Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mission Accomplished: USMNT U23s Qualify for Semifinals

After two strong efforts in the group stage of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship, the United States U23s punched their ticket to the semifinals. Defeating Canada (3-1) and Cuba (6-1) means the US team has six points out of a possible nine and passage through to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

The best part of the tournament for me, so far, has been the play of the kids called up from the U20s. Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Jordan Morris (Stanford University), Gedion Zelalem (Rangers), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Maki Tall (FC Sion) and Gboly Ariyibi (Chesterfield FC/England) have all acquitted themselves very well. In addition, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Hyndman, Morris, Kiesewetter all scored in the first two matches with Morris and Kiesewetter tallying two goals each.

This is a welcome change from the team that played in the tournament trying to qualify for London in 2012. The semifinals/finals were held here at Sporting Park, but the US didn't qualify because they played poorly and got knocked out of the competition by Canada, something you don't hear very often, unless it's in relation to ice hockey.

The main change, I think, comes from the team's attitude. While Cuba may be a depleted side with only four available subs on the bench (two of whom were goalkeepers), coach Andi Herzog said after the game that he was pleased with the fact there wasn't a letdown and they kept the foot on the gas. Midfielder Wil Trapp said they'd developed the killer instinct and once they get one goal, they keep wanting to get more, no matter how many they get.

The final group stage game, at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO, on Tuesday against Panama will be more of a challenge than Cuba (I know that's not saying much), but it will also provide an opportunity for Herzog to get some guys playing time that haven't so far. Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath is joining the team from his club in Norway (Molde) after playing well against Ajax in the Europa League this past week.

As long as they make the final, a United States soccer team will be traveling to Brazil for the second time in three years. The kids, as they've shown in the last three days, are all right.

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