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The sky isn't going to fall because the USA didn't qualify for the Olympics, because the Olympics just aren't that important.
The United States went into to Monday's Group A finale knowing that a win and only a win would keep their Olympic dreams alive. They had to beat El Salvador to book a spot in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament and after 94 minutes, it looked like that is just what they had done. They were up 3-2 and seconds away from getting the win they needed, but then a speculative El Salvador shot skipped off the turf, off the hands of Sean Johnson and into the goal. El Salvador had managed a tie and the Americans' Olympic dream was dead.
It took less than a minute for the U.S. to get on the front foot. Brek Shea scampered down the left, avoiding several would-be defenders before crossing. Terrence Boyd got on the end of the ball and after a nifty finish, the U.S. was up, 1-0.
Despite going up early, the U.S. never looked completely confident and they were made to pay for their struggles in the midfield when El Salvador nabbed a couple goals. The first goal came off of a corner kick, which Lester Blanco got to and nodded home. Not long after, Bill Hamid was injured so when a slow shot found its way to the back post he couldn't get off of his line to claim it. That allowed Jorge Flores to tap it in and the Americans were behind 2-0.
As time went on and the hour mark passed, it looked like the U.S. was in trouble and that's when Freddy Adu made his mark. First, he slipped a well-weighted ball in for Boyd to finish and the Americans were even. Right after that, he cleared space for himself down the right and crossed to the back post where Joe Corona came flying in with a header that found the net and the U.S. were in front.
The U.S. held that lead until the waning minutes when El Salvador got the one long shot off. It should have bothered Johnson, who came on for the injured Hamid, but when he dove, it bounced off of his gloves and high into the air. When he came down it was under the bar and over the line, the death blow to the Americans' tournament hopes.
Freddy Adu was criticized for not stepping up and creating opportunities when the United States needed him in Saturday's loss to Canada, but nobody will criticize him tonight. With the U.S. trailing El Salvador, 2-1, and in need of a win to avoid elimination, Adu created two goals to put the Americans in front and on the way to a spot in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
The first goal came off of a long boot, which Terrence Boyd did well to win. The ball eventually made its way to Adu, who spotted Boyd making a run in behind the El Salvador defense and played a perfectly weighted ball in. Boyd, who already scored earlier, was calm as could be in front of goal and slotted the ball home for the equalizer.
Right after, the U.S. found the go-ahead goal and once again, Adu was the creator. He found his way over to the right side, where he was tightly marked, but a good bit of footwork cleared enough space for him to cross. The ball floated to the back post, where Joe Corona was waiting and he nodded the ball just inside the near post.
From one down to one up, the U.S. are still alive. Even so, there are still more than 20 minutes left for the Americans to hold on.
The United States got just what they needed in the first minute of the match. Terrence Boyd scored and with the Americans needing a win to avoid elimination, all looked good. Then, in a span of just a couple minutes, El Salvador leveled thanks to Lester Blanco, and went in front, thanks to Jorge Flores. Now, El Salvador leads 2-1 in the first half and barring a U.S. comeback, will be through to the semifinals, while the U.S. stays home.
Hamid would injure his ankle not long after, but he insisted that he stay on and that came back to hurt the Americans. A weak shot rolled across the frame towards the back post where Hamid should have gathered it, but he didn't come off his line and Flores got there first. With the US. team watching, Flores poked it past Hamid and El Salvador were eying a semifinal spot.
It didn't take long for the United States to make their mark against El Salvador. Brek Shea pretty much unlocked the entire El Salvador defense single-handedly to set up the goal. Out on the left, El Salvador sent several defenders to him, but he danced through a couple then ran by one more to get to the endline, where he could cross. He spotted Terrence Boyd in front and while the cross was a bit behind him, Boyd did a fantastic job to finish it. He hot his foot behind him and redirected it on goal from close range, giving the Americans an early lead they so desperately need.
