Needing a victory to advance, the heavily-favored United States’ U-23 team tied El Salvador 3-3 Monday night, and was knocked out of the qualifying tournament.
From the get-go, it looked like the U.S. might have an easy night after they went up 1-0 in the first minute, but two goals from El Salvador before the half had the U.S. on the verge of elimination.
However, the resilient Americans settled down in the second half and were able to mount a comeback which should have propelled them to the semi-finals of Olympic qualification as they found two goals to put them in the lead 3-2.
But the El Salvadorians didn’t quit and were able to tie the match in the 95th minute ending U.S. hopes of advancement.
Here are five thoughts from the game.
Brek Shea continues to be less than impressive
Although he provided the assist on the opening goal, it was much more due to Terrence Boyd’s terrific finish than Shea’s service, which was waist high and behind Boyd.
The rest of the match, Shea did little, which is even worse considering that USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and many U.S. fans, consider Shea to be a hot prospect for the future.
Shea’s lackluster performance comes on the back of numerous weak performances for the full national team and should have the U.S. staff rethinking the place he has seemingly been gifted during the Klinsmann regime.
The U.S. backline was a disaster
The U.S. backline of Ike Opara, Perry Kitchen, Kofi Sarkodie and Jorge Villafana was picked apart all night by El Salvador. The U.S. outside backs Sarkodie and Villafana, in particular, seemed to have no answer for the El Salvadorian speed on the flanks.
Caleb Porter made numerous questionable decisions
For a coach with so much success with Akron in the NCAA tournament which requires mistake-free decision making, U.S. U-23 coach Caleb Porter seemed to make mistake after mistake in this tournament.
In the loss against Canada two days ago, which made the game against El Salvador a must-win, Porter started Teal Bunbury up top instead of Terrence Boyd. This came despite the fact that Bunbury has been consistently underperforming the last six months with the full national team, the B national team in the January friendlies and with his club.
Playing the ineffective Bunbury against Canada in the second group stage game was clearly a mistake.
Porter also stayed with goalkeeper Bill Hamid against El Salvador after he was injured, leading to two so-so goals by El Salvador, before replacing Hamid with Sean Johnson. Johnson, despite giving up the third goal, made numerous difficult saves to keep the U.S. in the match.
Porter also started Freddy Adu on the right wing despite the fact that Adu is simply unwilling to use his right foot. Adu did impact the game, setting up both second half goals for the Americans, but only once he started to move towards the middle of the field in the second half.
Late in the game, Porter didn’t bring on fresh legs, which clearly could have helped the U.S. retain more possession late preventing the late breakdown which knocked the U.S. out.
The U.S. certainly did not have its strongest lineup
The U.S. was without some of their best U-23 players including Timothy Chandler, Jozy Altidore, Josh Gatt and Juan Agudelo.
Having them almost certainly would have resulted in a better tournament for the Americans.
Terrence Boyd is a Stud
If there was one bright spot on the night, it was Terrence Boyd. Boyd was fantastic all night, scoring twice, on a nifty finish in the first minute and on the equalizer in the 65th minute.
More importantly, Boyd did the dirty work all night, working back for the ball, drawing fouls (including getting punched in the face at one point), being aggressive in the air and working hard to help the U.S. alleviate pressure.
Now that he won’t be tied down with the U-23 team this summer, he will be free to come in for the full national team camp for their friendlies and World Cup qualifiers in May and June.
John D. Halloran