On Thursday night in Guadalajara, Mexico the United States U-23 Men’s Soccer Team defeated Costa Rica 1-0 to open up the group stage of the 2020 Concacaf Olympic Qualifiers. With the win, the United States moves to 1-0-0 in the Olympic Qualifiers.
It doesn’t have to be pretty for the United States and this win over Costa Rica was anything but. With the roster being made primarily of MLS-based players the lack of match-fitness was evident. To make matters worse the match took place at over 5000 feet above sea level and in 90+ degree temperatures.
The U.S. looked jittery and made a whole host of mistakes throughout the match including in the opening minutes of the match. After a near goal in the opening minutes, Jesus Ferreira got the U.S. a lead in the 35th minute. The FC Dallas product scored with Sam Vines being able to reign in a tough pass, burst down the left side, and then send in a cross that deflected to the feet of Ferreira who sent in a pass of a shot.
While Ferriera scored the game-winner the man of the match for the United States was goalkeeper David Ochoa. The 20-year-old surprised many by earning the start over a more experienced JT Marcinkowski but the Southern California native quickly dispelled those thoughts. Ochoa who only has one MLS start under his belt made nine saves on the day including many that had a high degree of difficulty.
When the U.S. made mistakes in building out of the back and turned the ball over or got hit on the counter it was Ochoa who bailed them out time and time again. If there were any questions on who should be the goalkeeper of this team go-forward they were answered on Thursday night.
“I think he was arguably the most important player for us today,” said U.S. U-23 Head Coach Jason Kreis on Ochoa’s performance. “I think he stepped forward in a big way. Some of the times he came off his line to read plays, balls that were put in behind us, were second to none.”
In his post-game press conference, Kreis did note that the decision to start Ochoa was a last-minute decision and was based on his performance in the last few days of training camp.
All That Matters Is Getting A Win
While it is very easy to look at this match and see all the issues the United States had the only thing that matters is the fact that they were able to open up the group stage with a win. In Group A you have notable programs such as the U.S., Costa Rica, and Mexico. This win was critical for the U.S.. Most of these players hadn’t played a competitive match in over four months so looking rusty isn’t exactly a shock. Meanwhile, Costa Rica has a roster of players that are primarily in mid-season form. As the game got into the later stages the overall energy of the team dropped as the heat and lack of playing time got to a lot of the players.
“It is one thing that you are looking for from your players,” said U.S. U-23 Head Coach Jason Kreis after the match. “To gut out a result when things maybe aren’t going their way and when they are super-super fatigued. You saw at the end of the game how difficult it was for some of our players to get through that match. So now we say yes, we’ve got the three points in our pocket and we are going to be a team that will improve over the course of this tournament.”
But as they say, there is no rest for the weary. The U.S. will be back in action on Sunday when they take on the Dominican Republic. That match will kick-off at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcasted on FS1. Expect to see plenty of squad rotation due to the quick turnaround and the fact that many players are not in mid-season form. That could mean that New England Revolution Defender Henry Kessler could have his United States debut. The center-back has never represented the United States at any level and was on the bench for the entirety of the match against Costa Rica.
There also may be some cause for concern regarding the goal scorer Ferreira. The 20-year-old left the match in the 67th minute after coming up limp after a dangerous run into the box. Initially, the referee called for the stretcher but Ferreira was able to walk off the field on his own power.