It wasn’t pretty but the Olympic Dream remains alive today after the American men’s U23 side battled to a 1-1 tie on the road against a superior Colombia side.
The home team were the aggressors from the start Friday evening in match played in sweltering conditions at Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez, in Barranquilla, Colombia
U.S. goalkeeper Ethan Horvath was sharp early and he had to be with Colombia buzzing. Winger Andres Renteria was causing all sorts of problems, in particular for Kellyn Acosta, who can play fullback but seems far more comfortable in the middle of the park.
In truth, there was little comfort for the visitors on this steamy night in Colombia, except for a moment or two surrounding Luis Gil’s opening goal.
Coming in just the game’s fifth minute and decidedly against the run of play, Gil started the scoring sequence when he picked out Mario Rodriguez on the right wing.
A good run by the forward was capped with a nice cross to Gil who had continued his move into the box and fired through a defender’s legs. A deflection aided Gil’s shot but the U.S. had an unlikely lead and 85 minutes to protect or add to it.
With Colombia dominant in possession, the latter was never likely and the former would become impossible. The U.S. task became even harder when Horvath was hammered after bravely coming off of his line to head clear and took a hard blow in the process.
After receiving treatment for several minutes Horvath stayed in the match but it soon became clear that the Molde number one was not right and Cody Cropper took over in the 45th minute.
As Horvath walked slowly from the field it was hard for U.S. followers not to think back to the 2012 Olympic elimination at the hands of El Salvador which took place just one day shy of four years ago to last night’s date and began with a goalkeeper injury to Bill Hamid and ended with a goalkeeping blunder by his replacement Sean Johnson.
There would be no such calamity Friday night, with Cropper excellent in relief and blameless on Colombia’s 68th-minute goal from the spot, although coach Andi Herzog would have dearly loved not to have burned that substitution so early.
As the teams went to the halftime break the possession arrow pointed Colombia’s way in a 73-27 % split, an unsustainable advantage that only seemed to worsen after the intermission.
Herzog’s tactics played a role as he sent his team out in an absorb and counter mode, a high wire act that always seemed like failing. With relentless pressure and the ball always in the U.S. end, the American defense finally cracked when Matt Miazga was unable to deal with an awkward high bouncing ball and Acosta was called for pulling the Colombian attacker by the shoulder, inviting him to hit the ground for a pk.
It was the right call and even though Cropper guessed correctly he could do nothing to stop Juan Fernando Quintero’s perfectly struck spot kick.
At that point, the Americans were in pure survival mode and Herzog went to his bench for fresh legs, and lungs, replacing Gil with Fatai Alashe in the 68th minute and calling Rodriguez ashore four minutes later in favor of Jerome Kiesewetter.
The pair helped stave off the onslaught but with Jordan Morris tiring up front Herzog could offer no relief. Instead, Morris continued to run his socks off as the lone outlet for U.S. clearances.
The Americans received brave performances all over the field starting with both keepers. Acosta had a rough night in his miscast role but the FC Dallas man did what he could against Colombia’s Yellow Tide.
While Miazga struggled at times, despite some timely clearances, Tim Parker stood tall beside him. The top accolades though have to go to Fulham’s Emerson Hyndman who stepped up when the U.S. desperately needed someone to do just that.
Hyndman made two or three gritty tackles and managed to give the U.S. some rare and precious possession. The midfielder even sparked a late U.S. attack that nearly gave the Yanks what would have a stunning 2-1 lead when Morris’ shot caromed off of the crossbar.
In the end, it was a result that the U.S. will happily take as they prepare for Tuesday’s second leg at Toyota Stadium, in Frisco, Texas with an away goal to show for their efforts.
The U.S. should be fine with Cropper in goal if Horvath’s injury keeps him out of action. Herzog will make some changes but he will need to find a way to gain some level of parity in possession because the team’s bend but don’t break philosophy very nearly ended up in tatters Friday night in steamy Barranquilla.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
COL 0 1 1
USA – Luis Gil (Mario Rodriguez) 5th minute
COL – Juan Fernando Quintero (penalty kick) 68
USA: 1-Ethan Horvath (12-Cody Cropper, 45); 7-Kellyn Acosta, 3-Matt Miazga, 4-Tim Parker, 20-Eric Miller; 6-Will Trapp (capt.), 13-Matt Polster, 8-Emerson Hyndman, 10-Luis Gil (14-Fatai Alashe, 66); 18-Mario Rodriguez (17-Jerome Kiesewetter, 72), 9-Jordan Morris
Subs: 2-Tyler Miller, 5-Walker Zimmerman, 11-Paul Arriola, 15-Desevio Payne, 16-Julian Green, 19-Khiry Shelton
Not available: Shane O’Neill, Dillon Serna, Brandon Vincent
Head Coach: Andres Herzog
COL: 1-Cristian Bonila; 13-Helibelton Palacios, 3-Yerry Mina, 5-Davinson Sanchez, 16-Cristian Borja; 14-Wilmar Barrios, 6-Jose Leudo (11-Jarlan Barrera, 33), 18-Andres Felipe Roa (15-Juan Pablo Nieto, 73), 10-Juan Fernando Quintero; 7-Andres Renteria (19-Rafael Santos Borre, 62), 9-Harold Preciado
Subs: 4-Deiver Machado, 8-Yony Gonzalez, 12-Luis Hurtado, 17-Roger Martinez, 20-Alvaro Montero
Head coach: Carlos Restrepo
Stats Summary: USA / COL
Shots: 5 /18
Shots on goal: 1/ 6
Saves: 4 / 0
Corner Kicks: 2 / 8
Fouls: 11 / 13
Offside: 2 / 1
USA – Matt Miazga (caution) 52nd minute
USA – Kellyn Acosta (caution) 67
COL – Rafael Santos Borre (caution) 67
USA – Cody Cropper (caution) 83
COL – Cristian Borja 90+1