PREVIEW: USA Faces Mexico Rematch in 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship Final

After qualifying for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India with its decisive 6-2 win against Cuba on Friday, the USA now looks for its fourth CONCACAF U-17 Championship title, and first since 2011, when it take on Mexico in Sunday’s Final. The match kicks off at Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City at 4 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on Univision Deportes Network and the CONCACAF YouTube channel. Fans can also follow along on Twitter @ussoccer_ynt.

Sunday’s match marks the ninth CONCACAF Final appearance by the U.S. and eighth for Mexico. In their first eight outright championship appearances, the USA has won the title three times (1983, 1992, 2011) and finished as runner-up five times (1987, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1996). In Mexico’s seven previous Final appearances, El Trí has won six times (1985, 1987, 1991, 1996, 2013, 2015) and placed second once (1992).

In reaching the Final, Mexico posted two wins in Classification Stage Group E, defeating Panama 1-0 and Costa Rica 6-1. Despite their 4-3 loss to the U.S. during the Group Stage, Mexico advanced in second from Group C, earning six points by defeating El Salvador (6-0) and Jamaica (5-1). The USA secured its berth in the final with wins against Honduras (3-0) and Cuba (6-2) in Classification Stage Group D.

The final draw for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India will be held July 7. The tournament will be played from Oct. 6-28 in Kochi, Goa, Navi Mumbai, New Delhi, Guwahati, and Kolkata.  The U.S. has now qualified for 16 FIFA U-17 World Cups, while Mexico is headed to their 13th.

TWO MATCHUPS IN 11 DAYS, THREE IN 252 DAYS

In their April 26 group stage clash, the USA defeated Mexico 4-3 in historic fashion. Led by captain Josh Sargent’s pair of goals, the result marked the USA’s first World Cup Qualifying victory against Mexico at the U-17 level and also ended El Tri’s 25-match unbeaten streak in CONCACAF U-17 Championship play.

The two sides met for the first time during the current cycle in last August’s Torneo de Naciones in Mexico City. After the USA and Mexico each faced Portugal and Qatar, the final group game served as the de facto championship match.

The U.S. jumped out to an early lead through Ayo Akinola in the second minute, but Mexico responded with two goals before halftime. USA defender Arturo Vasquez leveled things at 2-2 three minutes after the break. Mexico would go on to score three unanswered goals to go up 5-2 in the 79th minute. U.S. midfielder George Acosta’s 89th minute penalty kick seemed a small consolation, but then Mexico’s Alexis Gutierrez converted a minute later to close the scoring at 6-3.

“Full credit to Mexico and they are a very good team, but I think we’ve improved since then and this game at this point is very important to both teams because it sets us up for going through to the next stage,” U-17 MNT head coach John Hackworth said about the match.

USA VS. MEXICO U-17 CONCACAF CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

Prior to their group stage encounter on April 26, the U.S and Mexico had not faced each other in a U-17 World Cup qualifying game since 1996. In that final group stage matchup, the USA lost 3-1 and finished second on points to Mexico.

As reigning champions from 2015, Mexico has held the edge over the USA in U-17 FIFA World Cup qualifying (4-1-1). This year’s tournament marked the first time that the sides faced each other in the initial group phase.

NEW STADIUM, NEW SURFACE

The first 24 matches of the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship were played at Estadio Maracaná, but Sunday’s Final moves to Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama’s national stadium and the venue for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 1-1 draw in 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying on March 28.

While the venue is much bigger, the primary difference is the change in surface from the turf of Estadio Maracaná to the natural grass surface at Estadio Rommel Fernández.

LAST CHANCE FOR THE GOLDEN BOOT

After a brace against Honduras, USA forward Josh Sargent currently sits two goals behind Honduras striker Carlos Mejía, who leads all players with seven goals. The last USA player to win the tournament’s Golden Boot was Andrew Oliver whose four goals in the 2011 edition tied him with two other players for the honor.

Mexico’s Daniel López is also in the hunt for the award given to the tournament’s top goal scorer. The El Trí striker sits just one goal behind Mejía after notching two goals in Mexico’s 6-1 victory against Costa Rica.

EXPERIENCED COACHES

In his second stint leading the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team, John Hackworth is looking to guide the U-17 MNT to the World Cup for a third time as head coach. Hackworth began with the U-17 MNT by serving as an assistant to former head coach John Ellinger, helping the U.S. qualify for the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Cup. After Ellinger’s departure, Hackworth took the reins and guided the U.S. to the 2005 and 2007 World Cups as head coach before departing for other opportunities. After managing M.L.S. side Philadelphia Union, Hackworth returned to the U-17 MNT in December of 2015.

