“We’re going to continue forward with this identity and I expect us to improve.”
Those were the words of U.S. U-23 head coach Jason Kreis after the Yanks beat Costa Rica 1-0 to start Olympic qualifying on Thursday.
It was a big step forward toward claiming a spot in Tokyo but also an unconvincing one. The Americans gave the ball away a lot and in bad parts of the field, but rode Jesus Ferreira’s first-half goal and nine David Ochoa saves to the result.
“It was an important result but we would’ve hoped to have gotten that result in a better fashion… better on the ball, better decisions, and maintain the tempo of the game better,” Kreis said. “Unfortunately, part of guys not playing matches is not just about fitness but also their touch on the ball. The majority of what Costa Rica did to hurt us is in transition when we gave the ball away cheaply.”
The Yanks next face the Dominican Republic, where an expected win would all but clinch a spot in the semifinals, before meeting Mexico in the final group stage match.
Then comes the semifinals, which is the match that matters. Both finalists reach the Olympics.
Kreis hopes that the resilience and heart underneath his team’s sloppy, rusty performance Thursday is the silver lining.
“It’s a sign of a good team is one thing 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 they’re super, super-fatigued,” Kreis said. “Now we say we’ve got the three points in our pocket and we’ll improve over the course of the tournament.”
Kreis also praised Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Ochoa and his nine saves.
"I think he was arguably the most important player for us today. I think he stepped forward in a major big way. Some of the times he came off his line to re-place balls that were put in behind us were second to none."
— Larry Henry Jr (@lhenry019) March 19, 2021