The United States under-23 men’s national team are off to a successful start in Olympic qualifying with a great chance to wrap-up advancement to the semifinals tomorrow against the Dominican Republic. A win against Group A’s weakest side and Costa Rica failing to beat Mexico would guarantee the Americans a spot in the tournament’s all-or-nothing semifinal round.
After a gritty and messy win in the opening game against a tough opponent, Jason Kreis’ side looks to build on the positive result and gain some chemistry and confidence. Here are a few things to watch for when the USA take on the D.R. on Sunday evening (7:00 p.m. ET; FS1):
Taking care of business
The U-23’s should beat the Dominican Republic. This isn’t a cocky statement, just one of pure fact. Mexico dominated them in the opening round of matches and while this U.S. team may not have the individual talent as El Tri, they aren’t too far behind in team quality. There’s not much to over-think here. It was a workmanlike performance that saw this team prevail over Costa Rica. If they continue down that path of hard work and sticking to the gameplan it should be another three points. In reality, this match should be nothing more than a building block for the group to get more comfortable with each other and grow in confidence as they book their ticket to the last four.
Cleaning it up
To ensure that easy result comes to fruition, one big thing must happen. The back line, and the centerbacks in particular, must avoid making mistakes while building out of the back. Costa Rica’s high press gave the inexperienced American defenders fits when trying to stay composed on the ball. Mauricio Pineda, Justen Glad, and David Ochoa were all forced into dangerous turnovers in bad positions that better teams would’ve taken advantage of.
Yes, the first competitive match is always nervy, especially for a team who has really never played together before. However, with only 180 minutes until the all-important semifinal matchup, it’s crucial that these mistakes are ironed out right now. Once the ball gets past the halfway line the build-up play looks promising. It’s just a matter of the the back line and holding midfielder getting on the same page and getting the ball to the danger areas more efficiently.
Just wingin’ it
If you’ve been paying attention to the USMNT program the last 8 months or so one thing is becoming obvious: The flanks are priority number one. Gregg Berhalter has instilled a direct focus on wing play that has clearly carried over to this U-23 side. With two out-and-out wingers on each side pair with two fullbacks with attacking capabilities, the overloads and interchanges are a handful for any opposing team.
This area of the field is becoming the most telling for any observer. If the U.S. is having success at breaking down opponents on the flanks, it usually results in dangerous scoring chances. If they’re struggling to build from the wings, it’s probably going to be a long an frustrating day.