The young Americans advanced to the knockout stage of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship as Group E winners, with a Quinn Sullivan hat-trick doing the damage in their shut-out victory over Cuba.
United States 3 – 0 Cuba
Several unexpected results in group play so far saw the teams headed into the third and final game with Cuba atop the group with six points, and Mikey Varas’ U-20 squad in second, two points behind.
By the end of the 90 minutes, order was restored, with the Americans breezing past Cuba before the halftime whistle, behind a one-man show put on by the Philadelphia Union starlet.
They needed barely more than a minute to get going, gutting the Cuban defense within 75 seconds of the opening whistle.
Paxten Aaronson sprang Caden Clark into left flank with a splitting through-ball between two Cuban defenders. The Red Bull starlet worked his way into the area, before striking a sharp, low cross back towards the far post, which Sullivan slid in to put it away with his first touch.
Aaronson again triggered the team’s second goal in the eighth minute, sending Clark through the the middle. This time, the Minnesota native cut inwards before finding Alejandro Alvarado with space just outside the area. Instead of taking the quick shot, Alvarado unselfishly fed Sullivan into open space on the right, for an emphatic finish, blasted past the helpless Cuban keeper for 2-0.
The Americans kept the pressure on, and Nikolas Tsakiris nearly added a third after 35 minutes with an 18-yard shot that was clawed away by Cuban keeper Ismel Morgado.
However, their relentlessness paid off, with Sullivan again striking gold just past the 42-minute mark. Aaronson again was the catalyst, firing a long-ball from inside his own half to send Sullivan free up the right.
With only Morgado to beat, he forced his opponent to commit, before rolling his low shot from 17 yards over the line for the 3-0 halftime score.
In the 55th, Clark was close to adding one of his own, only to see his point-blank shot blocked by Morgado.
With ten minutes left, the Cubans saw their best chance go for nought, when a header by Kevin Fernández from the right went just wide, of little danger to Christopher Brady.
In the end, the 3-0 result lifted the Americans atop the group, giving them the task of defeating Nicaragua on Saturday in order to set up a likely quarterfinal date against Costa Rica, the winner of which will qualify for the 2023 World Cup.