U.S. men begin Olympic qualifying with nervy win

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Nicholas Mendola
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Jesus Ferreira’s 35th-minute goal was one of the lone bright spots for the United States U-23 men as they nonetheless claimed three points from lively Costa Rica in both nations’ CONCACAF Olympic qualifying opener in Mexico on Thursday.

The Yanks got their pocket-picked plenty for Costa Rica, too often in their own third, but that often-critical group-opening three points has Jason Kreis’ crew looking good for the semifinal stage thanks to a number of saves from David Ochoa and (mostly) steady performances from center back Justen Glad and midfielder Jackson Yueill.

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The two semifinal winners earn places in the Olympics, and the U.S. has missed three of the last four. This win, make no mistake about it, is big.

Mexico might feel like a big winner given the Yanks’ performance, but may also now be more wary of a Los Ticos side that was anything but dodgy.

1. Warning signs everywhere, but U.S. gets its winning start

Up 1-0 at the break, the Yanks might’ve been level a few times were it not for David Ochoa.

The 20-year-old Real Salt Lake goalkeeper wasn’t perfect, wrong-footed on a wayward shot in the 52nd minute, but his seven saves in the first 51 minutes kept the Yanks in front of Los Ticos despite myriad errors at the back.

At one point, RSL teammate Justen Glad cleared a low ball from the right side of his own third directly to a Costa Rica player 15 yards outside the arc. Fellow RSL defender Aaron Herrera also made a few errors, and Ochoa might’ve been wondering if this was some sort of intra-club practical joke (though Glad was mostly good on the day).

And honestly it could’ve been 1-1 much earlier off a 39th-minute corner kick, but a pair of Costa Rican forwards were offside when a hopeful ball was headed back over the pack and across the goal line.

MLS vets Randall Leal (Nashville) and Luis Diaz (Columbus) were all over the U-23s, and Kreis should be happy that his sloppy-passing kids got their three points. Los Ticos hit the goal post, point-blank off a late corner, though Fernan Faerron was offside.

2. Opening goal calms the nerves… for a bit

Hassani Dotson’s surge toward Sam Vines’ cross meant neither he nor Costa Rica’s right center back could meet the ball, and Ferreira smashed home at the back post to make good on the threatening message he sent hitting the woodwork in the second minute.

Ferreira, however, was injured lunging for a Hassani Dotson through ball and Kreis will be hoping it’s simply a scare because the FC Dallas striker accounted for four the Yanks’ seven shots through 67 minutes, completing all of his eight passes.

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3. The good news is another match to get right for Mexico, two before semis

A win is a win and the Yanks will be heavily favored to cruise past the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

And anyone who hits the pitch in that game can make a case to start against Mexico on Wednesday, because very few did enough to scream “full-time starter” to Kreis.

And honestly? Thursday’s win over Costa Rica is likely going to be enough for a semifinal place, and that March 28 match against Honduras, Canada, El Salvador, or Haiti is what decides the two CONCACAF entrants into the Tokyo Summer Games.

Kreis and his men have 180 minutes to get right for that.

U.S. U-23 player ratings v Costa Rica

David Ochoa: 8 — Some dicey moments but his nine saves are why they won.

Sam Vines: 5 — Did well going forward but had some rough, rough moments in defense. Missed on nine of 27 passes.

Justen Glad: 8 — One big mistake could take him down a peg but several goal-saving tackles and blocks say that would be harsh.

Mauricio Pineda: 6 — Costa Rica pushed his side and Pineda joined Vines in looking wobbly.

Aaron Herrera: 5 — Too many risks.

Jackson Yueill: 7 — Steady as you’d expected from the experienced metronome.

Djordje Mihailovic (Off 59′): 5 — Expected more from the experienced playmaker.

Hassani Dotson (Off 82′): 7 — Powerful, heady, and dangerous albeit without finish.

Benji Michel (Off 59′): 5 — Worked hard but struggled to find his footing.

Jonathan Lewis (Off 83′): 6 — More industry and a big more incisive than Michel.

Jesus Ferreira (Off 67′): 7 — Down a point because he could’ve easily had two or three goals instead of one.

Subs

Andres Perea (On 59′): 7 — Tough and steady.
Sebastian Saucedo (On 59′): 5 — The opposite of Perea
Sebastian Soto (On 67′): 6 — On an island.
Johnny Cardoso (On 82′): N/A
Julian Araujo (On 83′): N/A

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U.S. men begin Olympic qualifying with nervy win originally appeared on NBCSports.com