The United States U-23 national team emerges from the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying group stage one win from the desired outcome despite three substandard showings including Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Mexico.
Former Man City and LA Galaxy property Uriel Antuna scored the lone goal and gave the U.S. fits to move Mexico to 3-0 with eight goals scored and just one conceded over 270 minutes.
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The match got feisty late, and Mexico and U.S. fans alike may want to see their rivals win the semifinal stage just to get a chance to go all-in on a rematch (let alone to provide the chance of a knockout round match-up in Tokyo).
Mexico will face the second-place team from Group B, likely Canada or Honduras, while the Yanks definitely get one of those teams in the Group A winner.
1. Kreis does his best Mourinho, but USMNT deliver Spurs-like errors: The United States threw away a good game plan and a super solid first half just before the clock struck 45. Jason Kreis clearly wasn’t about to risk his Olympic remit just because he was facing a rival, but he knew he’d go for it if the match was in the balance over the final half-hour (which it was).
Kreis accepted that the Yanks could cede possession but still managed 50% of the ball. And he also kept an eye on Sunday by keeping Jackson Yueill, Justen Glad, Jesus Ferreira, and Sam Vines on the bench before deploying Yueill and Ferreira — the latter sitting a yellow card shy of a semifinal ban — late in the match.
It could’ve easily been 0-0 into the final half-hour were it not for a major American error.
The Yanks were bailed out of a first mistake by an incredible sliding tackle by Mauricio Pineda when Julian Araujo slipped, but the center back couldn’t save the zero on the sheet in the 45th minute. That’s when U.S. center forward Sebastian Soto dropped very deep into the midfield and cut the ball right to Mexico’s Uriel Antuna, who made the most of the error and Soto’s aggressive run to make amends for the mistake. A great shot later, it was 1-0 Mexico.
Before we go any further, let’s be clear that we aren’t saying the Yanks were very good in the first half. But Kreis did design a game plan that could’ve delivered the group. There was a five-minute spell in and around the Mexico box, but the U.S. totaled one shot attempt. Yet while Mexico threatened it wasn’t much to put on a highlight reel. Like Jose Mourinho so many times against a talented opponent, there was just an overwhelming feeling of, “Yeah, sure you feel like you were better, but was that really dangerous?”
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2. Antuna and Aguirre Show: We can’t say for sure that Mexico targeted Julian Araujo on the right side of the U.S. defense, but they certainly wanted to get the ball to captain Erick Aguirre and then Uriel Antuna on the left.
Aguirre attempted the game’s most passes for Mexico and his comfort on the stage shone bright; The 24-year-old was Best XI at the 2015 Olympic Qualifying Tournament and has won the CONCACAF Champions League, CONCACAF U-20 Championship, and the CONCACAF U-17 Championship while finishing 2017 U-17 World Cup runner-up.
Antuna is already a Gold Cup winner with a CONCACAF U-20 Championship Best XI and Liga MX Best XI under his belt. Oh, and eight senior goals for Mexico in 16 caps, including goals against the USMNT and Costa Rica.
3. Dotson injury a concern: If there are three standout players from the United States this group stage, you’d pick Jackson Yueill, Djordje Mihailovic, and Hassani Dotson.
The last name on the list, 23-year-old Dotson, has looked much better than his 5-goal, 4-assist career at Minnesota United would indicate via traditional numbers. He’s been explosive, bruising, smart, and industrious.
Dotson limping off the pitch late means more minutes for someone who hasn’t shown a ton during the tournament, whoever gets that job.
BONUS. The jersey combo, though: Yes, we’d love to see Mexico in green at home against the U.S. in white, but those Mexican alternate kits were so, so beautiful.
Man of the Match: Uriel Antuna
U.S. U-23 Player Ratings versus Mexico
David Ochoa: 7 – Nearly got a hand on Antuna’s goal but was calm and collected over 90 minutes.
Aaron Herrera: 5
Henry Kessler: 6 – Most passes of any player on the pitch.
Mauricio Pineda: 7 – Really solid in possession and, of course, that incredible sliding tackle.
Julian Araujo: 4 – Struggled mightily and gave up multiple big chances in a performance unlike what we’ve come to expect from the LA Galaxy man.
Johnny Cardoso (Off 61′): 5 – Surprisingly quiet, especially so given his hyper-aggressive mentality.
Andres Perea (Off 61′): 5
Hassani Dotson (On 75′): 7 — Again was the team’s best player and his late injury is a real worry for Sunday’s huge semifinal.
Sebastian Saucedo (On 71′): 5
Djordje Mihailovic: 7 – The captain for the night was busy and creative despite little time on the ball but set piece service left much to be desired.
Sebastian Soto (Off 61′): 4 – Terrible error to gift Antuna the chance that became the lone goal. What was he doing dropped so deep from center forward into the U.S. third?
Jackson Yueill (On 61′): 7 – The team’s best player, as he should be given his experience.
Jonathan Lewis (On 61′): 5 – Nothing remarkable.
Jesus Ferreira (On 61′): 6 – Full marks for not taking a yellow card.
Benji Michel (On 71′):6 – Ran hard but couldn’t get service into the box.
Tanner Tessmann (On 75′): N/A