobago funded this trip as a way of lending a hand to the struggling TTFA. The training camp was something, but it wasn’t sufficient.

Secondly, the side’s inability to capitalize on their chances crippled them. Five of their seven goals scored in the group were put away in the Aruba game, while in the ensuing three fixtures they couldn’t convert. Often the forward players would take one too many touches, make the wrong decision or rush an attempt on goal. Highly rated St Ann’s Rangers front-man, Kadeem Corbin, notched two in the Championship but his star waned as he was sent off against Panama and as a result missed out on the opportunity to play the USA. While A Garcia stood in commendably, he isn’t a natural in that position. US-based Ricardo John featured three times, twice coming off the bench in the last 20 minutes or so, and although powerful and physical, his technical capability was limited. It could be argued that Kevon Goddard flattered to deceive and Jabari Mitchell wasn’t used enough.

And of course, you always need a bit of luck on your side to be successful at these type of tournaments. T&T enjoyed very little of it: letting a two-goal lead slip against rivals Jamaica in the opener, central defender Martieon Watson put the ball in his own net to gift Guatemala a one-goal cushion in a game they completely dominated and then, to round things off, two of their players Corbin and Akeem Humphrey got sent off against Panama which they paid the price for. They were at times their own worse enemy. There is optimism for T&T, though, with a good group of players and an intelligent coach in King, but improving the organisation and preparation is a necessity. The nucleus of the team is there for the next Championship in 2017, and if the federation can sort itself out by then, the young Soca Warriors stand a wonderful chance at making the World Cup finals.

Team: Jamaica

Manager: Theodore Whitmore

Group Stage Finish: 5th (2 points – 0 wins – 3 losses – 2 draws)

Key Player(s): Junior Flemmings, John “Luca” Leeve

19-year old-Junior Flemmings showed tenacity and a robust presence despite the adversity of not advancing to the playoffs or to the U-20 World Cup. With the early injury in the tournament to mercurial talent and DC United striker Michael Seaton, Jamaica College and Tivoli Gardens attacking midfielder Flemmings took up the mantle as leader of the team and showed his leadership ability and warm encouragement throughout the five matches.

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Junior Flemmings (right), captain of the Jamaican team, showed spirit and determination in the face of adversity. (pic credit: Mexsport Agency)

The diminutive 17-year-old from GPS Massachusetts, Luca Leeve, was one of the few glimmers of joy throughout the Championship. His technical ability both on and off the ball as well as his astute long and short range passes made local fans applaud in awe. Since he was born in 1997, he is eligible to play again for Jamaica U-20 in the 2017 edition of the tournament. Once he is fit and injury free, he will play an integral role.

Highlight: 

In the English Premier League when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge of Manchester United, people always said that stoppage time was “Fergie Time”. On the opening day of the tournament it was “Tappa Time”. Jamaica’s head coach kept on looking at his watch as Jamaica trailed bitter rivals T&T 0-2 with less than half an hour remaining. After pulling one back through Danja Smith, in the last minute of extra time in the 94th minute, Jamaica won a free-kick just outside the box. Flemmings and Cardel Benbow were arguing about who should take the kick. Flemmings said: “Benbow I got this, trust me. I will get us a draw.” Flemmings stepped up composed and placed the ball past Welch of T&T sending the National Stadium in Kingston into a frenzy. In virtually the last kick of the game, “Tappa Time” paid off and Jamaica avoided defeat against their biggest Caribbean rival.

Quote: 

The Reggae Boyz senior boss, Winfried Schaefer, doesn’t believe the current crop of U-20 players are good enough to make the step up yet. (pic credit: Aldia)

Boss of the Jamaican national team, Winfried Schaefer, gave his thoughts on the Jamaica U-20 team during the Championship: “I watch the young players in the Under-20 team and nobody can play in my senior team. These players cannot pressure those already there. They cannot. In the moment, no. Maybe in six months.” The German added: “At this level (U-20s) nobody can play better (than the seniors). But they can if the players work more – tactically and physically. These players need our help.”

