The Group Stage of the 2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship is over, taking with it 28 of the 34 teams that started the tournament.
Yes, there were a lot of mismatches. Yes, there wasn’t much to challenge pre-tournament expectations: the winner of each group was the top seeded team in every case. But the decision to open up the regional men’s U-20 championship to every member association in the region able to send a team to play gave us a lot games and goals to watch, and turned the competition into a true showcase of the current crop of CONCACAF U-20 talent.
There was a lot to see and even the scouts paid to go watch the tournament will have struggled to see it all. Here then is just a small serving of some of the more memorable moments from the Group Stage:
Brothers score on the same day for different teams. Twice.
The USA called up Brandon for this tournament. Jaden got the call from Puerto Rico. Those teams were drawn into the same group and played each other in their opening game of the competition. Brandon and Jaden both started and played the full 90. The USA won 7-1. Neither Servania scored.
The game appeared to have set the tone for the tournament for both teams. In the next round of matches, the USA registered another big win - 13-0 over US Virgin Islands - and Puerto Rico suffered another heavy loss, 5-1 to Trinidad and Tobago.
But around half-time of its third game of the tournament, Puerto Rico started to find its feet - thanks in large part to the feet of Jaden Servania. His second-half brace against Suriname turned a game his team had been losing 1-0 into a 2-1 win.
A little later the dame day, Jaden’s brother Brandon picked up his first goal of the tournament - USA’s first in a 6-1 rout of Trinidad and Tobago.
The brothers apparently so enjoyed the experience of same-day goals for their respective teams that they repeated the trick in the next round of games. Jaden bagged a hat-trick in Puerto Rico’s 8-0 win over US Virgin Islands; Brandon scored the last goal of USA’s 6-0 win over St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Jaden would add two more goals to his tally for the tournament in Puerto Rico’s concluding game of the Group Stage, a 4-2 win over St Vincenta and the Grenadines. Brandon was one of several US starters rested for his team’s Group Stage finale, so the Servania simultaneous scoring streak was broken.
Erick Paniagua scores five goals in 45 minutes
It’s not often a player scores five goals in a game. Even less often that a player scores five goals before half-time. Dominican Republic’s Erick Paniagua achieved this rare feat in the first half of his team’s 12-1 win over Sint Maarten in Group C.
He’s wearing #9 for Dominican Republic in the highlights below:
Carlos Mejia - Oh My
Group C favorite Honduras got a bit of a scare from Cuba. The Cubans scored first and with more confident finishing might very easily have got three on the board against Los Catrachos. Honduras’ first-half equalizer was more than a touch fortunate and the goals that might have quietened Cuba did not appear likely to come at all - until the 84th minute.
Carlos Mejia is one of the more highly-rated prospects in CONCACAF, and he produced a go-ahead goal against Cuba that maybe helped to remind those who had forgotten that there is another exciting talent in the Honduran pipeline.
Tyreek Magee makes sure Mexico will remember his name
Jamaica made Group B more interesting than expected by standing up to CONCACAF Men’s U-20 heavyweights Mexico, forcing El Tri to accept a 2-2 draw - thereby forcing El Tri to watch its back in the concluding games of the Group Stage or risk the hard-charging Reggae Boyz winning Group B on goal difference.
The match had been going Mexico’s way: a first-half lead courtesy of a Jamaica own-goal; the lead reasserted by a penalty awarded five minutes after the Reggae Boyz equalized in the second half. Winning 2-1 with 20-odd minutes to go, Mexico seemed very likely to close out its third consecutive victory of the tournament. But Tyreek Magee’s 71st minute thunderbolt squared the game - and El Tri never quite recovered from the shock of being so emphatically pegged back.
Mexico ultimately did respond to the surprising Jamaican challenge, winning Group B on goal difference. But it might be a while before this generation of Mexican U-20 players forget Tyreek Magee’s name.
Guyana lands a punch for the underdogs
Ultimately, this wasn’t a tournament that offered many upsets in the Group Stage. The top seed won every group. The USA, Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica won every game. Mexico split points with Jamaica, but that was the only blemish on the favorites’ collective record until the very last game of the Group Stage.
There were a few matches in which the top teams were challenged or frustrated: Cuba’s spirited effort against Honduras; St Vincent and the Grenadines surprisingly kept USA scoreless for 45 minutes; Panama required two late goals to subdue St Kitts and Nevis; Haiti gave Costa Rica a lot to think about.
And there were some unexpected results in the games that didn’t feature the out-and-out favorites in each group: St Kitts and Nevis beat Canada, 2-1; Cayman Islands battled Guatemala to a 2-2 draw.
But a true upset of the established CONCACAF Men’s U-20 order didn’t come along until the last possible opportunity.
In Group F, El Salvador won the group with a game to spare, while Guyana suffered through three consecutive defeats. The very last match of the Group Stage saw the top team in Group F - El Salvador - face off against the group’s last-placed side, Guyana.
El Salvador chose to rest a number of starters for more important games ahead, seeking the double-boost letting key performers take a breather and allowing the squad’s fringe players to grab a morale-boosting win.
But Guyana had other ideas. Kelsey Benjamin had scored the first goal of his team’s preceding two games, only to watch Guyana cough up the early lead and slump to defeat against both Cayman Islands and Curacao. Not so this time around: Benjamin opened the scoring for Guyana, Jeremy Garrett added a second; El Salvador couldn’t find the net.
Guyana would have hoped for more than just one win at this tournament. But scoring the competition’s only win over a group-winner in the Group Stage: surely not a bad consolation.