The U.S. had to be buoyed by Cuba's surprising draw against Canada that puts them top of Group A with a win tonight. That is vital because it will keep them from having to play Mexico in Saturday's semifinal, when a spot in the Olympics will be on the line. Before they can worry about that, though, they need to finish this match strong because if they do not win they are eliminated and there is no Saturday for them.
Want to know what the best part of tournaments is? The drama. Want to know what the worst part of tournaments is? The anxiety. In this case, the drama and anxiety are pretty much the same thing. Could the United States, one of the tournament favorites really crash out in the group stage and not qualify for the Olympics? For the neutrals, the drama is probably salivating, but for the U.S. fans out there, the anxiety is nauseating.
The biggest question of all is how the U.S. handles this anxiety. The players, while professionals, are not exactly the most seasoned of players. There are a lot of players in their first or second season and there are even a handful with zero first team professional appearances to their credit. The kind of pressure that they will experience tonight is unlike anything some of them have ever felt. Some players respond well to the pressure and other crumble, but what is scary for the U.S. is that they have no idea what their players will do because they have never been there before.
As much pressure as there might be on the U.S. players tonight, there is even more on head coach Caleb Porter. The University of Akron head coach is considered a rising star in the U.S. soccer ranks for the incredible job he has done with the Zips, not just winning, but also developing a slew of guys for the pros. That success earned him interest from MLS clubs in recent years, which he declined, and then this appointment as the Americans' Olympic coach, but the shine seems to have worn off of Porter in the last couple of days.
Many fans were quick to point the finger at Porter when the U.S. lost to Canada and put themselves in the precarious spot they now find themselves in. The team looked to be short of urgency and some fans blamed Porter for that. The team was unable to show a bit of creativity to break down the Canada defense, which some saw as a result of a poor tactical approach. Joe Corona came off at halftime for Joseph Gyau and the Americans only got worse, a substitution that Porter took heat for.
This is a U.S. team that was billed as one of the most talented ever. The attacking talent was unmatched by any U.S. youth team before it, the creativity in the midfield was sublime and these were all professionals. Whether any of that is true or not does and whether it is enough to make up for a shoddy defenses not matter because perception is reality. The perception was that this team could battle for a medal in the Olympics and if they don't even qualify for London then the blame will be heaped upon the easiest target -- Porter.
Right now, there aren't a lot of people in Porter's corner. That isn't to say that everybody is anti-Porter, but many are now on the fence, waiting to see how the U.S. responds. That's a far cry from just a few days ago when Porter was still the golden boy of young American coaches, but if the U.S. can't beat El Salvador, Porter will long for the days when people were on the fence because you can bet that he will be blamed. Fair or not, Porter's reputation, at least in the short-term, is on the line tonight.
It's time for the United States to either figure it out or call it a day. Beat El Salvador and go on to the semifinals, where a win qualifies for the Olympics, or lose and close up shop. That is it and there is nothing else to it at this point.
With a win absolutely necessary, head coach Caleb Porter has made a couple changes to his team. Zarek Valentin sits and Kofi Sarkodie comes in, although that's not a major change since Sarkodie did play in the Americans' first match. The bigger changes come in the midfield and up top, where Jared Jeffrey has been dropped for Amobi Okugo and Terrence Boyd is getting the nod ahead of Teal Bunbury. Again, though, neither change is a shocker considering how poor Bunbury was last match and the need to add some steel to the midfield, which Okugo does.
This is it for the United States. It is either win tonight against El Salvador and move on to a decisive match for Olympics qualification (likely against Mexico) or close up shop and head home for a summer of Olympic-less soccer.
It will be interesting to see how both teams handle the fatigue of playing their fifth match in three days. That will be especially true for the Americans, who made only two changes from their first match to their second and don't have any obvious changes to make in hopes of providing fresh legs or a change. That means that the likes of Brek Shea, Freddy Adu, Mikkel Diskerud and the rest will be leaned upon, heavy legs or not.
Just because the U.S. are getting the majority of the press because they were the favorites in Group A and lost to Canada doesn't mean that they are the only ones with someone on the line tonight. Like the U.S., if El Salvador win, they are through to the semifinals with a chance to qualify for the Olympics, but unlike the U.S., a draw also puts El Salvador through so they are in an advantageous position.
