USA U23s face two must-win games, starting with El Salvador

With the loss to Canada the next two games for the USA become mandatory wins lest the Yanks miss out on the Olympic Games.
At least the math is simple. The U.S. U23 squad must win its next two matches or watch the Olympics from overstuffed, dime-riddled couches at home.

After a 2-0 loss to Canada on the second matchday of Group A in CONCACAF qualifying, the team didn't nickel and dime the truth.

“We all admit that it wasn't our best performance,” coach Caleb Porter said. “We never really got into a rhythm on the ball. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be. We didn't use the width.”

The attack was about as precise as a drop of maple syrup floating to the bottom of a glass of water. The defense politely handed the Canucks two corner kick goals. Too politely.

Following a doubleheader at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Canada and El Salvador top the group with four points each. On Monday Canada will play Cuba, the runt of the group, and the U.S.(three points) takes on the Salvadorians. Only a win will suffice for the Yanks.

“This isn't the end of the world,” Porter said. “Everything is still in our hands. We beat El Salvador, then we're through.”

El Salvador has already drawn with Canada and smashed Cuba 4-0. But the U.S. is still probably slight favorite. After all, the Yanks crashed six past Cuba's sieve of a defense.

“We still have faith in our ability,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “We know we can get the job done against El Salvador.”

Should the U.S. win and advance to the semifinal, it will likely face Mexico. Though the U.S. beat El Tri in a friendly last month, Mexico turned on the style to win its first qualifying game 7-1 against Trinidad and Tobago.

Only the two finalists qualify for the London games. One of the two CONCACAF bullies would exit.

What was a jingle-jangle jaunt down a well beaten Caribbean path has quickly morphed into a slippery slide along Yukon ice. Defender Zarek Valentin swung his pickaxe, aiming at some optimism.  

“In all honesty I know the guys are already looking forward to it,” Zarek Valentin said. “The fact that everything is in our hands makes it a lot better.”

Time is compressed. If the U.S. is to qualify, the work starts immediately. Win or stay home.

“The reality is we need to move on. We need to get back to work tomorrow,” Porter said. “We can't dwell on this. No one's going to point fingers; the guys are going to stick together. We know what we're capable of.”

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Seth Vertelney contributed additional reporting from Nashville, Tenn.