2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship Review: Caribbean sides eliminated at group stages

I review the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship from a Caribbean perspective, as none of the five Caribbean sides made it out of the group phase for the second consecutive time…

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The official logo for the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. (pic credit: CONCACAF)

You can check out match highlights on CONCACAF’s official YouTube channel here. You can read my CONCACAF U-20 Championship preview here.

Name: Antigua & Barbuda

Group: A

Results: L 3-0 vs Mexico (17/02), L 4-1 vs Honduras (20/02), L 2-0 vs Canada (23/02)

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How Group A finished up with Mexico and Honduras going through. (pic credit: Soccerway)

L 3-0 vs Mexico (17/02)

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The starting line-up vs Mexico. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

The left-back Matt Hall mentioned beforehand that Antigua had devised a game plan to give Mexico a hard time, but that game plan went right out the window when Ronaldo Cisneros scored after just 120 seconds. There was little anyone could do to stop Vashami Allen’s unfortunate own goal – the ball ricocheted off him and rolled into the empty net. Poor marking led to the third goal from a corner. They were dominated by the Mexicans, who could have had a fourth if Eduardo Aguirre had converted from the spot after the referee penalised Jamarlie Stevens for handball. Their only real chance came from a free-kick in stoppage time which never materialised into anything serious. A mention for the Leicester City pair Kalis Gore and Elliot Webber who made their debut.

L 4-1 vs Honduras (20/02)

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The starting line-up vs Honduras. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

Three days later, Antigua were once again a goal down against Honduras and it came through an own goal, on this occasion from Jamarlie Stevens. His sliced clearance from a cross swung in from the left turned out to be an accurate finish. Conceding first put them on the back foot and meant they had to chase the game. The disappointing thing is that they were very much in this tie when Luther Wildin made it 2-1 in brilliant fashion, but they lapsed in concentration and conceded straight after. They really should have scored on the stroke of half-time through Denie Henry and Elliot Webber squandered a great chance a couple of minutes after the restart. Honduras made them pay.

L 2-0 vs Canada (23/02)

The starting line-up vs Canada. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

A number of changes were made to the starting line-up as the coaching staff gave some new players a go. In came Leroy Graham, Elijah Jarvis, Zayn Hakeem and Shalon Knight for Jamarlie Stevens, Benedict Bowers, Elliot Webber and Javorn Stevens. The latter three were substituted on in the second half. Antigua were keen to put in a strong performance in their final fixture against Canada, whose youth programmes are often well resourced and well organised. Allen switched off for Canada’s first goal, busy complaining to the referee about what he thought was an offside incident when play was still on. The second goal was well worked, the passing too quick for Antigua to cut out.

Who impressed? Luther Wildin / Midfielder. The Notts County academy player was one of the few bright sparks in an ultimately toothless campaign for Antigua. Played with his head up, showed good athleticism and scored a beautiful goal against Honduras. Deservedly named captain against Canada. Denie Henry / Winger. A powerful, fleet-footed winger who could have scored against Honduras with a bit more composure. Still a bit raw, but showed glimpses of promise.

Name: Haiti

Group: B

Results: W 5-1 vs St Kitts & Nevis (18/02), L 4-1 vs USA (21/02), L 3-1 vs Panama (24/02)

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How Group B finished up with Panama and the USA going through. (pic credit: Soccerway)

W 5-1 vs St Kitts & Nevis (18/02)

The starting line-up vs St Kitts & Nevis. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

Indeed, the defending Caribbean champions were widely expected to beat St Kitts & Nevis, and rather convincingly so, in their first match of this tournament. They were ruthless with their chances, leading 2-0 at half-time and able to add a further three in the second half. They played some attractive football and in truth could have even registered more goals on the day. This resounding result set them up nicely for their next fixture against the USA which promised to be a significantly harder test.

