The United States will likely have to defeat El Salvador to advance to the semifinals, and remains confident it will do so.NASHVILLE, Tenn -- It wasn't quite supposed to go this way.
Monday's match against El Salvador was supposed to be a mere formality for the USA U23 team, a game carrying little pressure with a spot in the Olympic qualification semifinals already assured.
Instead, it's a must-win pressure cooker of a match that could end in catastrophe.
After being stunned 2-0 by Canada Saturday, the USA will almost certainly require a win against El Salvador to advance to the semifinals and avoid another disastrous exit from a youth international competition after the U20s were eliminated from World Cup qualification last year by Guatemala.
“Tomorrow is our final, plain and simple,” team captain Freddy Adu told reporters Sunday. “We all know what we have to do.”
Canada faces Cuba in the match before the U.S. plays El Salvador, and if the Canadians avoid defeat as expected, then the U.S. will require no less than a win. A loss or draw will result in elimination.
After a flat performance against the Canadians, head coach Caleb Porter is expecting a significant rebuttal from his side.
“This is a team that responds when their back is against the wall,” he told reporters. “They're going to be very determined and hungry to get the job done.”
Canada got the job done against the U.S. by getting men behind the ball, clogging up the middle of the pitch and hitting the Americans on the counterattack and on set pieces. With the blueprint to beating the Yanks conveniently established, El Salvador will likely try to follow suit.
“We expect a game where they're going to sit behind the ball and look to counter us,” Porter said.
If El Salvador does sit back and absorb pressure, the onus will be on the U.S. to be more opportunistic than it was against Canada, when it spurned several goalscoring chances, especially in the second half.
“If they decide to pack it in and go for a draw, we've got to find a way to break them down. That's what good teams do,” Adu said.
Despite taking a sucker punch from Canada, the USA's confidence has not wavered.
“We're confident in our team,” Porter said. “The players are confident that we can get the job done. No doubt in my mind we're going to get the result tomorrow.”
Adu echoed his coach's words, adding “I think we're going to find a way to win the game tomorrow.”
The confidence isn't completely unwarranted. The U.S. remains a significantly more talented side which should be playing with a backs-against-the-wall desperation that was clearly lacking against Canada.
"Bottom line, if we're at our best, we'll get the result," Porter said.
If the USA doesn't get the victory it needs, confidence will hardly be the most significant thing it loses.
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