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Want to get to the Olympics? The U-23s should bunker.

Yeah, I said it. Thanks to the away goals rule, parking the bus in Frisco can be more beneficial to the U-23s' qualifying hopes than opening up the field and going for goal.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The United States U-23s earned a 1-1 draw in Colombia last week, which was met with widespread, cautious applause from the U.S. Soccer community. No, this wasn't in appreciation that the U-23s just didn't get embarrassed (although I'm sure that was somewhere under the surface in the general American soccer psyche); a 1-1 draw was actually a positive step towards Olympic qualification, all due to the magic of away goals.

A simple refresher: Away goals are a tie-breaker in soccer used for most home-and-home aggregate series. If after two games, the two teams are tied on aggregate, the team with the most goals scored away from him advances (the theory being that home teams typically score and win more often than away teams, which I'm sure has some mathematical merit somewhere). If the teams are tied on both total goals and away goals, the game moves to extra time.

Away goals are important, and Luis Gil's deflected finish could very well be the most important moment of the U-23 team's qualification campaign, simply because that away goal changes the outlook of this game completely. Suddenly, pushing for goals at home in the second leg becomes less important than keeping Colombia off the scoresheet in Frisco, Texas. And with that in mind, I offer a simple gameplan for the United States: bunker and counter like your lives depend on it.

Here's the thing: pushing for a goal and then dropping back into a defensive stance (as the U.S. did like clockwork in Colombia) doesn't have as good of a risk versus reward return as just starting out defending and waiting for places to open up a counter attack. Why? A 0-0 draw and a 1-0 produce the same result for the U-23s. They advance and Colombia goes home. Pushing for a goal, however, also opens up the U.S. defense and allows Colombia more space and opportunities for their attack to find a vital away goal. And if Colombia were to score two goals in Frisco, the U.S. would have to score three to avoid going home.

Now, before you mention it, yes, I realize that holding the ball, maintaining possession and dictating the attack is a better way to play soccer, and would also keep the U.S. fresher on the field instead of getting tired and chasing the ball all game, and all in all would probably be a more preferable way to see this game out. But let me ask you: when the last time you saw a United States Men's team successfully do that against someone ranked within the FIFA top 100 for a full 90 minutes? The U-23s haven't proven that they're capable of this. In fact, they've looked positively vulnerable in possession plenty of times. Polster, Trapp, Gil, Hyndman, and whoever else Herzog might occasionally slot into the middle of the field have not looked completely adept at keeping possession against great teams, let alone competent ones. Would I love for the U-23s to come out, score three goals, and pass for the last 45 minutes just for fun? Yes. But that's not going to happen with this group.

Gunning for an opening goal is an unnecessary risk that doesn't play to the strengths this team has: an ability to keep organization at the back when playing to hold a lead (which they can do marginally well, if not wonderfully) and taking advantage of their speed up top in Morris, Kiesewetter, and Rodriguez (and I guess Julian Green, if he still exists outside of his Twitter account). It also doesn't play to the strengths of the U.S. position via the away goals rule. If the U.S. run out and score a goal to go up 2-1, they're still in the same position to advance, and Colombia still needs to score just one goal to continue in the competition (which is the same position they were in to start). And that's assuming that the U.S. does score a goal should they go for one. Defense first is boring and pragmatic, but it can be effective.

So, here's an example of the type of lineup that could do this:

It's pretty similar to the one we already saw against Colombia, but the two forward set is ditched in favor of adding an extra midfielder. Arriola and Hyndman are both players that will work hard on both sides of the ball for the entire game, and ones whose natural inclinations will bring them in towards the middle of the pitch and prevent Colombia from getting space to operate towards the center. I like this formation because if Colombia does score (odds are they will; this lineup just makes it a lot harder for them), you can blow it wide open by bringing in Kiesewetter and Khiry Shelton on the flanks. I also replaced Kellyn Acosta with Desevio Payne, because 1) Acosta is not an outside back, and 2) Payne is.

Maybe this is a regression, and maybe I'm sacrificing all development and the chance for a different culture and attacking identity to develop in our youth systems, but this is the U-23s. These guys are pros now, and results matter for them. And if the U.S. gets to the Olympics, they'll get there thanks to away goals, defense, and counter attack.