The U.S. was seconds away from advancing in Olympic qualifying, but instead has to deal with the shock of a devastating loss.NASHVILLE, Tenn -- In the blink of an eye, with a flash of Jaime Alas's left foot and with a stumble by Sean Johnson, it was all gone.
As the game clock struck 94:15, Alas's shot crossed the line after a futile attempt by Johnson to get in the way. Instantaneously, almost every white shirt on the pitch collapsed to the ground in agony.
Astonishingly, the USA's Olympic dream was dead.
“It's a painful moment. The players are devastated,” Caleb Porter said in a post-game press conference where he could barely speak above a whisper, and seemed on the verge of breaking down multiple times.
The heavily-favored Americans tripped up against Canada, and completed their shocking fall against El Salvador.
After the U.S. took an early lead, El Salvador struck back to go ahead 2-1 at halftime. The Yanks appeared to have won the match with a two-goal second half, but just after the allotted four minutes of injury time expired, catastrophe struck.
Final score: 3-3. El Salvador was on to the semifinals in Kansas City, while the U.S. U23s were forced to contemplate a second crushing exit in a youth tournament in as many years, following the U20 side's elimination from World Cup qualifying last year against Guatemala.
“To be seconds away from getting the number one seed.....It's unimaginable,” Porter said.
Unimaginable because as a heavy favorite on its own soil, his team produced one win from group matches against Cuba, Canada, and El Salvador.
Unimaginable because in a country lauded for its goalkeeping prowess, it was two mistakes by Bill Hamid against Canada, and one calamity by Sean Johnson against El Salvador which cost the USA a chance to advance to London.
When asked what he said to Johnson after the game, Porter's response was devastating.
“Just hugged him. Cried with him. What do you do?”
Johnson didn't speak to reporters after the match.
“He feels like he let everybody down, let his teammates down, and I told him he didn't,” Porter said about the Chicago Fire goalkeeper, who replaced an injured Bill Hamid in the first half. “(The) kid's got a big future and he was very good in the game. He'll move forward from this.”
“It's going to hurt for a while” said defender Perry Kitchen. “There's not many chances you get to go to the Olympics, so I don't really know what to say.”
Following the match, Porter addressed his crestfallen team in the locker room.
“What I told them in the locker room is that this won't define their careers. As low as this moment is for them and as painful as it is, they've got big days ahead,” he said.
For Porter though, his days with the U.S. soccer program might be numbered. In a region it usually dominates along with Mexico, failing to be one of two teams to advance out of a four-team group on home turf won't be viewed favorably.
“I'm sorry for the fans, I'm sorry for U.S. Soccer that we didn't get the job done,” Porter said.
For U.S. Soccer's youth program, it's back to the drawing board for the second time in as many years. The program may have bright days ahead, and two-goal scorer Terrence Boyd may be a part of them, but for now, the Dortmund striker summed it up best:
“This is soccer. Sometimes it's the best thing you can do, sometimes it's the worst sport ever. It just hurts.”
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