The United States managed to open the delayed Olympic men's soccer qualifying tournament with a win despite not playing well.
Jesús Ferreira scored in the 35th minute for a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica on Thursday in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“It wasn’t great,” U.S. coach Jason Kreis said. "It was an important result for us, but I would say that we would have hoped to have gotten that result in a little bit of a better fashion. I think we would have hoped that we could have been better on the ball and made better decisions and maintained the tempo of the game better."
Still, Kreis thought a victory with a subpar effort was a good sign. The U.S. last qualified for the Olympics in 2008, failing to reach the 2012 London Games and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games in what turned out to foreshadow the senior national team's failure to reach the 2018 World Cup.
This qualifying opener originally was scheduled for March 20 last year but was delayed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. FIFA kept the original age limit, requiring players be born Jan. 1, 1997, or later.
In the second game of the Group A doubleheader in the North and Central American and Caribbean region, host Mexico beat the Dominican Republic 4-1 as Carlos Rodríguez scored in the 22nd minute and Sebastián Córdova added goals in the 51st, 69th and the fourth minute of stoppage time. Edison Azcona converted a penalty kick for the Dominican Republic in the 75th.
The United States faces the Dominican Republic on Sunday night and Mexico on Wednesday. The top two nations advance to the semifinals on March 28 along with two teams from Group B, which starts Friday and includes Canada, El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras.
Semifinal winners will be the final two nations in the 16-team field for the Olympic tournament, to be played from July 21 to Aug. 7 in Tokyo, Kashima, Miyagi, Saitama, Sapporo and Yokohama. At the Olympics, each team can use three players over the age limit.
Men's Olympic soccer is complicated by FIFA rules that say clubs do not have to release players for qualifying or for the Olympics themselves. That left the U.S. coach Jason Kreis without top young players such as Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna, Josh Sargent and Sergiño Dest.
Most of the U.S. players were playing their first competitive match since last fall.
“Part of guys not playing matches is that it’s not just about fitness, it’s also about their touch on the ball," Kreis said. "And so I felt that the majority of what Costa Rica did to hurt us was in transition when we gave the ball away very cheaply.”
Ferreira, a 20-year-old who was born in Colombia and became a U.S. citizen in December 2019, plays for Dallas in Major League Soccer. He scored twice for the senior national team in a 7-0 rout of Trinidad and Tobago in January.
He nearly scored in the second minute after he stripped the ball from Fernán Faerron, but Ferreira clanged an open shot off the near post.
Ferreira broke through after Mauricio Pineda passed down the left flank to Sam Vines, who crossed. The ball bounced past Hassani Dotson and Costa Rica’s Aaron Salazar to Ferreira, who scored with a right-foot shot from 8 yards.
Salt Lake's David Ochoa, a surprise starter over San Jose's JT Marcinkowski, had nine saves.
“The decision was based upon performance in this camp," Kreis said. “JT and David both came in here with a slight injury, and so it was kind of interesting to watch them in the first 10 days as they built back to a place where they were 100%. And I just felt over the last couple of days, really made the decision very, very late, but it seemed pretty clear to me that at this moment, right now, Ochoa is in a little bit better form."
There were water breaks in each half on a sunny afternoon with the temperature near 90. Ferreira appeared to cramp in the second half and was placed by Sebastian Soto in the 67th.
Costa Rica put the ball in Ochoa's net in the 39th following a corner kick only for the goal to be disallowed for offside. Faerron hit a post in the 83rd but was whistled for offside.
Notes: MF Ulysses Llanez will miss qualifying because of an ankle injury and was replaced on 20-man the U.S. roster by MF Tanner Tessmann.
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