Summary: 

Jamaica disappointed me in all departments. They played reasonably well in patches, however the important elements such as the final ball and the finishing was poor. They lacked the cutting edge throughout this tournament. The only times they truly looked like threatening was through set pieces such as corners or free-kicks. Losing Seaton in the first game was a big blow for the team as his physical presence and experience with the seniors would have paid dividends. He was also in a purple patch of form in the practice matches prior to the tournament scoring two goals in two games. A critical reason for the poor showing is their late start to preparation. While the likes of the United States, Mexico, Canada and Panama got their pool of players together from late 2013, Jamaica started preparation for the Championship in November which was a mere eight weeks before the tournament. In addition, Jamaica participated in the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC Games) football tournament back in November in Mexico. This was an U-22 tournament and I believe that we should have sent our U-20 team as preparation against professionals which would have given Jamaica the experience and knowledge leading into the CONCACAF Championship.

US-based striker, Michael Seaton, proved a significant loss for his side as he sustained an injury early on. (pic credit: Loop Jamaica)

Since they have missed out on the U-20 World Cup, the next step for most of these players would be to stake their claim for a place in the U-23 squad, as the 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers are expected to start later this year. Two players who were part of this squad, Benbow and Seaton, have played for the Jamaican seniors and they will be looking to be part of Jamaica’s squad for the 2015 Copa America and/or the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup as these tournaments will be used as build up for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers (2018 WCQ) which start for the Reggae Boyz in August this year. At U-20 level they are dealing with opponents who boast professional football players or budding professionals. The bulk of the Jamaican team was filled with high school players; we need to implement a system where the top high school players are placed in clubs and given an opportunity to play, to hone their skills and not be inactive between January-August until the schoolboy season starts back in September every year. Jamaica has the raw talent and has the players with guile and zest to do well. All they need is a little more organization.

– Written by Simon Preston – Football Analyst, Prime Minister Youth Awardee in Journalism in 2013 and student at the University of the West Indies majoring in Journalism.

Team: Aruba

Manager: Arent Bekhof (appointed a week before the competition began)

Group Stage Finish: 6th (1 point – 0 wins – 4 losses – 1 draw)

Key Player(s): Duncan Homoet

18-year-old attacker Duncan Homoet (centre) celebrates scoring against Grenada in Caribbean qualifying for the CONCACAF Championship. (pic credit: Mas Noticia)

Duncan Homoet, who plies his trade for SV Estrella in Aruba’s first division, netted two crucial goals in his side’s Caribbean qualifying campaign and had the distinct honour of scoring Aruba’s first ever goal at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which unfortunately transpired to be their only goal in this year’s edition. A forward with raw talent and a bit of a temper at times, as seen in the US match when he was red carded in the 85th minute.

Highlight:

The highlight of the tournament for the team would have to be in their final game against Jamaica, in which a rigid Aruban defence carved out an impressive 0-0 draw and earned their first and only point of the Championship.

Quote:

Dutchman Arent Bekhof explained: “I have 20 players with me and they need, all of them, they need experience.” He pointed out that: “Football in Aruba needs experience, so I want to use all my players in this tournament.”

Summary:

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Aruba proudly sing their national anthem before kick off. (pic credit: Angela Angela)

Making their first appearance at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, Aruba came into it as distinct under-dogs. Realistically, expectations were never to qualify from the group, but rather gain valuable experience in order to build for the future. Nevertheless, Aruba found it hard-going and were on the receiving end of some brutal scorelines. They conceded nineteen goals in their first four games, including an 0-8 hammering to the US. Humbling would be the best way to describe Aruba’s performance overall, but it’s certainly an experience that has shown their players what level the best teams in CONCACAF are currently at, and hopefully will push the players to develop as many embark on careers as seniors.

