U.S. soccer team seeks to clinch berth in Olympics with win over Honduras

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U.S. coach Jason Kreis gives instructions to his players against Mexico on March 24, 2021, in Guadalajara, Mexico.
U.S. coach Jason Kreis instructs his players Wednesday in a loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Olympic-qualifying tournament. The Americans can qualify for the Summer Games with a win over Honduras on Sunday. (Refugio Ruiz / Getty Images)

The United States traditionally has had a lot of luck in Olympic soccer qualifying. Unfortunately, all of it has been bad.

Five years ago, the Americans lost a two-leg intercontinental playoff for the final spot in Rio de Janeiro on a goal late in the second half. Four years earlier, they were eliminated on a score deep in stoppage time.

The U.S. gets another chance at qualifying for the Summer Games on Sunday when it faces Honduras in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico. Win and the Americans go to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. Lose and they go home to wait three years for another chance.

The same fates await Mexico and Canada in Sunday’s second semifinal.

“This group should be capable of qualifying to the Olympics, and that is our clear goal and that is what we’re going to move forward for,” U.S. coach Jason Kreis said. “But I don’t feel any extra pressure about what’s happened in the past because, frankly, we’re at a different place in our country in the game.”

Actually, Kreis should be feeling extra pressure precisely because the U.S. is at different place in soccer. For the men, the Olympic tournament is an under-23 competition — although the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Games led FIFA to extend eligibility to players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997.

If the U.S. qualifies, senior national team veterans such as Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Josh Sargent, Yunus Musah, Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie all would be eligible to play. That core not only would give the U.S. the best Olympic team in its history, but it also likely would stamp the Americans as medal favorites in Tokyo.

There would be several hurdles to clear in putting together such a roster, of course, the most significant securing releases from each player’s European club. But Pulisic and Musah already have said they’re interested.

“The Olympics is something that is, of course, a massive honor to play in. To represent your country in an Olympics would be amazing,” said Pulisic, who plays club soccer for Chelsea. “It's something I've thought about and I have wanted to play in.”

All that will be moot, however, if the U.S. doesn’t beat Honduras. While the Americans are 5-3-1 against Honduras in Olympic qualifiers, the team from Central America has won three of the last four meetings dating to 2004. That’s a big reason why Honduras has played in four of the five Olympic tournaments this century while the U.S. has qualified just once since 2000.

The U.S., which finished second in its four-team group, opened the qualifying tournament with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica and then beat the Dominican Republic 4-0, doing all the scoring in the final 30 minutes. It lost its group-play final to Mexico 1-0, putting just one shot on goal.

Honduras won Group B, beating Haiti and drawing against El Salvador and Canada.

Mexico, the 2012 Olympic champion, has won all three of its qualifiers, scoring a tournament-high eight goals in three games while posting two shutouts. It would qualify for its third straight Olympic tournament with a victory over Canada.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.