The United States under-23 men’s national team arrived in Kansas City early this week, embarking on an attempt to atone for a mishap only three years earlier. In 2012, the Americans failed to qualify for the Olympics in the United Kingdom, a result triggered by a group-stage foundering.
They’re one victory from redemption.
The U.S. clinched a spot in the CONCACAF Men’s Olympics qualifying semifinals with a 6-1 victory Saturday against Cuba at Sporting Park.
Coupled with a 3-1 win against Canada on Thursday, the U.S. has guaranteed advancement out of Group A, even with one group-stage match remaining Tuesday against Panama in Commerce City, Colo.
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The top two teams from Group A and Group B will meet in the semifinals, and the semifinal winners will be awarded spots in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“This was important. This was our goal,” U.S. under-23 coach Andi Herzog said. “... We wanted to set the tone right from the beginning. I think the boys did a good job. That’s why we deserve to be in the semifinal.”
The Americans have cruised thus far — especially on Saturday.
Two days after needing only 34 seconds to open the scoring, the damage may not have been as quick Saturday, but it was even more steady. The U.S. scored three times in the opening half and three more after halftime.
“Before the game, what we talked about in our huddle (was) being killers — having that mentality that if we get one, we’re going to get another one,” midfielder Wil Trapp said. “We go for the jugular a little bit. I thought we did that today.”
Cameron Carter-Vickers put the U.S. on the board in the 16th minute, heading a set piece from Luis Gil. Carter-Vickers’ centerback mate, Matt Miazga, pushed the margin to 2-0 before forward Jerome Kiesewetter scored the first of his two-goal output for the convincing halftime edge.
Kiesewetter, Alonso Hernandez and Emerson Hyndman supplied the second half scoring for the U.S.
Cuba broke the shutout in the 91st minute with a strike from Daniel Luis.
“I felt like we kept going at them. We didn’t settle for 3-0,” Gil said. “We kept going and going. We wanted more.”
The U.S. will play Panama at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the opportunity to rest a bulk of its players.
“We have to be smart. There’s a lot of games in a short period for the players, so we have to think about bringing some fresh legs and resting some players,” Herzog said. “But in the end, we want to win every game.”
▪ Canada defeated Panama 3-1 in the first half of the doubleheader Saturday at Sporting Park. Skylar Thomas, Michael Petrasso and Benjamin Fisk-Routledge scored for the Canadians. Panama played with only 10 men after Carlos Small was shown a red card in the 32nd minute.