– Written by Santokie Nagulendran – Regular Contributor to The Home of Caribbean Football, Columnist for Kaieteur News and Creator of the Guyanese Football Blog.

GROUP B –

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Green background = Direct qualification – Blue background = Playoff qualification – Plain background = Elimination – H = Host

Team: Mexico

Manager: Sergio Almaguer

Group Stage Finish: 1st (13 points – 4 wins – 0 losses – 1 draw). Achieved direct qualification by reaching final, and were crowned overall champions.

Highlight:

Mexico’s elaborate celebrations during the group stage made world headlines. A particular favorite of mine was the “bicycle” celebration.

Summary:

Mexico’s success at youth level should continue in 2015 as the renewed focus of the Mexican federation on development has really hit its stride during the current decade. Wins in 2011 at U-17 level, 2012 at U-23 level and a podium finish at the U-20 World Cup in 2011 have eroded the idea that the 2005 win in Peru was nothing more than a fluke, or product of a golden generation. It will be Mexico’s responsibility to take the only youth crown they’ve yet to conquer (U-20) in New Zealand this year, and the focus on balance that manager Sergio Almaguer has put forth (previously, Mexico’s free-flowing offence left a few holes in the back) will prevent teams from planning against a set strategy that had been the norm in previous tournaments.

 

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Mexico’s path to New Zealand was never in doubt as they were crowned CONCACAF U-20 champions for the 13th time. (pic credit: FIFA)

Players like Hirving Lozano and Alejandro Diaz will continue to flourish up front regardless of whether Mexico dominates possession or not. Lozano is a crafty midfielder-cum-attacker who tore through defensive lines in Jamaica, while Diaz is equally effective heading balls in the box as he is holding up play in counter-attack situations. With a few of their players already enjoying success at professional level, it would be wise for most pundits to put Mexico in the semifinals, at least, of the U-20 World Cup later this year.

– Written by Eric Gómez – Chief Editor of FoxDeportes, Speaker on MexSoccerShow. San Diego-born, Tijuana raised.

Team: Honduras

Manager: Jorge Jimenez

Group Stage Finish: 2nd (10 points – 3 wins – 1 loss – 1 draw). Won in play-offs to achieve qualification.

 

Summary:

Los Catrachos’ game against Haiti was their tournament writ small. They were two goals up within 40 minutes, and back to all square by the 69th. A fortuitous rebound off a saved penalty fell to Bryan Rochez for a not-at-all inevitable winner. Honduras has attacking quality in their squad: 11 goals in five group stage games speak to that point. But the team was too often struggling against their own alarming defensive frailty: the goal Haiti was gifted in the 40th minute of their match-up with Los Catrachos being merely the most obvious example. It was a similar story in the team’s playoff against Guatemala. Honduras missed a penalty but still managed to put two goals past a defence that had only conceded twice in the entire tournament until that game. Then La Azul y Blanco got one back in the 74th minute, and should have had an equalizer in the 87th, when a free shot from close range clanged into Honduran goalkeeper Roberto Lopez’s foot.

Honduras is a team whose insistent attacking ability (most of their goals in this tournament weren’t pretty, but they all count) just about compensates for some serious lapses in defensive concentration and organization. Against a higher standard of opponent, as is to be expected in New Zealand, one might take Honduras’s performance against Mexico in the group stage as a guide. Los Catrachos lost that game 3-0, though they did enough to at least merit a goal. A favorable draw could see Honduras make a little headway in the U-20 World Cup. Against Cuba, once inspired goalkeeper Elier Pozo limped off with injury, Honduras piled on three goals in about 20 minutes.

But this doesn’t look like a unit capable of upsetting the best teams in New Zealand. Furthermore, their greatest strength might turn out to be the biggest problem: the team’s top scorers in Jamaica, Alberth Elis and Bryan Rochez (who scored eight of Honduras’s 13 goals between them), are both on the senior national team’s radar and if they work themselves into contention for CONCACAF Gold Cup call-ups this summer, it is hard to see them making a trip to the U-20 World Cup as well.

