Winning was the only option. A win would give them the group after a late goal by Cuba to tie with Canada. There were a couple changes and Terrence Boyd got a chance as the main striker. The pressure was on as El Salvador had similar stakes to find the semifinal matches on Saturday. The third game in five days would tell the tale.
Boyd made the most of his starting role with a beautiful volley off a service from Brek Shea in the first minute to take the 1-0 lead. Shea stayed strong on the ball down the left side and shrugged off a defender to get to the end line and deliver the ball. Shea was decisive and quick in the early going. With the top brass in the U.S. Soccer Federation looking on, the team’s start was very good.
A couple yellow cards and set pieces later and the game settled in, but the emotions were evident. The physicality and fan noise picked up more on the El Salvador side. El Salvador has only been to the Olympics in 1968 with the last group stage participation coming in 1986.
As SLV began to press the U.S. got somewhat lazy. Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud were not strong on the ball and the communication was not up to par. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid also stumbled coming off his line tweaking his ankle in the 30th minute. He did not look comfortable and the attack was on his side of the pitch. Lester Blanco put home a header in the 35th minute and it was once again El Salvador on top of the group. Andreas Flores would score two minutes later off a bad giveaway from Perry Kitchen. The defending was poor and Hamid was not helping his team with the injury. Sean Johnson would come in for Hamid shortly after the second goal. Perhaps it was too late.
A quick goal by Boyd quickly turned into a half played better by the team in blue. The all white U.S. kit was tarnished after that great start. The importance of the second half grew immensely. With one substitute lost and El Salvador looking to control possession it was an uphill battle. The attack became hopeful as balls were thrown to an area and the game of the United States seemed disrupted as SLV packed their defensive third with at least six players.
Into the last third of the game and no substitutions from coach Caleb Porter. Still somehow, against the run of play, Adu wins a ball off a clearance by Johnson and gets a sneaky pass over to Boyd for his second of the game in the 65th minute. It was now tied and the U.S. still needed one to advance. Captain Adu was trying his best to move the U.S. forward. He then connected with Joe Corona at the far post to give the U.S. the lead. Drama at its finest on the pitch.
SLV had stopped attacking sitting back, but immediately won a free kick after the Corona goal. It would end harmlessly and the U.S. were twenty minutes from winning the group. Porter began chewing the gum even harder and glancing at the clock anxiously. The game had a little bit of everything at this point with Boyd taking a blatant punch entering the box just before a closeline on Diskerud. Boyd would exchange his bloodied jersey and continue on.
Four minutes of stoppage time, including two late corners for El Salvador kept the mood tense until the last second. Johnson was confident, until the stoppage time goal that put El Salvador through to the semifinals. What was a four minute stoppage time period turned into six minutes and the United States was done. Shea tried to dribble out of the midfield leading to the counterattack with Jaime Alas short hopping Johnson and spinning the ball into the net.
Porter changed his substitution pattern. Shea made a misstep, two midfielders over pursued, El Salvador ran against the grain uncontested, and Johnson had a bad moment.
London calling, now don’t looks at us
Regardless of the outcome, Corona and Adu were not great for most of the game. When the intensity was at its highest, they had their best moments. When the intensity hit a level that seemed impossible, neither were on the pitch. Maybe Adu should not be dealing with the referees and be free to roam. His career has been full of ups and downs, but he showed something to the U.S. faithful.
As another aside, the crowd was disappointing in Nashville as the ELV fans seemed louder and more prominent. A possible Olympic birth was on the line and the seats were empty. It is a Monday night. It ended in a horrible way, but the support is always appreciated.
We will have more commentary on the loss in the days to come.