The U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Soccer Team survived a 1-1 test against Colombia in the first of two games that will determine which nation will be the 16th and final team to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Facing a challenging environment in the Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Melendez in Barranquilla, Colombia, the American side broke on top in the fifth minute on a counterattack goal that started with a Wil Trapp feed to Luis Gil across midfield. Gil found Mario Rodriguez along the right side. Rodriguez held off a tightly marking Colombian defender to carry the ball to the goal line, then slotted a perfect pass back to the penalty spot. Gil, who had continued his run after dishing to Rodriguez, stepped into a one-timer that found the left side of the net to put the visitors up 1-0.
From there, it was a matter of the U.S. players fighting off the relentless Colombian attack and the oppressive Colombian heat. The game started with a temperature of 91 degrees and 60 percent humidity, making the heat index a stifling 102.
Firmly set in their 4-3-1-2, the Americans appeared content to bunker and defend all Colombian challenges. It was working well early, but as the heat took its toll on the U.S. back line, Colombia applied more pressure, possessing the ball three minutes for every one minute the visitors held it.
A golden opportunity to push the score to 2-0 came in the 64th minute when a pass across the top of the U.S. penalty area led to the right-footed rocket from Jordan Morris that crashed into the crossbar and bounced away. Three minutes later Colombia equalized on a penalty kick assessed when Kellyn Acosta was caught taking down Rafael Santos Borre in the penalty area. Juan Fernando Quintero converted the ensuring penalty kick for a 1-1 score.
The U.S. defense held strong the rest of the way, anchored by the stout play of Vancouver Whitecaps defender Tim Parker, who was a wall in the center of the defensive third.
The scene now shifts to Frisco, Texas, for the second leg of the qualifier on March 29. The away goal scored Friday could be a difference-maker for the United States, since they are the determining factor in a tiebreaking situation. If they can come away Tuesday with a 0-0 draw, the Americans would receive the final ticket to Rio.