– Written by Austin Fido – CONCACAF and USMNT editor at OTF Soccer (otfsoccer.com). Covers New York Red Bulls for Once A Metro (onceametro.com).

Team: El Salvador

Manager: Mauricio Alfaro

Group Stage Finish: 3rd (8 points – 2 wins – 1 loss – 2 draws). Progressed to play-offs but lost.

Highlight:

Juan Barahona was the star of the side, doing it all for El Salvador as he scored three goals throughout the tournament, including a stunning free kick against Cuba.

Summary:

Adiós al Mundial para la Sub 20 de El Salvador

El Salvador couldn’t beat the US in the playoffs. (pic credit: EDH Deportes)

It might be a bit of a step back for La Azulita after making the U-20 World Cup in 2013, but there were good moments here which will inspire senior team manager Albert Roca that the fields for harvesting youth talent aren’t barren.

– Written by Jon Arnold – Editor of Goal USA and CONCACAF Columnist. Speaker on BBC 5 Live’s World Football Phone-In.

Team: Cuba

Manager: Willian Bennett

Group Stage Finish: 4th (4 points – 1 win – 3 losses – 1 draw)

Key Player(s): Frank Lopez

The left-footed Frank Lopez impressed in Caribbean qualifying and continued to do so here. (pic credit: CONCACAF)

Frank Lopez, who bagged seven goals in Caribbean qualifying, scored two goals against Canada in a must-win game that sealed a great victory – first pouncing on Nolan Wirth’s error to punish the goalkeeper, before heading in a second that eventually turned out to be the winner. A quick, intelligent striker, the future certainly looks bright for him.

Highlight:

Earning a 2-1 victory over Canada was pretty special. Two goals from Lopez had put the Cubans back into contention as they entered the final game, knowing three points against El Salvador would see them through. Unfortunately they went on to lose that 0-2, but the performance and result in the Canadian match will stay with them forever. In fact, it was a repeat of the result when the two teams met in the 2013 edition of the tournament.

Quote:

Boss Willian Bennett: “I said after the first game [heavy defeat to Mexico] that Cuba wasn’t finished, we could improve. We weren’t finished and we keep fighting.  One of the characteristics of our team is that we always keep fighting.”

Summary:

Cuban coach Willian Bennett ponders on the touchline. (pic credit: CONCACAF)

A horrendous opening game against Mexico saw the Cubans lose 9-1, in a performance which saw little fight or desire, not to forget defensive backbone. A 3-0 loss to Honduras in the following outing had seemingly eliminated Cuba as the team appeared to be struggling. However, you can never write off Cuba. A remarkable turnaround saw the team salvage a 2-2 draw against fellow Caribbean nation Haiti with a late equalizer from Yendri Torres, before the aforementioned highlight arrived. They just fell short in the end, but it was a spirited campaign from Leones del Caribe.

– Written by Santokie Nagulendran – Regular Contributor to The Home of Caribbean Football, Columnist for Kaieteur News and Creator of the Guyanese Football Blog.

Team: Canada

Manager: Rob Gale

Group Stage Finish: 5th (3 points – 1 win – 4 losses – 0 draws).

Highlight: 

Not many, but Toronto FC striker Jordan Hamilton had a stand-out opening to the tournament scoring a brace in his first 45 minutes on the pitch. Marco Bustos, who had flirted with representing Chile last year, was a rare bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign.

Summary:

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Much more was expected of the Canadian team as they endured a miserable tournament. (pic credit: @CanadaSoccerEN)

An unqualified disaster that has created an uproar in Canadian development circles. There are many that are calling for a serious review of the program and for a greater integration with the senior team on a tactical front. Rob Gale’s approach has been questioned greatly – he seemed to favour a more direct style than Canada are trying to play now – and it’s unlikely he’ll remain in the position. The bottom line is that the team was provided with ample resources and, on paper, seemed to be among the more talented. However, they played naively and failed to even remotely live up to expectations.