L 4-1 vs USA (21/02)

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The starting line-up vs the USA. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

There was plenty of positivity surrounding Haiti heading into this game: they convincingly put five past St Kitts & Nevis in their opener and needed three more points to clinch qualification to the final round (USA lost to Panama in their opening fixture). It had all started so well when Kenley Dede acrobatically struck Jonel Desire’s right wing cross into the bottom corner on 15 minutes. However, they massively lost their way and their discipline and ultimately paid the price. Stevenson Guillaume brought down the nippy Jon Lewis inside the penalty area and Brooks Lennon made no mistake from the spot. Then, a disastrous second half capitulation culminated in three American goals in less than 10 minutes as Haiti completely threw the game away. Goal 1 52′, Luca de la Torre. Goal 2 53′, Lennon. Goal 3 58′, Lennon. The goalkeeper Isaac Rouaud complained that he was pushed for de la Torre’s goal but the referee saw little in it. The defence was horribly unbalanced and exposed for the second, while the third was a simple rebound finish after Rouaud parried straight into Lennon’s path for him to gobble up. Later in the half, to further compound Haiti’s misery, the centre-back Emerson Georges was sent off for a nasty foul. Some fans blamed the manager at full-time for poor team selection, pointing to the fact that Louima and Damus were benched and possibly they could have made a difference to the outcome. But quite simply you cannot afford to ship three goals in less than 10 minutes in any game of football, let alone at this level.

L 3-1 vs Panama (24/02)

The starting line-up vs Panama. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

The Haitians weren’t mathematically unable to qualify for the final round, but they needed a hefty win over Panama knowing that the USA would most likely beat St Kitts & Nevis by a considerable scoreline in the match afterwards. They suffered a nightmare start in a match which was very similar to the USA three days previously. Haiti conceded a penalty when the captain Odilon Jerome – younger brother of Mechack – was adjudged to have handballed inside the area and Ricardo Avila stuck the penalty away with aplomb. Shortly after, Ivenet Noel was handed a straight red card for a reckless challenge leaving Haiti again down to 10 men, this time with many more minutes left on the clock. Desire drew his side level leading up to the break, though, running onto a clever through ball from substitute Jimmy-Shammar Sanon and finding the top corner with his weaker left foot. At half-time Haiti were drawing but needed to stay compact and disciplined with one man less. They fared okay up until 20 minutes to go when Guillaume brought down Cristian Martinez – both were contesting but the right-back did tug his opponent’s shirt which must have made up the referee’s mind. He was yellow carded. Avila stepped up to score his second of the afternoon. Five minutes later, Guillaume was handed his second yellow for needlessly diving into the back of his man. Haiti were down to nine men…could this get any worse? Yes, it could. Damus was the next player to be given an early bath just moments later when he committed an unnecessary studded challenge, leaving Haiti with eight men for the remaining 10 minutes plus stoppage time. Panama rounded off their victory with a goal at the death and were crowned Group B champions. The lack of self-discipline, focus and control on behalf of the Haitian players cost them dearly. The fouls that resulted in the red cards were needless and reckless. It’s a great shame that they capitulated the way they did in the final two games because they had the individual talent to really push for their first U-20 World Cup appearance. Perhaps their preparation could have been better as the squad didn’t leave Haiti until quite late, playing against local clubs as warm-up friendlies instead of genuinely competitive opposition which would have invariably tested them more. At the end of the day, though, you cannot expect to concede three penalties and have four players sent off across two matches and be successful.

Who impressed? Bryan Chevreuil / Midfielder. Good engine, battler in central midfield. Scored an excellent solo goal in his team’s opening win over St Kitts & Nevis, looping the ball over his marker and finding the bottom corner. Francy Pierre / Defender. The left-back played all three games and was one of Haiti’s less hot-headed defenders. Useful in an attacking capacity supporting the winger down the flank. Jonel Desire / Striker. Not always deployed up front in this tournament but still contributed two goals and an assist as a right winger. His goal scoring record at youth level is outstanding. On the verge of a transfer to MLS side Real Salt Lake after a club representative visited the Haitian camp, according to reports.

