The United States U-23 Men's National Team went into a sweltering Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Melendez in Barranquilla, Colombia, and left with a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Playoff. With the 16th and final spot in the Olympics on the line, the U.S. played conservative throughout the match, but it turned out to be the smart and calculated plan.
The U.S. scored the match's first goal against the run of play in the 5th minute. Luis Gil found a streaking Mario Rodriguez out wide, who in turn beat two men and centered the ball for Gil to finish. Both teams continued to have scoring opportunities (with Colombia having the lion's share), but went into halftime with the U.S. holding its lead.
Goalkeeper Cody Cropper entered the match for Ethan Horvath in the 45th minute after the latter was the recipient of a crunching challenge from Andres Renteria following a clearance.
Colombia came out strong in the second half, continuing their dominance of possession and kept the U.S. pinned back in their defensive third. Jordan Morris has the visitors' best opportunity of the half when his shot banged off the crossbar in the 64th minute.
Colombia's fortunes changed a few minutes later when substitute Rafael Borre was taken down in the box by Kellyn Acosta and drew a penalty. Juan Quintero finished the spot kick, beating Cropper low and to the right. They continued pushing for the go ahead goal, but the U.S. defense held firm until the final whistle, preserving the 1-1 draw.
The second leg is Tuesday, March 29th at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 9:30 ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2.
- Where was Colombia's defense on the Gil goal? He was all alone in the box and there wasn't a single yellow jersey within ten yards of him. There's no such thing as an easy goal at the international level, but Rodriguez barely put any pace on his cross. Colombia's midfielders were caught up the field a few times, and this is possibly something to exploit in the next leg.
- Ethan Horvath and Cody Cropper split time in goal, and both came up huge with multiple saves. They're great shot stoppers who need to work on their box control and decision making, but it's hard to find fault with their split performance in this match.
- Head coach Andreas Herzog has a big tactical decision to make going into Tuesday's match. Away goals count, so technically the U.S. is currently "winning" despite the score being tied. How much will he have his team sit back? Colombia dominated today's match and if they perform similarly next week, it's hard imagining that they'll be shut out.
- Tim Parker is quite a player. Matt Miazga is obviously a known entity, but I'm always impressed when I watch Parker.
- This match should make fans a little more optimistic heading into the second leg. A lot of people were giving the United States no chance at winning.
- Hyndman is a great passer. Again, this surprises nobody.
Starters: Ethan Horvath (GK), Matt Miazga, Tim Parker, Kellyn Acosta, Matt Polster, Wil Trapp, Emerson Hyndman, Luis Gil, Eric Miller, Jordan Morris, Mario Rodriguez
Bench: Cody Cropper, Tyler Miller, Desevio Payne, Walker Zimmerman, Fatai Alashe, Paul Arriola, Julian Green, Jerome Kiesewetter, Khiry Shelton
Starters: Cristian Bonilla (GK), Helibelton Palacios, Fernando Mina, Davinson Sanchez, Cristian Borja, Wilmar Barrios, Jose Leudo, Andres Roa, Juan Quintero, Andres Renteria, Harold Preciado
Bench: Luis Hurtado, Alvaro Montero, Deiber Machado, Yony Gonzalez, Juan Nieto, Roger Martinez, Rafael Borre, Jarlan Barrera, Jherson Vergara