Leroux Lifts U.S. Past Mexico to Win CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Jan. 30, 2010

Story courtesy of U.S. Soccer

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala - Forward Sydney Leroux scored her tournament-leading sixth goal in the 87th minute to give the U.S. Under-20 Women's National Team a 1-0 victory against Mexico and the title at the 2010 CONCACAF U-20 Women's Championships.

Both teams had already qualified for the 2010 FIFA Women's World Cup by virtue of semifinal victories two days ago, but pride and a CONCACAF regional title were more than enough motivation to spur both countries.

In what will surely go down as Mexico's best-ever performance against the USA in a youth competition, the Americans finally broke through an organized and committed defense with less than three minutes to play in regulation and appropriately it was Leroux who bagged the game-winner.

Leroux, who was also the top scorer at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile, tallied in four out of five matches the USA played in Guatemala, with her final goal worthy of a tournament winner.

The goal originated when Leroux, stationed in midfield with her back to the goal, first-timed a long pass back into the center circle to midfielder Kristie Mewis, and then bent her run towards the Mexico penalty area. From the bottom of the center circle, Mewis slid a perfect ball on the ground in the path of the sprinting Leroux, who out-ran a Mexican defender and took one hard touch into the left side of the box. The U.S. captain then blasted her angled, left-footed shot over Mexican goalkeeper Aurora Santiago and into the roof of the net from 12 yards out. The ball was almost past Santiago before she could react.

The victory marks just the second U-20 regional title for the United States. In the 2002 CONCACAF U-19 Women's Championships, there were no semifinals or a final contested as the group winners qualified directly to the FIFA U-19 Women's World Cup which was held in Canada. In 2004 and 2008, the USA lost in the championship game of this tournament to Canada. The USA won its first CONCACAF U-20 title in 2006, defeating Canada, 3-2.

In the third-place match, Costa Rica stunned Canada, 1-0, to qualify for its first ever FIFA Women's World Cup at this level. The Ticas had their first-ever Women's World Cup experience at the 2008 U-17 WWC in New Zealand. It also marked the first time Canada has failed to qualify for a FIFA Women's World Cup at the youth level.

Both the USA and Mexico started the championship match with confidence as the Americans showed good energy and some quick ball possession that was matched by the young Tricolores, who actually out-shot the USA 11-10.

Still, Mexico had difficulty getting behind the U.S. defense led by center backs Toni Pressley and Crystal Dunn, although it did create some very dangerous chances off shots from distance. Mexico was also excellent at quickly pulling up its back line to put the U.S. attackers into offside positions and the Americans were whistled for five offside infractions on the night.

The USA had first goal scoring opportunity in the 10th minute as Mewis went on a striding run through two Mexican defenders and slipped a pass behind the defense to Leroux in the left side of the penalty box, but she shot weakly at Santiago from 16 yards out.

Mexico, which didn't threaten U.S. goalkeeper Bianca Henninger through the first third of the match, started to put on some pressure during the last 15 minutes of half, but several nice defensive plays by Dunn and Pressley kept the Mexicans away from the U.S. goal. One cross from the right side did skip dangerously through the U.S. penalty area and Henninger was forced to come out and smother a dangerous through ball. She also calmly snagged two whistling Mexican shots from way outside the box.

Mexico's most dangerous chance came in the 31st minute when Sandra Mayor won a tackle from Pressley in the USA's defensive third and raced at goal. But with Pressley on her hip, she could only fire a shot at the near post and Henninger pushed it away with a two-handed punch.

In the 35th minute, Mewis surprised Santigao with a shot from 27 yards, but the ball skipped just outside the right post past the diving `keeper. One minute later, a long free kick from Pressley found Leroux at the far post in the left side of the box, but her diving header hit the outside the of left post.

Just before halftime, a bending free kick from Narin almost fooled Santigao, but she was able to recover and knock the ball down.

At the beginning of the second half, the USA had Mexico on its heels, but the Mexicans refused to back down and early on Liliana Godoy severely tested Henninger with a dipping free kick from at least 35 yards. The U.S. goalkeeper made a great leaping save to push the ball over the top and keep the game scoreless.

Soon after, forward Zakiya Bywaters went on a slaloming dribbling run into the left side of the penalty box, but her well struck shot slammed the outside of the net.

In the 64th minute, substitute Vicki DiMartino tried to chip Santiago from deep in the left side of the penalty box, but the ball landed on top of the net.

Mexico's two chances to win the game came back-to-back in the 81st and 82nd minutes and both were created by star forward Verónica Corral. First, she timed her run perfectly to latch onto a well-weighted through ball that slipped between two U.S. defenders into the right side of the penalty area, but with Pressley charging hard, she rolled her shot from a steep angle past a yard outside the left post. Just second later, Corral fired a laser over the crossbar from 25 yards out.

Partially in an effort to dole out minutes to her entire roster, U.S. head coach Jillian Ellis gave outside back Kendall Johnson her first start and first action of the tournament, while also giving Casey Short the nod at right midfield, starting Amber Brooks at defensive midfielder and Bywaters up top with Leroux. Brooks was a monster winning balls in the air and on the ground while Bywaters created danger with her speed throughout the match. The USA's three subs - DiMartino, Teresa Noyola and Samantha Mewis (who came on in the 86th minute) all contributed off the bench.

The USA finished the tournament with 15 goals scored, by seven different players, and two allowed.

The USA will now set it sights on Germany where the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup will be contested in four cities from July 13 to Aug. 1. Ellis' squad will have a competitive preparation schedule of both domestic and international events to prepare for the tournament, which will also serve as an excellent aperitif to the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup to be held in Germany the following summer.

USA - Sydney Leroux (Kristie Mewis) 87th minute


USA: 1-Bianca Henniger; 6-Rachel Quon (8-Samantha Mewis, 83), 4-Crystal Dunn, 11-Toni Pressley, 20-Kendall Johnson (3-Vicki DiMartino, 56); 10-Casey Short (9-Teresa Noyola, 44), 5-Amber Brooks, 17-Christine Nairn, 15-Kristie Mewis; 12-Zakiya Bywaters, 19-Sydney Leroux (capt.)
Subs not used: 24-Taylor Vancil, 7-Tiffany McCarty, 13-Jenna Richmond, 16-Maya Hayes
Head Coach: Jillian Ellis

MEX: 1-Aurora Santiago; 2-Bianca Sierra, 3-Alina Garciamendez, 4-Marylin Díaz, 5-Valeria Miranda; 7-Lydia Rangel, 11-Liliana Godoy, 14-Monica Alvarado, 16-Ashley Kotero (15-Angélica Figueroa, 70); 9-Sandra Mayor, 10-Verónica Corral
Subs not used: 12-Brissa Rangel, 13-Olivia Jimenez, 8-Mirelle Arciniega, 17-Natalia Gomez-Junco, 18-Inglis Hernández, 19-Natalie Lagunas
Head Coach: Roberto Medina

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