The United States' absence from the 2012 Summer Olympics can be traced back to March 24, 2012. After a scoreless first half in front of nearly 11,000 fans in Nashville, the U.S. Under-23 team dropped a 2-0 result to Canada, a defeat that would eventually prevent it from advancing out of group play.
A better start emerged in 2015. And it came in Kansas City.
The United States defeated Canada 3-1 in front of 3,827 fans at Sporting Park late Thursday, a victory sparked by two goals from 20-year-old Jordan Morris.
He needed only 34 seconds for his first one. Morris, the only college player on the U.S. Under-23 roster, headed home a crossing pass from fellow forward Jerome Kiesewetter, who made an encouraging run down the ride flank. The tally came before Canada even touched the ball.
"Honestly, it just kind of hit me in the head," Morris said. "There was no goalie there, so it went in."
Morris, 20, who attends Stanford, added another goal in the 73rd minute, pushing the margin to 2-0 before Canada forward Michael Petrasso pulled one back in the 81st minute. Luis Gil countered with a penalty kick in the 92nd minute for the U.S., which is looking for its first Olympics berth since 2008.
To qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, nations are required to use their Under-23 squads.
"When you lead 1-0, it's always a little bit easier," U.S. U-23 coach Andi Herzog said. "We played the first 25 minutes really good. ... In some situations, we have to do a little bit better, but for the first game, I'm really happy that everything worked well."
Cuba and Panama tied 1-1 in the first half of a Group A doubleheader Thursday at Sporting Park.
The Americans will face Cuba at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sporting Park before concluding group play with a match Tuesday against Panama in Commerce City, Colo.
"We have to find the right balance and right mixture for the second game," Herzog said. "Today was a tough game for everyone — hardworking. We had to bring a lot of energy to this game to win this game. Already in two days, we have to find a fresh team and fresh legs."
The top two placers in Group A will qualify for the semifinal round of Olympics qualifying, along with the top two finishers in Group B. The semifinal winners will be awarded spots in the 2016 Summer Olympics.