USMNT inches closer to Olympic soccer berth with win over Costa Rica
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t efficient, but the U.S.’s performance Thursday in the opening game of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament was effective, ending in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in Guadalajara.
In the second game, Mexico rode three second-half goals from Sebastián Córdova to a 4-1 win over the Dominican Republic.
The only score the U.S. needed came from Jesús Ferreira in the 35th minute. Though the Americans put just one other shot on target, they were bailed out by Oxnard’s David Ochoa, who made nine saves
in a game they couldn’t afford to lose.
“It was an important result for us. But I would say that we would have hoped to have gotten that result in a little bit better fashion,” U.S. coach Jason Kreis said.
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“One thing that you’re looking for from your players [is] to be able to gut out a result when things maybe aren’t going their way. And so now we say yes, we’ve got the three points in our pocket and we’re going to be a team that will improve over the course of this tournament.”
The U.S. hasn’t qualified for a men’s Olympic competition, a U-23 event, since 2008, but the win improves its chances of getting to Tokyo this summer. The U.S. faces the Dominican Republic on Sunday in the second game of the three-game opening stage with the top two teams in the four-team group advancing to the tournament semifinals. A victory there would guarantee the Americans an Olympic invitation.
A majority of the U.S. players are in the MLS, whose teams entered preseason training camp two weeks ago. As a result, few players were game fit, especially given the 88-degree temperatures and Guadalajara’s mile-high altitude. Costa Rica seemed to have little trouble with either the heat or the thin air, dominating a U.S. team that was sloppy, especially in the early going.
“We outplayed the United States in all aspects of the game,” Costa Rican midfielder Randall Leal, whose team outshot the U.S. 12-7 said in Spanish. “But that’s football.”
The goal came late in the first half when Costa Rica was unable to clear Sam Vines’ cross from the left wing, allowing Ferreira to charge into the box and bang the loose ball in at the near post from about 10 yards. Then Ochoa, making his first appearance for the U-23s, made the score stand up.
“He stepped forward in a major way,” Kreis said. “We believe that Ochoa has a huge future in front [of] him. It’s nice to see that he’s beginning to put his best foot forward.”