You would expect such a big match for Olympic qualification (and American LOVE their Olympics, even if it is just a U-23 competition in soccer) would justify some quality TV coverage, but instead it is being tucked away on Universal Sports Network and Mun2. For those of you lucky enough to have DirecTV, they are offering a free preview of the channel so you can watch the match on channel 625. The rest of you, pray that you get the channel
Game Date/Time: Monday, March 26, 9:00 p.m. ET
Venue: LP Field, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: Universal Sports Network (English), Mun2 (Spanish), CONCACAF.com
The United States' loss to Canada was no small blow to their chances of qualifying for the London Olympics. Now, the Americans need to beat El Salvador in their Group A finale just to get to the semifinals, where they will then almost assuredly have to beat Mexico to get a spot in London. That's not exactly the path they envisioned, but it is the only one they have now.
The list of things that went wrong for the U.S. is Canada is rather long. It could start with the inability of the team's supposed "stars" like Freddy Adu and Brek Shea to make an impact when the American attack was devoid of ingenuity. It could go on with Caleb Porter's decision to take Joe Corona off at halftime or just what appeared to be a general lack of urgency in a tournament that demands it.
More than anything, the U.S. had a gigantic problem in an area where they cannot improve -- they are thin and inexperienced in defense. There are just six defenders on the entire U.S. roster and one of those, Perry KItchen, is actually better in the midfield. Take away Jorge Villafana, who is not even a first choice starter for the U.S., and the five remaining American defenders have a combined six professional seasons under their belts. Moreover, nobody along the back line would even be considered an exceptional player.
The defense is not devoid of promising players, but they are not incredible, not particularly experienced and there aren't many of them. That's a problem and worst of all, it is not going to go away at any point this tournament. The defense is what it is and it is not changing between now and either the Americans' elimination from the tournament or their qualifying for the Olympics.
Problems or not, the U.S. has to find a way to beat El Salvador on Monday night. A loss sends them home and will keep them there for the summer while 16 other teams play in the Olympics. The defense is what it is, but Adu, Shea and maybe even Mikkel Diskerud, Joseph Gyau or Terrence Boyd can make the difference that covers for the defense. Maybe the Americans will play like their Olympic lives are on the line, because that is their reality. Their lives are on the line.
So much for Honduras providing Mexico a challenge. Sunday's Group B clash at the Home Depot Center was supposed to be a test for El Tri, but they never looked bothered, let alone tested by Honduras. Alan Pulido was fantastic, picking up a hat trick and the rest of the team was calm and comfortable to deliver Mexico a 3-0 win over Honduras.
Pulido got the Mexicans going after 12 minutes when he took a pass from Javier Aquino to get into good scoring position. From there he just needed to finish simply, which he did, hitting the ball low for the opening goal of the match.
The first goal didn't ask much of Pulido, but the second one sure did. He picked up the ball and came all the way across from the left to the center before creating enough space from 20 yards and hitting a peach of a shot into the upper corner. It was a tremendous goal and sent El Tri into the break not just up two goals, but having demoralized Honduras.
The second half was much like the first. Mexico got forward with ease and were actually a bit sloppy in the final third, but it didn't matter. Aquino crossed for Pulido just after the break, leaving the Tigres striker with a simple tap in to complete the hat trick and a nice tidy finish to an impressive afternoon for Mexico.
Honduras was supposed to provide Mexico with their first major test of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, but either Honduras isn't as good as we thought they were or Mexico are unbelievably good. El Tri showed no problems in the first 45 minutes at the Home Depot Center and got a brace from Alan Pulido to take a 2-0 lead at halftime.
Pulido opened the scoring after just 12 minutes when Javier Aquino fed the striker and left him with a relatively simple finish. All he had to do was slide the ball low past the keeper, which he did without a problem, and Mexico were in front.
