Mar 24, 2012, 11:00 PM EDT
We’ve covered the flaws in the U.S. under-23 team. And good luck fixing all that.
So now let’s examine the hole that’s Caleb Porter’s team just dug. Because his under-23s grabbed themselves a mess of shovels, started madly turning over the dirt and dug themselves a real lulu.
The United States definitely can beat El Salvador on Monday. It’s no slam dunk, for all the reasons outlined in the previous post. Still, there’s no reason Porter’s men can’t come shining through and extend the Olympic dream.
But that’s just it; this whole thing isn’t about showing El Salvador what’s what. Months of planning, training camps, new coaching hires, etc., weren’t all about overcoming a small Central American country on one Monday night in Nashville.
It’s about getting to London, of course. And the road to London just went underwater, suddenly much more difficult to navigate. Here’s why:
Beating El Salvador only gets the United States into the semifinals, a stage that probably just became significantly tougher.
Best-case scenario for Porter and his team was to win Saturday, gain complete control of the group and switch on the cruise control by changing out eight starters. They could have rested the main men for that important semifinal ahead. (Both semifinal winners gain London 2012 berths.)
Now Porter has no choice but to put his best and brightest out there Monday – for the third time in five days, an absurdly demanding schedule. They will have four full days of rest before the March 31 semifinal in Kansas City. Still, fatigue becomes an issue, especially if their Group B opponent can comfortably rest its top talent in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (The full CONCACAF qualifying schedule is here.)
Speaking of that opponent:
It was always likely to be Honduras or Mexico. By finishing first in Group A, the U.S. under-23s could have maximized their odds of dodging Mexico in the money round. Now, if things go as expected, Mexico will finish first in Group B with Honduras placing second.
Because a U.S. win Monday would most likely leave Porter’s team in second place, that means … yep: Mexico and the United States would meet for a winner-take-all semifinal. Only one of the CONCACAF big boys will go to London.
That’s all assuming the United States can win Monday.
So it looks now like the road to London doesn’t just go through Monday’s dangerous neighborhood (the win-or-go-home against El Salvador). Now it also goes through Mexico’s talented assembly – more than likely, anyway.
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