The U.S. entered the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with high expectations. But it’s going home empty-handed after Jaime Alas’ goal in stoppage time lifted El Salvador to a 3-3 tie in the final game of group play Monday in Nashville, ending the Americans’ Olympic soccer dreams.
The U.S. was about a minute shy of the victory it needed to advance to the tournament semifinals as the winner of its group when Alas charged up the center of the American defense and uncorked a blast from 25 yards out that bounced once before eluding backup U.S. keeper Sean Johnson, who got a hand on the shot but couldn’t stop it. That not only knocked the U.S. out of the tournament, but also it changed El Salvador’s fortunes, with the Central Americans leaping from elimination to the top of the Group A standings ahead of Canada, which tied Cuba, 1-1, in Monday’s first game and advances as the group runner-up.
El Salvador, which last qualified for the Olympics in 1968, figures to play Honduras in the semifinals, provided its Central American neighbor gets past winless Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of Group B play Tuesday at the Home Depot Center. Canada is all but certain to face unbeaten Mexico, the probable Group B winner and the dominant team in the tournament so far. The winners of those two games will represent the CONCACAF region in London this summer.
None of that matters to the U.S., which will be watching at home after fighting back from a 2-1 deficit to take a one-goal lead in the 68th minute, only to give it back four minutes into stoppage time and miss the Olympics for the second time in three tries.
Surprise starter Terrence Boyd gave the U.S. an immediate spark, scoring in the game’s opening minute. But El Salvador rallied late in the half, going ahead on goals by Lester Blanco and Andres Flores.
Two minutes after the second score, U.S. keeper Bill Hamid, who needed on-field attention after a collision earlier in the half, left the game in favor of Johnson, who faced few tough chances apart from the score-tying goal.
Salvadoran keeper Yimy Cuellar was also hurt in a collision with U.S. captain Freddy Adu midway through the second half, and though Cuellar stayed in the game, the U.S. beat him twice in the span of three minutes to take the lead.
The first goal came when Adu set up Boyd deep in the penalty area on the right wing and the second when an Adu pass to the far post found Joe Corona, who headed in the goal that seemed destined to send the Americans on to Kansas City, Kan.
In Monday’s early game, Maykel Reyes headed in Dayron Blanco’s free kick in stoppage time to give Cuba its tie with Canada. The goal was Cuba’s only score of the tournament and the only one Canada gave up, but it changed the team’s fortunes because, without the late score, Canada would have avoided Mexico in the semifinals.
Baxter reported from Los Angeles.