Honduras wasn't completely devoid of chances, but Mexico were always comfortable. Pulido continued to cause the Honduras defense fits and Marco Fabian kept finding space to create in behind him, while the wingers were getting up without much of a problem.
Mexico's continued pressure finally resulted in their second goal, although this one was less of a team goal and more a brilliant piece of play by Pulido. The Tigres man gathered the ball on the left and brought it across the field before getting space 20 yards from goal and straight away. He took advantage of that space with a rocket of a shot that left the goalkeeper no chance and sent the rain soaked pro-Mexico crowd in Los Angeles wild for a deserved 2-0 halftime lead.
Mexico got off to a fantastic start to their Olympic qualifying campaign on Friday, defeating Trinidad and Tobago, 7-1. Marco Fabian picked up a hat trick and was generally a menace all night and El Tri looked unstoppable. They played with style and confidence, picking apart Trinidad and Tobago from the opening kick off. Then again, that was T&T, who nobody considers a good team.
Today, they take on Honudras, who is easily the second best team in Group B and are the tournament's defending champions. It will be the first real test for Mexico and with the U.S. losing yesterday to likely set them up against the Group B winner in a semifinal match for a spot in the Olympics, Mexico will have to be sharp.
Mexico: Sanchez; Jimenez, Mier, Reyes, Chavez; Aquino, Herrera, Cabrera, Ponce; Fabian; Pulido
Honduras: Mendoza; Crisanto, Leveron, Alvarado, Colon; Peralta, Martinez, Mejia, Najar; Hernandez, Lozano
The United States was supposed to roll through Group A and onto the finals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament for a match-up against Mexico with a spot in London already locked up, but nothing went the way it was supposed to on Saturday. Canada, who looked dreadful in their tournament opener, played the U.S. toe to toe, frustrated them and then beat them 2-0 to put themselves in control of Group A.
On the surface, the loss might not look like much to the U.S. apart from supporters freaking out about the team they were excited about, but this is a big deal in terms of qualification for the Olympics. With Canada likely to beat Cuba on Monday and win the group, the Americans will have to beat El Salvador just to get a spot in the semifinals. There they would likely play Mexico, the best team in the tournament, needing a win for a spot in the Olympics. Ouch.
Canada did their damage to the U.S. on corner kicks, getting both of their goals from them. Doniel Henry gave the Canadians the lead just before the hour mark when he escaped from Ike Opara and Bill Hamid decided to wait for the ball to come down instead of grabbing or punching the corner kick up high. That allowed Henry to slide in front of Hamid and nod the ball home for the opening tally.
It took until the waning minutes, but Canada did get a second goal to ice things. Lucas Cavallini got to a cross after a short corner and the match was on ice.
The U.S. did have their chances to go in front, then equalize, then get back within one, but they never could quite finish. Opara looked to have scored once, but the linesman questionable ruled him offisde. Freddy Adu had a few chances as well, but Michal Misiewicz was strong in goal for Canada and kept the Americans off the scoreboard.
Canada didn't win because of luck or parking the bus, as one might assume with an upset like this. For much of the match Canada outshot the Americans and by the end the shots were level at 10-10. Nobody would argue that they weren't the sharper team either and in the end, they were rewarded with a win that has flipped the tournament on its head.
Cuba had a man sent off in their first match of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament and it didn't go well, as the U.S. defeated them 6-0. Even so, they decided to give playing with 10 men a try once more, picking up another run card in their second match of the tournament against El Salvador. Unsurprisingly, it didn't go well again as El Salvador cruised to an easy 4-0 win.
El Salvador were up a goal after just four minutes thanks to good work by Jaime Alas. The midfielder jumped on a loose ball and beat the Cuba defense before crossing for Lester Blanco, who did well to create space and then had a simple finish.
Down a goal, Cuba grabbed a hold of the match and put El Salvador under some sustained pressure, but Carlos Domingo Francisco picked up his second yellow card when he was late to challenge Blanco and Cuba's chances were gone.
