U.S. men keep Olympic hopes alive with 1-1 playoff draw at Colombia

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U.S. men keep Olympic hopes alive with 1-1 playoff draw at Colombia
U.S. men keep Olympic hopes alive with 1-1 playoff draw at Colombia

Truth be told, nobody gave the Americans much of a chance. Facing some of South America's best young talent in Colombia in their home-and-away playoff for a spot at the Summer Olympics, they would surely get dominated. And on Friday, they did.

[ FC Yahoo: U.S. failing to qualify for another Olympics would be disastrous ]

Yet somehow, some way, the United States Under-23 national team managed to sneak out of Barranquilla with a 1-1 tie, putting them on firm footing for a spot in Rio de Janeiro this August. Luis Gil's fifth-minute tally was canceled out by a second-half penalty kick, but it nevertheless gives the Yanks the advantage of an away goal going into the return game on Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

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This was an improbable outcome. In the 91-degree kickoff-time humidity, with a heat index creeping into three figures, the U.S. could scarcely keep up with their fitter and more technical opponents. From the first whistle, the USA absorbed enormous pressure, giving away three-quarters of possession and shots throughout the game.

Yet the U.S. eked out a result with the occasional breakaway, capitalizing on the speed of senior national team striker Jordan Morris and his ilk. In just the fifth minute, Mario Rodriguez found room on the right, beat his man and cut back for the trailing Gil, whose finish snuck through a defender and went in at the far post.

But after that, the U.S. spent most of the game sitting deep and bailing out water. While this is a tried and true formula for the Americans in major tournaments at all levels, it led to plenty of nervy moments against the Colombians.

Yet, inexplicably, the U.S. would have the better of the scoring chances, courtesy of the Cafeteros' disjointed play in the final third and profligacy in front of goal. Before the half hour was up, Gil had another fine opportunity but miss-hit his half-volley and sent it wide.

The Yanks would lose their goalkeeper before halftime. Ethan Horvath suffered a massive collision when he headed away a bad back-pass, an assault that merited a yellow card but wasn't punished with one.

Horvath stayed on, but would eventually be substituted for Cody Cropper.

The second half was mostly more of the same. Yet once again, the Americans came close to stealing another goal. Morris flicked a shot off the cross-bar with an unreal poke off the outside of his boot just after the hour.

But soon enough, USA's resistance broke. Colombia was denied a goal for a foul on Cropper. And then miscast right back Kellyn Acosta pulled Rafael Santos Borre down needlessly and mindlessly in his own box in the 67th minute. Juan Quintero converted the penalty.

Yet slowly, as the game dragged on, even the home team ran out of gas. A frustrated Colombia still threatened plenty, but the Americans managed to ride out the game and salvage the tie. As such, they not only remain alive in their quest for the Olympics – after the U.S. men were absent in 2004 and 2012 – but they actually hold the aggregate lead on the away goal.


Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.


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