Mexico's dominance over CONCACAF Men's U-17 and U-20 soccer has been challenged this year. At the 2017 CONCACAF Men's U-20 Championship, El Tri lost to the USA in the Classification stage and didn't even make the final - a remarkable event given that it had won the last three regional men's U-20 titles.
At the 2017 CONCACAF Men's U-17 Championship, Mexico was also beaten by the USA, this time in the group stage. But the draw was a little kinder to El Tri in the U-17 tournament and its loss did not mean elimination from contention for the title.
As expected, Mexico and the USA met again in the final of the CONCACAF U-17s on May 7. As expected - because we had seen these teams play each other just a couple of weeks earlier - both sides had quality scoring chances. Unexpectedly, neither converted until the 62nd minute when an uncharacteristic error from El Tri 'keeper Cesar Lopez and a very good shot from Andrew Carleton saw the USA open the scoring.
Though Mexico had chances to equalize, the game should have been beyond it reach by the final moments: Chris Goslin had a shot hit the post in the 89th minutes. But with the score still 1-0, El Tri had hoped, and a last-chance surge at the US goal paid off when Carlos Robles connected with a cross to equalize in the second minute of injury-time.
The tournament does not allow for extra-time in the final, so the game went straight to penalties after the final whistle. Akil Watts missed for the USA with the shoot-out tied at 3-3; the Mexican players made all their shots to see El Tri to the title with a 5-4 win on PKs.
Mexico has now won the last three CONCACAF Men's U-17 Championships. Or the last four in which it competed (it missed out on the 2011 edition because it was the host nation for that year's U-17 World Cup) and there was a champion named (after the 1996 tournament, which Mexico won, CONCACAF didn't name a men's U-17 champion again until 2011).
There is some excitement on the US side of the border about the recently concluded U-17 and U-20 men's championships: USA teams beat Mexico in both and won one of the titles. The 2017 Men's U-20 Championship saw the US win that tournament for the first time, and the U-17s came very close to winning their regional championship. There is suggestion the strong performances from both US teams are evidence of the progress of the nation's youth development (and, more importantly perhaps, scouting) programs.
And they might well be. But Mexico remains the gold standard: the dominant force in CONCACAF at the men's U-17 and U-20 levels. If the pattern established by the USA this year continues into future U-17 and U-20 cycles, however, mark 2017 as the turning point - the moment when it became possible to suggest there might be a consistent challenge to El Tri's youth teams in CONCACAF.