Olympic qualifying: USMNT U-23s survive poor start to beat Dominican Republic

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The USMNT under-23 team left lots to be desired as they beat the Dominican Republic 4-0 with all four goals scored in the final 30 minutes of game no. 2 at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Sergino Dest scores for Barcelona, assisted by Messi  ]

The result puts the young USMNT atop Group A (for the time being, at least until Mexico plays Costa Rica later on Sunday) with one game left to play in the group stage. A Mexico victory or draw would seal the Americans’ place in the semifinals — where the two winners clinch their place at this summer’s games in Japan — before the pair of CONCACAF powers face off in the group finale on Wednesday.

The two semifinal winners earn places in the Olympics, and the U.S. has missed three of the last four. Every win, make no mistake about it, is big.

1. Possession plentiful, but midfield a piece short

For as long as one can remember, the senior USMNT player pool has been full of no. 6 and no. 8 midfielders — happily well-round players capable of performing a number of jobs to an adequate degree — while failing to produce an elite, play-making no. 10. Sunday’s victory was a clear indicator that the current U-23 team isn’t bringing through a game-changer at that crucial position.

Sunday’s game saw far too many of the USMNT’s scoring “chances” — in the event they got close enough to be counted as a chance — came from wingers or overlapping full backs floating crosses into the box. Sound familiar? The center of midfield was, largely, a barren wasteland where possession went to die and/or be sprayed out wide, not frequently enough into the penalty area.

When the USMNT’s first two goals finally came, in the 60th and 73rd minutes, it was only right that each passage of play saw the ball start inside, move outside, and come back inside for the finish.

Goal no. 3 also started with the ball wide on the left before moving central and eventually being circulated to Dotson on the right side of the box once the DR defenders had been pulled out of position.

2. Dominicans deserve credit along with USMNT blame

Did the young USMNT fail to live up to hopes and expectations? Yes. Did their opponents play a massive part in that fact and look every bit a side with a legitimate chance at advancing from the group stage? Also yes.

For the vast majority of the first half, you would have been quickly forgiven for mistaking the Dominican side for their American counterparts. Key factors like organization, discipline and creativity all flowed from the underdogs while the favorites looked unprepared and bereft of ideas.

3. Another strong performance from Vines

Don’t look now, but the USMNT suddenly has what could almost be described as options at each full back spot, with Sergino Dest, Reggie Cannon and now Sam Vines doing lots to impress in recent USMNT camps of varying ages and levels.

Minutes in which Vines created plenty of problems for the DR defense:

  • 22nd — low ball into the six-yard box, desperately cleared away by a late-arriving, sliding defender
  • 27th — floated ball to the back post, headed on target, but at the goalkeeper, by Johnny Cardoso
  • 45th — volley hit just wide of the post from the edge of the box, from a corner kick
  • 78th — quick entry pass to find Sebastian Soto, which eventually resulted in Dotson breaking free for the third goal

However, we shall see how well Vines and the left side of the American defense holds up against Mexico, when the 21-year-old Colorado Rapids left back has anything but open acres in front of him.

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