His opposite number is Mario Arteaga. A former Mexico youth international, Arteaga played with famed Liga MX club CD Guadalajara before finishing his professional career with Club León. Internationally, he represented El Trí at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, appearing in a pair of 1-1 draws with Australia and Ghana. As a manager, Arteaga took over Mexico’s U-17 program in July of 2014. Since then, he has guided the side to the title at the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, followed by an impressive fourth-place finish at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.

REACHING THE BIG STAGE

This year marks the 17th occasion that the U.S. U-17 MNT will compete in the CONCACAF Youth Tournament or Championship. The USA has won the CONCACAF U-17, formerly U-16, Championship title five times: (1983, 1992, 2001, 2003 and 2011) and finished as runner-up five times: (1987, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1996).

Since the inaugural CONCACAF U-17 Championship in 1983, El Trí has participated in 15 of 17 tournaments, claiming six titles (1985, 1987, 1991, 1996, 2013, 2015) and one runner-up finish (1992). In total, Mexico has qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 12 times.

Once qualified, Mexico has had an impressive run at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. El Trí has advanced from the group stage seven times, made the Semifinals on four occasions and won the tournament twice – the 2005 edition in Peru and 2011 at home in Mexico.

Recently Mexico finished as runners up at the 2013 competition in United Arab Emirates and fourth in the last World Cup in Chile.

TOURNAMENT FORMAT

The 2017 tournament began in a group stage, with 12 CONCACAF teams split into three four-team groups. After an initial round-robin schedule, the top two teams from each group advanced to the classification stage, featuring two groups with three teams each. In that second group stage, the top two finishers from each group (Mexico and Costa Rica, USA and Honduras) qualified for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, while the first-place teams in each group moved on to play for the tournament title.

EYES ON A FAVORABLE DRAW

Having already clinched their 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup spots, the USA and Mexico will now fight for a higher seed in the World Cup draw. Identical to the U-20 World Cup draw and the FIFA procedures, entering the draw as regional champions will provide the winning nation with more points, and a better chance of ending up in the draw’s seeded pot.

U.S. U-17 MNT ROSTER BY POSITION:

GOALKEEPERS (2): C.J. Dos Santos (Benfica; Philadelphia, Pa.), Justin Garces (Kendall SC; Miami, Fla.)

DEFENDERS (5): Christopher Gloster (New York Red Bulls; Montclair, N.J.), Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting Kansas City; Charlotte, N.C.), James Sands (New York City FC; Rye, N.Y.), Arturo Vasquez (FC Golden State; Mira Loma, Calif.), Akil Watts (IMG Academy; Fort Wayne, Ind.)

MIDFIELDERS (7): George Acosta (Weston FC; Hollywood, Fla.), Taylor Booth (Real Salt Lake AZ; Eden, Utah), Christopher Durkin (D.C. United; Glen Allen, Va.), Blaine Ferri (Solar Chelsea SC; Southlake, Texas), Christopher Goslin (Atlanta United FC; Locust Grove, Ga.), Indiana Vassilev (IMG Academy; Savannah, Ga.), Adrian Villegas (Portland Timbers; Hood River, Ore.)

FORWARDS (6): Ayomide Akinola (Toronto FC; Brampton, Ont.), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC; Powder Springs, Ga.), Zyen Jones (Atlanta United FC; Clarkston, Ga.), Bryan Reynolds, Jr. (FC Dallas; Little Elm, Texas), Joshua Sargent (Scott Gallagher Missouri; O’Fallen, Mo.) Timothy Weah (Paris Saint-Germain; Rosedale, N.Y.)

MEXICO U-17 MNT ROSTER BY POSITION:

Goalkeepers (2): Andre Alcaraz (CD Guadalajara), Cesar Lopez (CD Guadalajara)

Defenders (7): Andres Catalan (Monarcas Morelia), Alan Maeda (Santos Laguna), Luis Olivas (CD Guadalajara) Haret Ortega (Club América), Carlos Robles (Atlas), Raul Sandoval (Club Tijuana), Adrian Vazquez (Pachuca)

Midfielders (6): Luis Gamiz (Club Tijuana), Carlos Guerrero (Club León) Alexis Gutierrez (CD Guadalajara), Andres Perez (Querétaro), Victor Reyes (Monarcas Morelia), Marco Ruiz (Atlas)

Forwards (5): Alfonso Alvarado (Monterrey), Roberto De La Rosa (Pachuca), Cesar Huerta (CD Guadalajara), Daniel Lopez (Club Tijuana), Jairo Torres (Atlas)