– Written by Duane Rollins – Editor of Canadian Soccer News, Host of Two Solitudes MLS & 5 Rings Olympic podcasts.

Team: Haiti

Manager: Jérôme Velfert

Group Stage Finish: 6th (3 points – 0 wins – 2 losses – 3 draws)

Key Player(s): Jonel Desire

The 17-year-old striker, who represents AS Mirebalais in Haiti, was his side’s star man in a rather underwhelming campaign for Les Grenadiers. He notched four goals, one of which a last-gasp penalty to salvage a point against El Salvador in the second group match and keep confidence levels intact. Desire looks to have a predatory instinct inside the box; he’s quick enough to run in behind and latch onto long balls, but he has the physical capacity to look after himself on the pitch too. He carried the Haitian attack pretty much single-handedly, barring the occasional bit of interplay with Nerlin Saint-Vil. Expect Desire to be a part of his country’s U-23 squad that competes in 2016 Olympic qualifying later this year.

Highlight:

Granted, Haiti didn’t win a game. But they did draw three times which suggests they were difficult to beat. Now it’s about turning those draws into victories, and building a clearer path for their younger players to find a way into the senior squad. There’s plenty of young talent on the French-speaking island – there always has been – but the key thing is to harness that ability into something successful in the long run.

Quote:

Analysis from Jean-Louis Raymond, writer for Haitian sports website ashaps.com: In football, especially CONCACAF, there are six categories: Untouchables, the good, the less good, average, poor and Cinderellas. Because of our gaps at the organisational level, we tremble now before the good and not so good.”

Summary:

Paris Saint-Germain defender Stephane Lambese was a member of the Haitian squad. (pic credit: Jamaica Observer)

Such was the ever-changing nature of play in the Championship, at one stage it looked as if Haiti stood the greatest chance at qualifying out of all five Caribbean teams. A draw with El Salvador was followed up by another draw, this time in an all-Caribbean affair with Cuba, and Haiti was looking solid. The turning point for them was a narrow 2-3 defeat to Honduras in the penultimate round of action in Group B, as that shattered any lingering dreams of advancing. On the face of it, Haiti probably didn’t do enough to warrant a spot in the playoffs. But they certainly didn’t deserve to finish bottom of the group.The boss, Jérôme Velfert, took a well-quipped squad to Jamaica, including five overseas-based players. Stephane Lambese of Paris Saint-Germain was picked to play right-back, while the highly rated duo of Zachary Herivaux (New England Revolution) and Derrick Jr Etienne (New York Red Bulls) also featured. That’s not to say there is a shortage of talent within the domestic-based group, either, so the quality was present. Perhaps what Haiti missed was team chemistry and familiarity. This ties in with preparation and organising some sort of camp early on, to increase levels of consistency and stability. There is definitely reason for optimism for Haiti’s younger generation, though, given their U-17 team are the defending Caribbean champions at that age level. And they’ll be participating in CONCACAF qualifiers in February, aiming for a place at the U-17 World Cup to be played later this year.

By site editor Nathan Carr, corespondents Austin Fido, Charles Boehm, Duane Rollins, Eric Gomez, Gilberto Bernard, Jon Arnold, Santokie Nagulendran and Simon Preston

—————————————

For the full list of each team’s squad, click here.

For the tournament best Xl and awards, click here.

To watch all of the tournament highlights, click here.

Thank you to all of our U-20 correspondents for their useful contributions and insight. 

A shame that no Caribbean team could qualify, but there’s always 2017, 2019 and so on. The hard work starts now.

There is loads and loads going on in Caribbean football this year, so be sure to follow it all with us on Twitter @caribbeanftbl.

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2 thoughts on “2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship: Caribbean teams fail to qualify for World Cup finals

  1. Pingback: FIFA 2015 U-20 World Cup draw is (relatively) kind to CONCACAF | OTF Soccer

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