In the first game of a two legged affair against Colombia, the USMNT U-23 team managed to secure an away goal, that will be crucial for the second home leg in Frisco, Texas. The U.S. were under significant pressure throughout the match from a very decent Colombian team, but overall was solid defensively, despite a few scares.
Andreas Herzog started an interesting side in Colombia, effectively a 4-3-1-2, that morphed into more of 5-man midfield after halftime. The strikers, Seattle Sounders starlet Jordan Morris and Borussia Mönchengladbach's Mario Rodriguez, were fairly isolated for much of the match, finding space mostly when they drifted out on the wings.
Despite starting the game second-best, the USMNT took an early lead five minutes in through Luis Gil in what was a very nicely worked team goal. Captain Wil Trapp started the move with a nice ball to find Luis Gil in midfield, who then spread the ball out wide to Mario Rodriguez on the right, after which Rodriguez played the ball back to Gil who finished nicely with his right foot in the left side of the net. Getting an away goal was vitally important for this young U.S. side, who now have a nice cushion for when they return to action next Tuesday in Texas.
While this away goal was positive for the U.S., for fitness' sake it could have come a bit later in the match, as the team had to endure pretty much 90 minutes of sustained pressure from the Colombians. Herzog was clearly happy with his side's one away goal, and the team was looking for pretty much any opportunity to waste time from the 10' on. Colombia's first major chance came 19' in, when Andres Renteria flew past Kellyn Acosta and crossed to Andres Roa, who couldn't get any meaningful contact on the ball. Acosta didn't look very comfortable in his role as right back all day long, and was probably the United States' worst player.
Herzog's counterpart in the Colombian dugout was clearly not pleased with his side's performance, and made a very early tactical change, bringing off Jose Leudo in favor of Jarlen Barrera, the cousin of Colombian (and hair) legend Carlos Valderrama at 32'. A common theme throughout the match was the United States' abysmal set-piece taking, Luis Gil couldn't beat the first man at 37', which sparked a Colombian counter-attack that the U.S. goalkeeper Ethan Horvath had to head away from Renteria, only to come off a few minutes later injured from the collision. This meant Atlanta-born goalie Cody Cropper had to come on, in what would prove to be a costly substitution, as the team would have definitely benefitted from a striker change much later in the game. Cropper, who is currently contracted to Milton Keynes-Dons, clearly has an affinity for expansion teams, as he as suggested he would like to play for both Atlanta United or the Minnesota Crybabies in the future.
At halftime, a lot was made by the Fox commentators about Colombia's 76% possession stat, which does not really make a difference if the Colombian's were not making good chances, and they weren't. Other than Acosta's few mistakes and a silly yellow card for Chelsea's Matt Miazga, the defense was looking good, even with the goalkeeping change.
The second half was less good from the U.S., Colombia continued their pressure that they had been applying in the first half, and chances for the Americans were few and far between. However, at the 62' the Colombia boss brought off Andres Renteria for Rafael Borrela, which was seemingly a strange decision, given Renteria had been one of the better players for Colombia in the first half, though Borrela was effective when he came on.
In what was probably the United States' best chance of the half, Emerson Hyndman, who was probably one of the best players for the U.S., received the ball on the left flank, played a simple pass to Luis Gil, who let the ball run through to Jordan Morris who smacked the ball with the outside of his right foot, and the ball slammed against the crossbar, denying a great chance for a second away goal 64' in. And, as is the case so often in soccer, the U.S. was made to rue that miss when just three minutes later, Kellyn Acosta took down substitute Borrela, conceding a penalty after some sloppy defending when Miazga handed the problem of Borrela to Acosta. The penalty was taken quickly by Juan Quintero, and though Cropper guessed the right direction, it was hit far to hard for him to get to.
It was an extremely hot day in Colombia, with the temperatures reaching 100°, and following the converted penalty, the game slowed down quite a bit, both sides were showing signs of fatigue. Prior to the penalty, the U.S. brought on Fatai Alashe for the goalscorer Gil, and later in the 72' brought off Mario Rodriguez for Jerome Kiesewetter, neither of which had much of an impact on the game, though they performed well enough defensively, getting back to help the full backs. Jordan Morris looked extremely tired, which effectively blunted the American attack for the rest of the game.
The game ended at 1-1, which was still a very good result for the U.S., holding a very solid away goals lead for the second leg at home. If they perform as well defensively as they did in Colombia, they should be manage to qualify, and a goal or two would make sure of it.
Overall the USMNT had a few quality performers in Colombia, Tim Parker of the Vancouver Whitecaps was very good in defense, a massive man that held off the Colombian attack and gave the U.S. that bit of an extra edge in certain situations. Captain Wil Trapp was very solid in his defensive midfield role, shielding the back four from the Colombian pressure, and getting the ball to his midfield partners quickly and effectively, for the most part. Fulham's Emerson Hyndman was probably the best player for the USMNT, he was constantly running, trying to win the ball back, often intercepting the ball, and would either pick a pass out, or make a forward run. He is a very good talent, and if he continues this form, he could make a very solid impact in the senior team. Despite his goal, Luis Gil wasn't very noticeable in this match, it could just be a case of Colombia marking him out of the game, which does happen to #10's, but he took his goal well, and a solid game from him.
At the heart of Colombia's attack was Juan Quintero, who was very impressive the whole match, creating attack after attack, passing up on selfish long shots in favor of picking out a teammate instead. He showed what the U.S. was lacking in this game, and arguably, in the senior team, too. Pretty much by himself he dictated the tempo of the game, and that tempo was FAST, constantly looking to pierce the U.S. back line. Even without his penalty goal he would have probably been the best player for both teams.
Overall fans of the USMNT can be pleased with this game, a very promising result for the home leg, but the job is far from over. However, should the U.S. get a couple of goals, fans should be confident that the team can finish the job defensively.