27th March, 2012
The U.S. entered the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with high expectations, but going home empty-handed after Jaime Alas’ goal in stoppage time lifted El Salvador to a 3-3 tie in the final game of group played yesterday in Nashville, ending the Americans’ Olympic soccer dreams.
The U.S. squad were about a minute shy of the victory it needed to advance to the tournament semifinals as the winner of their group when Alas charged up the centre of the American defence and uncorked a blast from 25 yards out that bounced once before eluding backup U.S. keeper Sean Johnson, who got a hand on the shot but couldn’t stop it.
That not only knocked the U.S. out of the tournament, but it also changed El Salvador’s fortunes, with the Central Americans leaping from elimination to the top of the Group A standings ahead of Canada, which tied Cuba, 1-1, in Monday’s first game and advanced as the group runner-up.
El Salvador, who last qualified for the Olympics in 1968, figure to play Honduras in the semifinal, provided their Central American neighbours get past winless Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of Group B play Tuesday at the Home Depot Centre. Canada are all but certain to face unbeaten Mexico, the probable Group B winners and the dominant team in the tournament so far. The winners of those two games will represent the CONCACAF region in London this summer.
None of that matters to the U.S., which will be watching at home after fighting back from a 2-1 deficit to take a one-goal lead in the 68th minute, only to give it back four minutes into stoppage time and miss the Olympics for the second time in three tries.
Surprise starter Terrence Boyd gave the U.S. an immediate spark, scoring in the game’s opening minute. But El Salvador rallied late in the half, going ahead on goals by Lester Blanco and Andres Flores.
Two minutes after the second score, U.S. keeper Bill Hamid, who needed on-field attention after a collision earlier in the half, left the game in favor of Johnson, who faced few tough chances apart from the score-tying goal.