US U-23 men

AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

U.S. takes Olympic qualifying playoff edge with 1-1 draw in Colombia

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It was gutty and ugly, but the United States is in the driver’s seat for Olympic qualification after one leg of its playoff with Colombia.

Luis Gil scored a fifth minute road goal and the U.S. then held on for dear life against rampant Colombia, allowing an equalizer but nothing else to the hosts in a 1-1 draw in Barranquilla on Friday.

Juan Fernando Quintero scored for the Coffee Makers. The second leg is Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

[ MORE: Watch Gil’s opener, read first half analysis ]

Gil’s opener came in the fifth minute and was the only shot on target for the Yanks in the first half. Mario Rodriguez carried to the end line and cut back to the penalty spot, where Gil was waiting unmarked to hit a low shot.

Colombia pressed hard and could’ve equalized on several occasions, but was well-denied by Molde keeper Ethan Horvath. He needed to come out after a late half collision with Andres Renteria, and MK Dons backstop Cody Cropper entered the match.

The hosts just missed making it 1-1 early in the second half when Harold Preciado got on the end of a free kick but couldn’t redirect his header inside the near post.

United States' goalkeeper Cody Cropper, right, fails to block Colombia’s Juan Quintero from scoring from the penalty spot during a U-23 first leg soccer match qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics at the Roberto Melendez Stadium in Barranquilla, Colombia, Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

The final 45 minutes — maybe 60 — were ugly, as the Herzog’s U.S. side jammed up its own box with defenders against a very dangerous, crafty and desperate Colombia.

The U.S. countered in the 64th minute, and Jordan Morris came close to doubling the lead but doubted his left foot.

He used the outside of his right foot from 19 yards to crank one off the crossbar. It would’ve looked gorgeous had it gone in, but his left foot had the whole right side of the goal.

That’s when Kellyn Acosta took down an embellishing, but fouled, Rafael Santos Borre in the box and Quintero finished his PK past Cropper to make it 1-1.

The U.S. center back partnership of Tim Parker and Matt Miazga was solid in the draw, and Vancouver’s Parker especially stood out as a strong, decisive back against a relentless and dominant Colombian side.

AT THE HALF: Gil nabs road goal, stakes U.S. U-23s to lead in Colombia

Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Luis Gil has given the U.S. U-23 men a 1-0 lead over Colombia on a sweltering day at Estadio Metropolitano, where the heat index felt like 102 and kicked off at 4 p.m. local time.

The match is the first leg of the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff for Olympic qualification, with the second leg in the U.S. on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Match preview | Lineups ]

The U.S. expected a quick start from Colombia, and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath had to make a point-blank stop on a borderline onside Harold Preciado.

But it was the Yanks that would strike first, with Gil darting to the center of the box unmarked to push Mario Rodriguez’s cutback home.

Jordan Morris had a big chance on the left flank, and Bonilla parried a shot to Gil. The midfielder hit his shot wide of the frame.

Colombia then pressed hard and could’ve equalized on several occasions before a scary moment for the U.S., as Horvath headed clear from the edge of the 18 and was clattered into by a charging Andres Renteria.

He was replaced by Cody Cropper, the former Southampton keeper now at MK Dons. He was tested early by Juan Fernando Quintero, but corralled the shot with his legs.

U.S. U-23 keeper Horton leaves Leeds for family reasons; Will pursue MLS career

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U.S. U-23 goalkeeper Charlie Horton’s contract with Leeds United has been terminated so the 21-year-old can come back to the United States for family reasons.

Horton issued a statement saying he needed to pursue a career in MLS “much closer to where he was needed”. For what it’s worth, Horton’s spent part of his youth in Hunting Valley, near Cleveland, Ohio.

Horton joined Leeds this summer after time with Peterborough and Cardiff City. He’s the youngest keeper on the most recent U-23 roster with fellow keepers Jon Kempin (Sporting KC) and Cody Cropped (MK Dons).

