GUATEMALA CITY — Micah Burton's spectacular free kick and substitute Keyrol Figueroa's late strike lifted the U.S. to a 2-0 victory over Canada in semifinal play Friday at the CONCACAF Men's Under-17 Championship.
The Americans (6-0-0) controlled much of the play with Canada rarely threatening. But their inability to put the Canadians away kept things interesting until Figueroa scored in the 94th minute.
The U.S. will meet defending champion Mexico (5-0-1) in Sunday's final in a battle of unbeaten teams. The Mexicans, who have won the last four CONCACAF titles at this level, blanked Panama 5-0 in the earlier semifinal at Estadio Nacional Doroteo Guamuch Flores.
The tournament was still a success for Canada (4-2-0), with qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup secured by virtue of making the final four. Both losses came to the U.S., which won 1-0 when they met Feb. 15 in group play.
Canada, Mexico, Panama and the U.S. have joined Oceania's New Caledonia and New Zealand in qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru in November. The world championship was originally slated for 2021 but was postponed because of the pandemic.
Burton opened the scoring Friday in the 36th minute, curling a free kick from well outside the penalty box over the three-man Canadian wall and past diving goalkeeper Alexander O'Brien.
The Austin FC academy forward had won the free kick, taken down by Alessandro Biello.
Figueroa, who plays in England in the Liverpool youth system, scored on virtually the final kick of the game, tapping in a low cross that eluded O'Brien. It was his seventh goal, tying him with Mexico's Stephano Carrillo for the tournament lead.
Canadian coach Andrew Olivieri made four changes to his starting 11, including a first start for O'Brien in goal. Defender Lazar Stefanovic, like O'Brien part of the TFC academy, captained Canada.
The U.S. had more of the ball and all the scoring chances in a first half that proved to be less than challenging for U.S. goalkeeper Adam Beaudry.
The Americans threatened early with Paulo Rudisill hitting the goalpost in the second minute in a rapid-fire sequence that saw several U.S. scoring chances.
Rudisill had another chance in the 16th minute but squibbed the shot wide from a dangerous position.
O’Brien stopped Rudisill's downward header in the 60th minute. The Los Angeles Galaxy academy product had another header minutes later, this time off target, as the U.S. began to fire in crosses.
Burton shot just wide in the 72nd from an acute angle. And he came close in the 77th, sending another free kick just over the Canadian crossbar.
Figueroa had a chance earlier in stoppage time but a Canadian defender got a piece of his shot.
All but three members of the Canadian roster at the tournament come from the academies of the three Canadian MLS teams.
Canada finished second to the U.S. in Group F with a 2-1-0 record, beating Trinidad and Tobago 3-2 and Barbados 2-0 before falling to the Americans.
The three top teams in each of the four opening-round groups advanced to the knockout phase, joining Puerto Rico, qualifiers Bermuda, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic who moved directly to the round of 16 from an earlier qualifying tournament.
The Canadians downed Haiti 3-0 in round-of-16 play and Puerto Rico 3-0 in the quarterfinal. The Americans blanked the Dominican Republic 7-0 before defeating host Guatemala 5-3 in knockout play.
Mexico won the CONCACAF U-17 Championship last time out in 2019, defeating the U.S. 2-1 after extra time in the final at Bradenton, Fla. It was the Mexicans' eighth title at this age level.
Canada has been to seven of the past 18 men's U-17 World Cups, hosting the event in 1987. It has never advanced past the group stage and went 0-3-0 last time out in Brazil in 2019.
The U.S., which has qualified for a record 18 U-17 World Cups, is after its first CONCACAF U-17 title since 2011. Canada finished runner-up that year, its best finish at the CONCACAF tournament.
The Canadian team that lost 3-0 to the Americans in that 2011 final included goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, Samuel Piette, Michael Petrasso and Jay Chapman.
The U.S. improved to 11-1-0 all-time against Canada at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship. It has won 11 straight since dropping their first meeting in 1988.
The Americans won both encounters at the 2019 tournament, 3-2 in the group stage and 4-0 in the semifinals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.
The Canadian Press