Name: St Kitts & Nevis

Group: B

Results: L 5-1 vs Haiti (18/02), L 4-0 vs Panama (21/02), L 4-1 vs USA (24/02)

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How Group B finished up with Panama and the USA going through. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

L 5-1 vs Haiti (18/02)

The starting line-up vs Haiti. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

The point was made beforehand that for St Kitts & Nevis (SKN) this Championship would be more about learning from the experience than mounting a genuine push for World Cup qualification. The players had been in training since December and were given brief training by former Panama U-20 coach, Gary Stempel, leading up to kick off. But they were always going to find it hard to truly compete in this group. They were heavily beaten by Haiti, spending considerable portions of the match without the ball. Javier Sutton did provide a highlight in the loss, scoring to make it 3-1 before the team let in two late goals.

L 4-0 vs Panama (21/02)

The starting line-up vs Panama. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

I think conceding just before and after half-time hurt SKN psychologically and they were never able to recover. Goalkeeper Akimba Francis endured a bad day at the office, letting in Andres Andrade’s opener rather too easily and then he was rounded by Leandro Avila for the second. The final two were a penalty and a long range curler, both from Ricardo Avila. Panama exuded control and the majority of their players are playing with clubs in the Liga Panamena de Futbol, the number one league in Panama. The majority of SKN players, on the other hand, are based at domestic clubs which are simply not on the same level. You could see the difference.

L 4-1 vs USA (24/02)

The starting line-up vs the USA. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

This tie was all over by half-time as the USA meant business in the first half, knowing that they had to win comfortably to ensure their place in the next round. Substitute Romario Martin, who plays his club football with Solihull Moors in the English non-league, recorded a consolation goal for SKN in the second 45, pouncing on an error from the goalkeeper. Former SKN captain Atiba Harris watched all three games and believes, despite the unfavourable results, there is hope for the future. “You could definitely see that the talent is there,” he said. “However, we still have a long way to go as our players lacked the tactical awareness and decision making. I honestly thought that the players did their best given the type of preparation they had leading up to the tournament and playing against countries that were a bit more advanced than SKN in terms of youth development and football history.”

Who impressed? Tahir Hanley / Striker. He’s a player who was earmarked as one to watch before the tournament kicked off. Started up front in all three games, didn’t enjoy as much service as in qualifying but that was to be expected against stiffer opposition. Yohannes Mitchum / Midfielder. Operated in a couple of areas within midfield, in the centre and at the tip in behind the striker. He took part in the 2013 Digicel KickStart Academy in association with Chelsea FC.

Name: Trinidad & Tobago

Group: C

Results: D 1-1 vs Bermuda (19/02), L 1-0 vs Costa Rica (22/02), W 2-1 vs El Salvador (25/02)

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How Group C finished up with El Salvador and Costa Rica going through. (pic credit: Soccerway)

D 1-1 vs Bermuda (19/02)

The starting line-up vs Bermuda. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) were seeking revenge here after suffering a 2-1 defeat to Bermuda in the third place playoff in October last year. Setting up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, they took the lead in the 23rd minute through wide player Kathon St Hillaire. He made a penetrative run inside, outmuscled David Jones and finished coolly. A bit more concentration at the back might have put a stop to Bermuda’s equalizer, although it was a tad unfortunate on Shane Sandy how the ball deflected off him and into a goal-scoring position for Bermuda. The midfield three with skipper Jabari Mitchell at the tip and Kierron Mason and Micah Lansiquot sitting behind seemed to work well. There were definitely positives to take for the remaining two fixtures.

