It's only fitting that the two best teams throughout the U-17 CONCACAF Championship are set to meet in the finals.
The United States and Canada face off for the continental trophy on Sunday (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, ESPN Deportes and ESPN3) after running through the field. Only the Canadians’ scoreless draw with Honduras in a virtually meaningless group stage match kept the pair from a perfect record (the Americans did need extra time to beat El Salvador in the vital quarterfinal, while Canada posted an authoritative victory over Trinidad and Tobago during the same round).
The matchup pits Canada's possession-oriented game against the US' at-times unattractive but effective game (to be fair, however, the poor condition of the field at Catherine Hall Stadium has troubled the Americans.) It will be a defensive battle - Canada has yet to concede a goal, while the Stars and Stripes have given up only three - with the squad that capitalizes on one of their few chances taking the victory.
Wilmer Cabrera trotted out five new starters against El Salvador, but will have almost a full complement for the final as Fernando Pina, Kellyn Acosta, Matt Dunn, and Mario Rodriguez return from suspension. All four will figure into the starting XI, and their rested legs will benefit the Red, White, and Blue in the Jamaican heat.
But Alejandro Guido, the US's best playmaker, will miss the match after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament in the 62nd minute against the Young Boyz. The absence leaves Cabrera with a choice. Tarik Salkacic got the start in central midfield against Jamaica and was solid defensively but largely anonymous going forward.
Dillon Serna is the more offensive-minded of the duo, so the coach will look to theAcademy prospect to inject creativity in the American attack.
Andrew Oliver has emerged as the Americans’ goal-scoring star, with three goals, including game-winners against Cuba and Panama during the group stage. He also tallied an insurance goal against the hosts just nine minutes after coming into the match. His impressive pace has overwhelmed his opponents, although his decision making can improve. Still, he and Rodriguez form an imposing duo that will trouble the Canadian defense.
Sean Fleming's side has qualified for their first World Cup since 1995. Now they want more.
They play a possession style implemented by Stephen Hart, who managed the U-17s squad before taking over the senior team. They waltzed through the group stage with an 8-0 victory over Barbados and a scoreless draw with Honduras after their qualification for the elimination stage was already assured.
The Canadians easily dispatched T&T in the quarterfinal before slipping by a tough Panama squad, 1-0.
The Canadians are a disciplined squad, evidenced by their lack of cards during the tournament. Fleming started the same lineup in both elimination matches and shouldn't alter his plan against the Americans. Michael Petrasso andAcademy forward Keven Aleman lead the team with three goals apiece, although Petrasso hasn't found the net since the 56th minute of the first match.
Maxime Crepeau is working on a streak of four straight clean sheets and would like nothing more than to finish the tournament with a fifth. The team has already clinched their country's best-ever finish at the tournament but bringing home the championship would solidify their place in history.
United States: Marc Pelosi
The winger missed the first match of the tournament, but has been one of Cabrera's most disruptive offensive forces during the past three games. He's one of the few Americans who has managed to consistently maintain possession and facilitate the attack. The midfielder is opportunistic in the box, both with his finishing and his distribution. Pelosi's fingerprints will be all over the match.
Canada: Maxime Crepeau
The Americans will get their chances. The question is how the Montreal Impact goalkeeper deals with the forays. If he can make a couple saves early, the US will get discouraged and the forward line could try to do too much. (Oliver, especially, has been guilty of attempting to take too much on himself.) If Crepeau concedes early, however, it could be a difficult road back.
United States Projected Starting XI
Pina; Acosta-Fehr-Souders-Smith; Rodriguez-Dunn-Serna-Pelosi; Oliver-M. Rodriguez
Canada Projected Starting XI
Crepeau; Gasparotto, Seymour, Stanese, Alderson, Lepenna, Nanco, Petrasso, Piette, Aleman, Jalali
Canada have had a wonderful run through the tournament, but the fresh legs of the American frontline will be too much for their defenders: US 2, Canada 1.