It’s amazing how fast greed can creep in once expectations are exceeded.
I imagine some fans of the US U20 team have a bitter taste in their mouth after watching their team fall to Mexico — in Mexico, mind you — in the final of the CONCACAF U20 Championship after a valiant effort, that many would see as punching above their weight. OK, maybe it was just me who left disappointed, but still. I wanted more. I wanted a victory.
Already qualified for the U20 World Cup by virtue of a 4-2 thumping of Canada in the quarterfinals, the US had a chance to assert themselves as a legitimate force with a win over Mexico. This U20 crew, not considered anywhere near the best of its kind in recent history, had a chance to bring home the first ever title in a tournament dominated by Mexico. Instead, after 120 minutes, El Tri once again stood atop the CONCACAF mountain.
The expectations for the 2013 cycles fell into an oddly specific niche. We expected the young kids donning the Stars & Stripes to qualify for the World Cup — anything less would be a failure. However, partly because of players returning to their clubs after the initial goal was reach and partly because of the assumed overall talent in the class, they were supposed to bail out as soon as possible. They weren’t listening.
Up and down performances in the first three games still resulted in a trio of wins. Maybe it was the nerves, because once there was nothing to play for but pride and maybe a trophy. A 2-0 victory over Cuba was a performance the score line did no justice to. The Cubans were far from good, but the US was dominant, showing a commitment to ball control that will surely make Jürgen Klinsmann stand up and take notice.
Even against Mexico, despite giving up a goal just three minutes after the opening kick, the US harried and frustrated the Mexicans before Benji Joya converted a penalty in the 10th minute to equal the scoreline. Eighty minutes later, the two sides remained deadlocked at a single goal a piece, partly thanks to the work of goalkeepers Cody Cropper — who continued to prove he is an absolute crazy person after Mexico finally took the lead — and, especially, Mexico’s Richard Sanchez.
It would be hard to call the United States the clear-cut better side throughout much the match, though some may say they were, but at the very least Joya and defensive midfielder duo Will Trapp and Mikey Lopez proved through their grit that the team deserved to be on the field with the U17 World Cup champions.
A Julio Gomez bicycle kick found the back of the net and took the air out of a tired US team that appeared to be playing for penalties by that point. A late penalty sealed the silver medal for the Americans and left some (again, me) wondering what could have been. By all accounts the team may have belonged on the pitch, but they hardly belonged in the game. A final in line with the two more recent Gold Cup Finals would have no one surprised or, in all honesty, disappointed. But stretching beyond expectations and getting so close to the prize that you can anticipate it? That can leave a bitter taste.