L 1-0 vs Costa Rica (22/02)

The starting line-up vs Costa Rica. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

Playing the home nation is never easy and with Costa Rica losing their first match, they were always going to come out fighting in this one. Brian Williams made only one change to the starting eleven: Denzil Smith in for Montel Joseph in between the sticks. Smith picked up an injury early on, though, and was replaced by Joseph. T&T played well in the first period and could have taken the lead – Kori Cupid saw his header saved and Noah Powder had a long range effort tipped around the post. They were undone by a set-piece. Randall Leal curled in a free-kick nine minutes after the interval, leaving Joseph helpless. Nicholas Dillon went close late on but the Soca Warriors couldn’t find that elusive equalizer. Costa Rica enjoyed significantly more possession (66%) and created more chances from open play altogether.

The starting line-up vs El Salvador. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

Powder and St Hillaire were rested and Rushawn Murphy and Josh Toussaint started out wide in T&T’s usual 4-3-3 formation. T&T’s breakthrough came through Mitchell at the beginning of the second half. The captain found a pocket of space on the edge of the 18-yard box, pretended to shoot with his right, set himself up on his left and struck a sweet shot into the far corner. A lovely individual goal. But, instead of focusing as a group and keeping it tight, T&T left a wide gap open in their defence which Jose Contreras exploited to draw level. They would have the final say, though, as substitute St Hillaire latched onto a Lansiquot through ball and found the far corner. He’d only been on the field a matter of minutes and had made an immediate impact. 2-1 it finished. The win wasn’t enough to send them through to the next round, unfortunately, as Costa Rica edged Bermuda in the later game. T&T were the best performing Caribbean representatives in terms of points total (4), compared to Antigua (0), Haiti (3), St Kitts & Nevis (0) and Bermuda (1). The defence kept four clean sheets in Caribbean final round qualifying and once again demonstrated its solidity at this tournament, conceding on average a goal a game.

Who impressed? Kathon St Hillaire / Winger. Scored two goals, the first against Bermuda and the second with his first touch coming off the bench against El Salvador. Reminded me a bit of Wilfried Zaha in his style of play: long-limbed, tricky and he added productivity to his game. Kierron Mason / Midfielder. A gangly holding midfielder with good physical attributes. A decent range of passing and always made himself available to receive a pass from the defenders. Sometimes guilty of being a little clumsy on the ball. Isaiah Garcia / Defender. A speedy right-back who defended well and cut out danger at source. He played on the front foot, alert and on his toes.

Name: Bermuda

Group: C

Results: D 1-1 vs Trinidad & Tobago (19/02), L 3-1 vs El Salvador (22/02), L 2-1 vs Costa Rica (25/02)

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How Group C finished up with El Salvador and Costa Rica going through. (pic credit: Soccerway)

D 1-1 vs Trinidad & Tobago (19/02)

The starting line-up vs Trinidad & Tobago. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

Bermuda found themselves 1-0 down at half-time, although they could and should have scored at least once in the first half. The big No.9 Tevahn Tyrell missed a fantastic chance when scoreless and wide man Oneko Lowe shot over from close range at 1-0. Kyle Lightbourne made two key substitutions during the second period to swing the game in Bermuda’s favour. On came central midfielder Paul Douglas and striker Jaz Ratteray. These turned out to be inspired changes by the coaching staff as the pair played a significant part in Bermuda’s equalizer. Douglas picked out Ratteray, who made a nuisance of himself and an attempted clearance deflected off him and, perhaps a little fortuitously, dropped nicely for the oncoming Lowe to score one of the easier goals of his career. A point represented a solid start with two tough games to come.

L 3-1 vs El Salvador (22/02)

The starting line-up vs El Salvador. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

Four changes were made to the starting line-up as key players such as central defender Tazeiko Harris, Bascome, Tyrell and Jahnazae Swan were left out. Arhia Simons, Douglas, Mazhye Burchall and Knory Scott were their replacements. Two quick-fire goals midway through the second half took the match away from Bermuda, who did pull back a consolation towards the end through a sweet volley from Burchall. He flicked the ball up, swivelled and unleashed a rocket into the top corner. A memorable moment, for sure, but not enough to contribute to a Bermudian comeback.

