After a brave defensive performance in the first leg of Olympic qualifying against Colombia, the USMNT U-23 conceded two goals to fail to qualify for their second Olympics in a row.
U.S.A. U-23 coach Andreas Herzog made two changes to the team that scraped a 1-1 draw in Colombia, left back Eric Miller was replaced by Desvio Payne (FC Groningen), who took over at right back, and Kellyn Acosta was moved to left back. Acosta was poor against Colombia, conceding the equalizing penalty and generally playing bad defense, and though he was better in the second leg, surely Eric Miller would have been the better (albeit more defensive) option. The second change involved Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana) coming in for goal scorer in the first leg Luis Gil.
Both Payne and Arriola were substituted during the second leg, Gil coming on for Payne and Kissewtter for Arriola. Arriola actually had a pretty good first half, so it was surprising he was the one that was sacrificed at half time, though he took some big hits, so it may have been a precautionary measure.
Luis Gil certainly made an impact, and probably not in the way Herzog was anticipating. Gil entered the game at 67’, was shown a yellow card at 73’ and a second yellow and sent to the showers at 77’. Ten minutes and Gil was gone, as was any micro-chance the U.S. had to get back in the game. Gil may have scored in the first leg, but was rarely on the ball, and certainly tarnished his international reputation with his display in the second. Matt Miazga was also sent off on 90’ the Chelsea defender was practically invisible over both legs, with Tim Parker eclipsing him completely, if not in ability then surely in desire and responsibility. Too often Miazga either wasn’t focused on play, or read a situation wrongly, handing the problem to his defensive partners.
Colombia made four changes to the team that started in their home country, most notably Roger Martinez who scored the two goals that buried the U.S.A.’s Olympic dreams.
As for the game itself, the U.S. U-23 team was once again disappointing, Colombia had around five decent goal scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes, the most notable resulting in a very good save by Ethan Horvath, who looks like a solid enough goalkeeper. It should come as no surprise that only 10 minutes after Horvath’s great diving save that Colombia would score, Roger Martinez capitalized on the U.S.A.’s terrible defending to secure a crucial away goal for Colombia.
Halftime couldn’t really come quickly enough for the U.S., defending had been poor in the first half (this would continue) set piece delivery wasn’t great (also continued) and Jordan Morris and Mario Rodriguez offered very little if anything at all up front. The best chance of the half was Emerson Hyndman’s outside the box shot that was blocked, and that sums it up, really.
As the second half began, the U.S. looked better, but after earning a free kick in a dangerous position, the USMNT didn’t do much with the chance, and found themselves caught in a Colombian counter attack. It was defended well, but Tim Parker was shown a yellow for stamping on a Colombian player. A lot was made of this, it wasn’t the most dangerous offence, but Parker probably should have been sent off, but his teammates took that burden off his shoulders, as previously discussed.
On 58’, the U.S. got themselves back in the game, briefly, with Emerson Hyndman trying to play a long ball into the box, which a Colombian defender mistakenly headed into the back of the net, making it 2-2 on aggregate. Hyndman was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. in these two games, along with Horvath and Parker, the Fulham player was constantly trying to intercept the ball, or win possession back, which he did quite frequently. Hyndman also looked fairly confident on the ball, as well as making chances, but none of the strikers that played for the U.S. did him any favors.
The game was wrapped up just six minutes after the U.S. equalizer when Colombia got down the left wing, crossed it to Martinez who calmly put it in the back of the net, which would have required the U.S. to score twice to get back in the game. That didn’t happen. Unfortunately for viewers of this game, the second half wasn’t inspiring, and after the second goal, it was pretty easy to see how this one was going to end up.
Herzog’s substitutions and lineup for this game were not very good, Arriola did well in the first half, and Jerome Kiesewetter didn’t offer much either of the times he came on as a sub in games one and two. Bringing off Morris was a good idea, he was quite disappointing all told for the U.S. over both legs, hitting the bar in game one, and hitting nothing close to the target in game two. For the USMNT’s sake, let’s hope Morris develops into more of a Clint Dempsey than a Jozy Altidore, although on these two games, it seems he may be more of the latter. Rodriguez didn’t cover himself in much glory either, at least Morris hit the bar once, Rodriguez couldn’t seem to make any sort of impact.
Frankly the only players that MIGHT have the quality for the full national team are Horvath, Hyndman and Trapp. Parker had two good games, and in the future he may find himself part of the team. Miazga is highly rated, and plays for Chelsea, yes, but representing his country in two must win games he was very poor, which isn’t the best sign for his national team future. Jordan Morris as mentioned earlier was "eh" overall in both games, but he gets a pass since he hasn’t been technically a professional very long, so it’s up in the air with him, really. Frankly players like Kellyn Acosta, Jerome Kiesewetter, Mario Rodriguez and Matt Polster all have a lot of proving to do if they want to secure a place in the senior team, but for now should not get anywhere close to that team.
Altogether, the U.S. can only blame themselves, the first game in Colombia felt lucky at the time, as the Colombians were clearly better in almost every position. The second game was a total disaster defensively, though it is worth pointing out these players are quite young, the importance of the game may have caused some unwanted nerves in the team, which doesn’t help at all in defense. Captain Wil Trapp played well in the first leg, breaking up Colombian chances and passing well, but really didn’t offer much in the second, and it’s clear a defensive midfielder is what can make or break this team, as the back four can be so bad. No Olympics for the U.S. again this summer, at least we don’t have to play to qualify for the Copa America though!