The 2017 CONCACAF Men's U-17 Championship has reached its business end: six teams were eliminated in the group stage, six teams remain, and it is from those remaining six the four CONCACAF qualifiers for the U-17 World Cup will emerge.
The tournament has a week left to run: the Classification Stage kicks off on May 1, World Cup qualification will be settled by May 5, and the CONCACAF Champion will be determined in the final on May 7.
A quick catch-up on the final rounds of this year's regional U-17 Championship:
The Classification Stage sees the six remaining teams divided into two groups of three. In each group, the three teams will play each other once, draws are permitted, and the top teams in the standings at the end of the round-robin will both qualify for the U-17 World Cup.
Teams get three points for a win and one point for a draw. Tiebreakers are head-to-head results, followed by overall group difference and goals scored. Lots will be drawn if teams cannot be separated in the standings.
The final will be decided over 90 minutes, or by penalty shoot-out. There will be no extra-time periods.
Groups A, B, and C were the Group Stage, so the Classification Stage gets Groups D and E.
Group D: Cuba, Honduras, USA
May 1: Cuba vs Honduras - 6:30 pm, Eastern
May 3: Honduras vs USA - 4:30 pm, Eastern
May 5: Cuba vs USA - 6:30 pm, Eastern
The second-placed teams from Groups A and B are pitched in with the winner of Group C, the USA - pre-tournament co-favorite for the CONCACAF U-17 title and now stand-alone favorite, since it beat Mexico in the group stage. The US team has depth at every position, and the tournament's only representative of the New York Red Bulls: left-back Chris Gloster is attached to the RBNY Academy.
Honduras has shown itself to be a relentlessly attacking side in this tournament, with speed on the counter and an in-form scorer in Carlos Mejia. None of that helped Los Catrachos against Panama in the group stage, when they lost 4-2 to the Championship's home team. But that loss has proved fortunate: they look to be in the slghtly easier group of the Classification Stage.
Unfortunately for Cuba, the reason Group D looks a little easier than Group E is because Cuba is in it. The team labored over a draw with unfancied Suriname in its opening game of the group stage, shocked Canada in its next match, pulling off a 2-1 win, and then slumped to a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica. Canada can attest to the fact that Cuba has the capacity to surprise, but it will be a shock if the Cubans make the top two of this group.
Players to watch
Cuba - Danny Echeverria
It feels like the Cuban 'keeper will be very busy for the rest of his tournament.
Honduras - Carlos Mejia
Four goals in three games will attract some attention, and Mejia has created goals in this tournament too. Los Catrachos seem to have little trouble creating chances for themselves. Mejia has been their most reliable finisher to date - and if he can keep his scoring run going, chances are Honduras is playing in the U-17 World Cup later this year.
USA - Josh Sargent
The USA's captain entered this tournament as one of the brighter prospects on a talented American roster. He's since further enhanced his reputation with three goals, including a memorable one against Mexico.
Group E: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico
May 1: Costa Rica vs Panama - 9:00 pm, Eastern
May 3: Panama vs Mexico - 7:00 pm, Eastern
May 5: Costa Rica vs Mexico - 9:00 pm, Eastern
Mexico's group-stage loss to the USA is a more a testament to the strength of the American squad than any apparent weakness in that of El Tri. Mexico dominates this level of CONCACAF competition, and this year still seems likely to be distinguished only by the fact the US has emerged as a legitimate challenger for the U-17 title.
Costa Rica was the dominant team in Central American qualifying. Los Ticos struggled to subdue Canada in their opening game, but have met expectations since, qualifying for this round of the tournament with three wins in three games.
Panama is the home team and won Group A. But in its opening game it effectively won a shoot-out with Honduras, breaking a 2-2 tie in the last three minutes to win 4-2. Since then, it has scored once (but conceded none) in two games. Home advantage is not to be underestimated, but at this moment in the tournament, Los Canaleros seem to have regressed rather than progressed as they move deeper into the competition.
Players to watch
Costa Rica - Jose Rodolfo Alfaro
His goals saw Costa Rica past Canada in the team's opening game of the group stage. He plays his club soccer for Carmelita, not one of Costa Rica's heavyweight clubs, but much is expected of Alfaro: he has already made his first team debut and shares an agent with Real Madrid 'keeper Keylor Navas.
Panama - Eduardo Guerrero
Los Canaleros' top scorer in the tournament so far, with three goals in three games. And the one occasion he did not score - against Haiti - was the one occasion to date Panama has been shut out.
Mexico - Jairo Torres
CONCACAF's coverage prefers to call him Ian Torres, but whatever you choose to call him, he's a play-making and scoring talent, who found his first goals of the tournament against Mexico. Attached to Atlas, he was the first player born in this century (July 5, 2000) to appear in Liga MX - a feat he achieved last year.