L 2-1 vs Costa Rica (25/02)

The starting line-up vs Costa Rica. (pic credit: Lineup Builder)

The team got off to a dream start when the dangerous Lowe fired Bermuda ahead for his second goal of the tournament. A freak own goal from Tyrell on the stroke of half-time presented Costa Rica with a way back into the tie, however, and they went ahead shortly following the restart. Every Bermudian player fought so hard in the latter stages, closing balls down and chasing lost causes. They just didn’t quite have enough in their ranks to snatch an equalizer. Three competitive displays from them at this Championship would suggest there is much promise for the future.

Who impressed? Liam Evans / Midfielder, Defender. The captain was called ‘outstanding’ by his manager. Showed fight, versatility and ball-playing skills from the central defensive position. Oneko Lowe / Winger. Scored two of Bermuda’s three goals at the tournament. He was a threat on both wings with his speed and ability to create chances. A hard worker, too. Knory Scott / Forward. Started almost as a false number 9 against El Salvador and applied himself well. Low centre of gravity, close ball control and a trick or two in his locker – he produced one lovely roulette 360 turn.

Reflection

Stat attack: The five Caribbean sides accumulated a total of eight points (PTS), 16 goals scored (GS) and 39 goals conceded (GC) between them across a total of 15 games. Compare that to the 2015 edition, when the overall total was 14 points, 22 goals scored and 60 goals conceded between them across a total of 25 games. This means that on average the Caribbean fared worse this year in terms of GC (2.6 compared to 2.4) and PTS per game (0.53 compared to 0.56). They fared better in terms of GS (1.06 compared to 0.88), though.

Stat attack: Since the CONCACAF U-20 Championship has served as the region’s qualifying system for the World Cup at this age level in 1976, only Trinidad & Tobago (1991, 2009), Jamaica (2001) and Cuba (2013) have actually qualified for the World Cup itself. The number of spots awarded to CONCACAF countries was increased from 2 to 4 in 1997. So that means the Caribbean has been represented a mere 4/21 possible times in 40 years spanning from 1977 to the present year. Compare that to the number of appearances countries have made in that timeframe from North America – USA (12), Mexico (13), Canada (7) – and Central America –  Honduras (7), Costa Rica (6), Panama (5), Guatemala (1), El Salvador (1), Nicaragua (0), Belize (0).

For me, the reasoning behind the Caribbean’s underrepresentation at the youth World Cups is not because of lack of natural talent. For example, Haiti are a country full of natural footballing talent yet they’ve never qualified. I feel generally North and Central American nations excel more in the following areas:

  • Game management (knowing what decisions to make at the right times, when to go forward and attack, when to sit deeper and defend)
  • Chance conversion (self-explanatory: better tendency to capitalise on goal scoring opportunities that are created)
  • Organisation on the pitch (acknowledgment and execution of individual roles, working together as a unit, communication with each other)
  • Preparation (their national programmes ensuring several warm-up friendlies against competitive opposition leading up to the tournament, 2/3 week training camps either at home or abroad)
  • Professionalism of the player (higher proportion of players playing at professional clubs in professional leagues, receiving professional coaching on a regular basis)
  • Professionalism of the coaching staff (higher proportion of fully licenced/qualified  coaches operating at professional clubs in a professional environment)

I really do believe preparation is a very important factor. Take this year’s best-performing Caribbean representative Trinidad & Tobago, for example, who travelled to Colombia for an intense training camp to play a string of local clubs and get acclimatised to the weather conditions which lasted several weeks. Bermuda met up in Florida beforehand to play an American lower league side and drew. As mentioned earlier on in this article, Haiti’s preparation could have been much better. Same applies to Antigua and less so St Kitts & Nevis.

The Caribbean should be sending at least one country to both youth World Cups (U-17, U-20) every two years. The potential is absolutely there. It’s absolutely there.

Teams that qualified for the classification stage: Group D – USA, Mexico and El Salvador. Group E – Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama. Top two from each group will represent CONCACAF at the U-20 World Cup to be held in South Korea.

By Nathan Carr

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Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. You can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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