GUADALAJARA, Mexico – It certainly was far from the end of the world, but if the USA has a similar result in four days, it could be.
Mexico defeated the United States, 1-0, in the final Group A match of the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship at Estadio Jalisco Wednesday night.
The match was used to determine which team would win the group and play the second place team in Sunday night’s semifinals.
The Americans (2-1-0, 6 points) finished second in the group as El Tri ran the table with a 3-0-0 mark and nine points.
The USA will play for a spot in the Tokyo Olympics against the Group B winner – Honduras or Canada Sunday. The U.S. men’s team hasn’t qualified for an Olympics since the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
The loss left the U.S. with a 4-6-3 in 13 Olympic qualifying encounters with the Mexicans.
“Mexico is obviously a very good team,” USA head coach Jason Kreis said. “Felt we competed very well, felt like we competed very well, felt like we had some chances in the game. Wish we had done a little bit better in the final third. We’ve been searching for a little bit more sharpness amongst this whole tournament in all the games in that phase of the game, but I’m really pleased with the effort. I’m really pleased with the fight that we had. And ultimately, difficult to lose the game on an individual error, but as we said before the game, the most important game is coming. So we need to move forward very quickly and prepare ourselves for that.”
Three matches into the tournament, the USA continued to show its rust because it did not have a true preseason until the team started to train here March 1. Usually, Major League Soccer players will begin training in mid-January. This year it was delayed until March.
“Tonight we saw really bright spots,” Kreis said. “I think we also saw spots where you’re like, ‘Wow, these guys are still rusty, still making mistakes that you don’t typically see them make in passes and movements, those sorts of things.
“Ultimately, I think that we’re in a good enough place that we will get the result in the very next game.”
An error in the Americans’ defensive zone led to the lone goal of the match in the 44th minute. Sebastian Soto’s poor pass was intercepted and Uriel Altuna connected from the top of the penalty area past goalkeeper David Ochoa.
It was a tough blow to take so close to halftime.
“It’s difficult,” USA defender Mauricio Pineda said. “I think it’s a game of small details and getting all those right and against the best teams, you’re going to get punished og you make even the smallest of mistakes. Today we were punished for that.
“We have to start punishing teams on the other side of the field as well.”
Until then the USA had played solid first half.
The lineups were a study in contrast. Kreis deployed a Starting XI of players he probably won’t use in the semifinals, including ones that had accrued yellow cards.
The Mexicans, on the other hand, used a lineup that was close to their win over Costa Rica Sunday.
“I thought it was really interesting that they use basically the same lineup over the three games,” Kreis said. “If this is their strong strongest lineup, you would expect that they’re going to be playing them again. So four games over the span of 11 days, I think there’s a lot to ask for for any of these players. But I don’t know. The other the other truth of the matter is that Mexico’s in midseason form their players are in midseason form, which is very different from ours.
“So we literally couldn’t have done the same thing, where our players would never physically have been able to handle that, which I think is a really cool thing for us. We get to use all of our players. We get to kind of come into this tournament with the approach that it’s about the team, and that everybody’s going to contribute to the team effort and we’ve put our money where our mouth is.
“So hopefully we go into this next game with, with quite a few fresh players and quite a few hungry players to make the difference and to punch our ticket to Tokyo.”
In the first game of the doubleheader, Costa Rica defeated the Dominican Republic, 5-0.
Group B will be decided Thursday night.