Andre Flores picked up the first of his two goals when he volleyed from six yards to double El Salvador's lead before Richard Menjivar took a feed from Alas for the third goal of the match. Flores added his second goal in the 80th minute and El Salvador had their first win in the Olympic qualifying tournament since 1996.
The United States is without Juan Agudelo, who tore the meniscus in his knee, but that just means that Teal Bunbury gets a shot at striker. His insertion into the lineup is one of only two changes to the U.S. team that pummeled Cuba in their first match of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, with the other being Jorge Villafana in for Kofi Sarkodie and Zarek Valentin sliding from left back to right back to make room.
If Canada wants a chance at a point, they are going to need to be a lot better than they were in their opener against El Salvador. They were awful and lucky to take a point. If they can manage another today then the Canucks will be sitting pretty, but that's a lot to ask for.
The United States will have to qualify for the 2012 Olympics without Juan Agudelo. The New York Red Bulls striker, who scored in the Americans' first qualifying match, has torn the meniscus in his knee and will be out for the remainder of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. Whether Agudelo has to have surgery and the timeline for his return will not be determined until he meets with the Red Bulls' physicians back in New York.
Agudelo shined for the U.S. in their first qualifying match, but then again every American did against an overmatched Cuba team that went down to 10 men early and was then pummeled, 6-0. Now the U.S. will have to handle things without him, which will not be easy because he is their first choice striker. His absence means that Teal Bunbury will likely get a chance to shine, but he is coming off of a lackluster stint with the U.S. in January and a dip in form of late. If head coach Caleb Porter decides against going with Bunbury, Terrence Boyd, who debuted with the senior team in February, will get the nod.
Also of concern is what Agudelo's club team, the Red Bulls, will do without him. Luke Rodgers has yet to receive his visa so the team is down to just two strikers, Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper. Being down to two strikers for a few weeks while Agudelo was with the U.S. is one thing, but if this injury keeps him out a while, it could be a much bigger deal. New York needs Rodgers to get his visa situation sorted and quick.
Mexico entered the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament as the biggest favorites to earn one of the two spots to the London Olympics, but they might be even bigger favorites after the way they thrashed Trinidad and Tobago in their Group B opener on Friday night. Marco Fabian picked up a hat trick as Mexico dominated the Soca Warriors from the opener whistle in a 7-1 win that could have been much worse if not for some dilly dallying in the box by El Tri.
It actually took until the 29th minute for Mexico to score despite their constant pressure. A corner kick was nodded down in front of goal and with Fabian challenged in front, the goalkeeper couldn't get to it so Alan Pulido was able to knock it in. A connection of Chivas teammates gave Mexico their second goal when Miguel Ponce found Fabian for the second goal and a 2-0 halftime lead.
Not long after the break, Mexico were back on the board when a bundled free kick resulted in Hiram Mier crossing for Diego Reyes to score. Fabian then added his second before Israel Jimenez's rocket of a free kick made it 5-0. Fabian completed the hat trick in the 85th minute when he pounced on a rebound and buried it.
With all three substitutions used up, Mexico had to play with 10 men when Nestor Calderon went off injured, but up 6-0 and just five minutes let to play, it didn't matter. Trinidad and Tobago did get a goal from Kevin Molina in the 87th minute, but Javier Cortes answered that when he combined with Pulido to get free before finishing for the last tally of the game.
Mexico will now take a day off before hosting Honduras on Sunday in a match of two teams on three points in Group B. Trinidad and Tobago will take on Panama on Sunday.
With all the talk about Mexico and the United States, you would have no idea that Honduras are actually the defending champions of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but they are, and those defending champions got off to a good start to this year's tournament Friday. Three different players scored for the Hondurans as they took down Panama 3-1 in the first Group B match of the tournament.
Eddie Hernandez kicked off the scoring when he was able to jump on a free ball in front of goal and knock it home 19 minutes into the match. Mario Martinez doubled Honduras' lead right after halftime when Panama failed to clear the ball, instead kicking the ball into Martinez's path. It left Martinez with just the goalkeeper to beat, and he did. Manuel Asprilla scored to bring Panama within one, but Alexander Lopez answered that goal in the waning minutes to give Honduras the 3-1 win.
