Both Costa Rica and Mexico already knew they were heading to the 2017 U-17 World Cup before they kicked off on May 5 to decide which of them would play in the final of the CONCACAF Men's U-17 Championship.
After five minutes, the teams were tied 1-1 and threatening to put on a show. In the end, it was Mexico's show; Costa Rica was a mere spectator.
Goals in the 20th, 30th, and 40th minutes gave Mexico a 4-1 lead heading into half-time. A fifth followed in the 51st minute to quiet any thoughts of a Costa Rican comeback. The capper arrived in the 80th minute as Mexico booked its place in the final with a 6-1 win over what had looked a lot like perhaps the third-best team in the tournament.
The scale of the win sent a message: Mexico wanted to make the final and get a re-match with the USA - the only team to have beaten El Tri in this tournament.
Mexico is not accustomed to losing in CONCACAF Men's U-17 matches: the USA snapped a 25-game unbeaten streak El Tri had put together at this competition over the years. It doesn't take much to spark the Mexico-USA soccer rivalry, and now the American side of it has finally found its legs at the U-17 level (the 4-3 group stage win was the first time the USA had beaten Mexico in CONCACAF U-17 Championship play), it has perhaps renewed Mexican interest in asserting itself as the dominant men's youth national team program in the region.
For their part, the Americans have simply looked like the best team in the tournament since beating Mexico in the group stage. They signed off on the Classification Stage with a 6-2 win over Cuba that took a little more effort than they might have liked, but also saw several starters rested for the final.
The USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras will represent CONCACAF in the U-17 World Cup later this year. It is a tournament in which Mexico has fared well in the past, winning the 2011 edition (which it hosted) and making the semifinals in 2015.
The USA made the semifinals of the 1999 edition with a squad featuring Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, and the 2017 cohort looks like it might have similar ability in its ranks - at least relative to other U-17 national team squads. But the 2017 team has already done something no other USA U-17 squad has done: beaten Mexico in a CONCACAF Championship match. Next, it will try to become the first USA team to beat Mexico twice in the same CONCACAF Championship.
The final is on Sunday, May 7.