March 26, 2012
THE AGONY AND THE AGONY
U.S. men eliminated from Olympic consideration on stoppage-time goal
By Michael Lewis
|Freddy Adu: "This is probably the worst feeling I've ever felt in my life so far as a pro athlete."
Michael Stephens/Dallas Soccer News
NASHVILLE -- Given the amazing ascension of U.S. soccer from the depths of despair over the past quarter century in international soccer to its present state, there haven't been many moments of ecstasy, and very few of agony.
Monday was one of the latter -- several fold.
Clinging to a precious one-goal lead, the U.S. Under-23 National Team surrendered a a goal four minutes into stoppage to El Salvador whilesquandering a chance to go to the Olympics. Midfielder Jaime Alas broke the Americans' hearts with 25-yard shot past backup goalkeeper Sean Johnson en route to a 3-3 draw.
The U.S. (1-1-1, four points) needed a win to advance into the semifinals in Kansas City, Kansas. Instead, El Salvador or Canada, which tied Cuba, 1-1, in the first game of the doubleheader to move on, will play either Mexico, Honduras, Panama or Trinidad & Tobago from Group B. That competition will be decided on Tuesday night.
What made it worse was the way the Americans melted down. They entered the competition arguably as the best team. At least they thought so. They showed so much promise during a 6-0 drubbing of Cuba in their tournament opener last Thursday, but followed it up with a disastrous performance -- a 2-0 defeat to Canada on Saturday night.
That set up Monday night's debacle.
"It's a painful moment. The players are devastated," U.S. coach Caleb Porter said. "To put in as much as they put in that game and all the heart they put in and played the way they did in the second half . . to be second away from the No. 1 seed, it's unimaginable.
"I'm sorry for the fans, sorry for U.S. Soccer that we couldn't get the job done. . . . I've never felt anything like this in my life."
A sullen and stunned Porter wasn't alone.
"This is probably the worst feeling I've ever felt in my life so far as a pro athlete," U.S. captain and midfielder Freddy Adu said. "This is going to be hard to get over. . . . I never want to feel this way again, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to never feel this way again."
"For us, it's a nightmare right now, because we were the team that had the most talent, I think," said forward Terrence Boyd, who struck for a brace to keep the U.S. tied at 2-2 before Joe Corona tallied in the 68th minute off an Adu feed for a 3-2 advantage.
But it wasn't meant to be.
Boyd, who replaced Teal Bunbury in the starting lineup, got the U.S. off to a rousing start with the game only 61 seconds old. Brek Shea meandered his way through three defenders on the left side and sent a short cross to Boyd, who volleyed it home past goalkeeper Yimy Cuellar from seven yards and a 1-0 lead.
As it turned out, it took El Salvador only 83 seconds to equalize and retake the lead Sarkodie and headed in a corner kick from point-blank range past goalkeeper Bill Hamid for a 1-1 deadlock in the 35th minute.
Unable to slow down the game, the Americans paid the ultimate price early in the 37th minute when Alas sent a diagnol ball from the left side to the right side of the penalty area to an unmarked Andres Flores, who beat Hamid from severe angle on the right side for a 2-1 lead.
Boyd tied the game in the 65th minute putting home a Freddy Adu feed from eight yards. Two minutes later,
Corona, the hat-trick hero of the Americans' 6-0 rout of Cuba last Thursday, scored on a five-yard shot for a 3-2 lead three minutes later.
But there were 22 minutes, plus four minutes of extra time to be played.
"All the minutes after our third goal felt very, very long, like hours," midfielder Mix Diskerud said. "But I thought we were going to make it."
The El Salvadorans continued to push forward, desperately trying to equalize, while trying to find a crack in the U.S. defense. They finally did.
The Americans had backup goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was forced into the match in the 39th minute in place of injured starter Bill Hamid.
Alas, who set up Lester Blanco's goal in the 35th minute and Andres Flores' score two minutes later, took a 25-yard shot that was not particularly hard past backup goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was forced into the match in place of injured starter Bill Hamid.
"I noticed on the first shot that the keeper was a little bit nervous," El Salvador coach Mauricio Alfaro said. "So in the second half I told my players to shoot a little bit more on goal, try to have more shots on him. Even though they scored a goal in the last minute of the game, I felt the goal was a mistake from the goalkeeper, letting the bounce go because the shot really didn't have that much power."
Added Porter: "He feels like he's let everyone down, his teammates down. I didn't [think he did]. The kid's got a great future."
But the U.S. U-23 has no future. It is not going to Kansas City and it is not going to London. It is going home to wonder what went wrong.