Honduras will face their biggest test of the group stage on Sunday when they take on Mexico, while Panama will look to stay in contention for a spot at the Olympics with a win over Trinidad and Tobago.
The United States was always going to beat Cuba. Thursday night, they got a chance against 10-man Cuba and they didn't just win; they demolished them. A 19th-minute red card doomed the Cubans as Joe Corona scored a hat trick, Juan Agudelo and Freddy Adu each picked up a goal and Cuba had an own goal in a 6-0 win for the Americans that kicked off qualifying for the 2012 Olympics.
Corona got the U.S. off to a bright start when he smartly chested down a ball that deflected to him and volleyed it home, but the red card is what changed things. Juan Agudelo was caught with an elbow just a couple minutes later and as soon as the referee brought out the red card, the match was over.
Brek Shea created the Americans' second goal when he got free down the left on a quick restart and crossed for a wide open Agudelo, who nodded the ball into the net. Corona added his second not too long after and just before halftime, Shea's run down the middle caused problems at the back for Cuba, who poked the ball into their own net.
The U.S. were up 4-0 at the half, but they were hardly done. They stayed on top of Cuba and it paid off when Adu hit a screamer that left the goalkeeper no chance for the 5-0 lead. Corona wasn't done, though, adding his third goal late to complete the hat trick and finish off a dominating performance against an overmatched Cuba side.
With the win, the Americans move to the top of Group A, two points clear of Canada and El Salvador, while Cuba is at the bottom on no points. All four teams will be back in action on Saturday for matchday two in Group A.
Cuba was always going to have a tough time managing a result against the United States, but going down to 10 men after just 19 minutes made it impossible for them. Down a man, Cuba had no answer for the U.S. and it didn't take long before the match got out of hand. Joe Corona scored twice, Juan Agudelo added one of his own and there was an own goal to give the Americans a 4-0 lead in this Olympic-qualifying opener.
Corona actually got the U.S. on the board before the red card. A deflection fell to him 15 yards from goal and he clinically chested the ball onto his foot before volleying home the opening goal.
The red card came when Agudelo got caught with an elbow and the referee did not hesitate to send him off. That opened the door for Brek Shea to cause real havoc. Shea crossed for Agudelo's goal and then, after Corona added his second, his run forced the own goal. It has been all U.S. and it is only halftime. This one could get a lot worse.
The United States will finally get to start their qualifying campaign for the 2012 Olympics tonight. The excitement for the U-23 team has been building for months now with training camps and friendlies supposedly showing off how good they are. That is all well and good, but what matters is what they do starting tonight. Nothing they have done before tonight matters. It was all to build for today and if they bomb out then they have a problem. That is assuming that people continue to believe that Olympic soccer matters, of course.
Head coach Caleb Porter is going with an expect lineup. His defense is what most believe is his first choice back line and the same is true of the midfield and forwards, with the exception of maybe Joe Gyau. Many people are very high on Gyau and you can bet you will see him extensively throughout the tournament, even if he isn't starting.
Their opponents for tonight are Cuba. Unsurprisingly, there are no lineups available for the Cubans and it is not as if it would matter if they did anyways because nobody knows a thing about the Cuban players. Such is the case with an insulated country.
If you wanted an argument for why Olympic soccer should not be a thing, you got it when Canada and El Salvador squared off in Nashville for the first match of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying. Neither team was good and it turned into a contest of who could be not awful long enough to not give up a goal. The answer was neither team, but luckily for them, the other team wasn't not awful enough to capitalize on their awfulness. The result was a 0-0 loss for both teams, er, draw.
If there were any scouts in attendance at LP Field, they probably left early. Like third minute early. The whole passing thing was lost on both teams and if this match was any indication of what the national teams will be like going forward then pub league players everywhere should look into citizenship because they have a shot at international citizenship. Seriously, it was bad.
The United States and Mexico are the favorites in CONCACAF qualifying to get the two spots in the 2012 London Olympics.
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