[ MORE: Palace chairman hoping for American sale by Christmas ]

He had yet to play for the Elland Road side’s senior team, serving as a backup for the last seven matches and making a pair of appearances for the U-21 side.

From the Leeds United’s site:

“For me there is only one thing which comes before this football club – my family. That is the sole reason I’m going home. I ask people to respect my privacy while I handle it, as it is not a short-term matter.

“I’m extremely grateful for the compassion and understanding I have received from Massimo Cellino and Steve Evans. They have been absolutely top drawer about it. I’m very grateful that they understood and I wish them nothing but the very best going forward.”

Horton issued a statement on his Twitter page.

All the best to Horton in his life and career.

U.S. U-23 versus England U-21 preview: Young Yanks face Premier League cast at Deepdale

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The last time we saw the United States U-23 squad, the unit Andi Herzog will lead into Olympic qualifying next month, the Yanks were impressing at the Toulon Tournament.

After finishing second in its group thanks to a 3-1 win over the Netherlands, Herzog’s Yanks toppled England’s U-20 team in the third-place playoff.

[ MORE: Arsenal’s Ozil wouldn’t turn down Olympic invite ]

Now they head to Deepdale Stadium to face England’s U-21 side, one with a lot more firepower.

That said, the States’ roster will be a lot better, too. Out of the mix from the Toulon side are goalkeepers Charlie Horton and Tyler Miller, defenders Tyler Turner, Sam Strong and Jalen Robinson, midfielders Fatai Alashe and Daniel Metzger, and strikers Julian Green, Alfred Koroma Shams and Jordan Morris.

Into the fold? At defense, Spurs’ Cameron Carter-Vickers — who will square off with a few fellow White Hart Lane residents — joins the back line with Montreal’s Eric Miller, and RBNY’s Matt Miazga.

Molde standout Ethan Horvath and Freiburg backstop Zack Steffen join up between the sticks. Fulham’s Emerson Hyndman is back, joined by Rangers mid Gedion Zelalem, MLS standouts Matt Polster and Wil Trapp, and Chesterfield’s Gboly Ariyibi. Sion’s Maki Tall and Utrecht’s Rubio Rubin also hit the scene.

We’ve gone into England’s bunch already, but here’s a bit of a refresher as to which Premier League vets will meet the Yanks: Spurs’ Eric Dier, Norwich City’s Nathan Redmond, Liverpool’s Jordon Ibe and Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek are included in the squad for Thursday’s 2:45 p.m. ET match.

Only Sunderland keeper Jordan Watford, Brighton keeper Christian Walton, Wolves defender Kourtney Hause, Southampton back Jack Stephens, Sunderland midfielder Duncan Watmore, Manchester United striker James Wilson and Arsenal forward Chuba Akpom return from the summer encounter.

Aside from the age advantage, the States will have more continuity on its side heading into the friendly. And the quality of player selected is comparable to England to say the least.

Both teams will have a lot of creativity in the midfield, and where Gareth Southgate uses Eric Dier will go a long way in determining who has more steel in the midfield. And will the States’ backs be able to hang with Ibe and Redmond?

Should be a heck of a friendly at Preston North End. We’ll peg it for a 2-2 draw.

As Klinsmann worries about player inclusion, England dials up strong U-21 test for U-23 Yanks

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Jurgen Klinsmann is hoping clubs in the U.S. and abroad release players to the U-23 team, and those players will get a stiff test from England’s U-21 side on Sept. 3.

England coach Gareth Southgate has called up a massive amount of talent to face the Yanks, with Arsenal’s Calum Chambers joining Spurs’ Eric Dier and Dele Alli on the loaded team.

[ MORE: The crazy price for Neymar ]

Also in the mix? Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Liverpool’s Jordon Ibe and Norwich City’s Nathan Redmond.

ICYMI: Klinsmann’s concerned at clubs releasing their players to U-23 duty since it comes outside of an international break. As our own Andy Edwards points out, there’s a load of talent that could be held back from Olympic qualification.