CONCACAF WU-20: Group B Preview (U-20 USWNT)

The USA’s Under-20 Women’s National Team formally kicks off its quest for the 2012 FIFA Women’s Under-20 World Cup, today, in Panama, as it takes on Guatemala. The U-20 USWNT’s other two group stage opponents, Cuba and Panama, also play today.For in-depth summaries on the U-20 USWNT’s group opponents, check out these earlier posts: Guatemala, Cuba, and Panama. And, for more on the USA’s roster, see this series of postings.

The USA are a combined (14-0-1, W-L-T) in Women’s U-20/U-19 CONCACAF Championship group play, and there is no reason not to expect the USA to continue its winning way this year, especially without Mexico or Canada in its group.  Since 2006 (when the tournament switched to U-20), the USA have averaged 4.6 goals per match while only allow 2 goals over 9 matches.

Guatemala is back in this championship for the second time. Their 2010 debut in this tournament was respectable as they won 2-1 over Cuba,  and lost 3-0 to Costa Rica, and lost 3-1 to Canada. (Costa Rica has advanced out of its group in all four of its previous appearances in this championship. And, this go-around Guatemala beat Costa Rica 3-1 to qualify for this final stage.) Several veterans of the 2010 U-20 squad are back, and most of those already have caps with Guatemala’s senior team. Offensively, the team is led by senior national team starter María Monterroso, who scored two goals during Olympic Qualifying back in January. Her father, Benjamin Monterroso, a veteran of the Guatemalan Men’s National Team, was recently (6-Feb-2012) installed as coach of this U-20 squad.

Cuba is also back in this championship for the second time, and has several senior national team players on its U-20 squad as well. Cuba’s appearance in this final stage came at the expense of semi-regular Trinidad and Tobago, who Cuba came back to tie in the last match of pre-qualifying. Cuba’s qualification journey was far from exceptional as it lost 2-0 to Jamaica and could only get a 1-1 draw with Puerto Rico.

Panama’s U-20 team features several members of its U-17 team, who have also qualified for their respective CONCACAF championship. The most notable of these is 14 year-old Marta Cox, who was named Panama’s Female Soccer Player of the Year last December. (Note: Panama does not appear to have an active senior women’s national team.)

As the USA is a virtually lock for a spot in the knock-out stage, there is essentially a three-way race for the second spot. Of the other teams, Guatemala looks to be the best, at least on paper. They do not need to win against the United States, today, but a stellar defensive effort where they keep down the USA’s scoring — and, thus limit the goal differential damage — would be a very good outcome. However, Guatemala does need results out of its last two matches. If it can win against both Panama and Cuba, then that should be enough to advance out of the group. A draw in either of those matches would most likely bring goal differential into play.

For the other match today, Cuba-Panama, it is hard to say who the better team is. Panama has home field advantage, but in an empty stadium, that does not matter as much. I expect Panama to win, but it could be a tight 2-1 affair.

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Today’s Matches: The U-20 USWNT play Panama at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Cuba and Panama kick-off at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

All matches for the tournament will be streamed live via CONCACAF TV. CONCACAF’s micro-site for the Championship has the tournament’s schedule along with very basic box scores and news articles.