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U.S. Soccer

U.S. soccer perfect in Olympic qualifying group play, set to learn opponent for Rio berth

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) — Sluggish in the first half, the Americans needed some kind of catalyst.

So the team called on Jerome Kiesewetter and Jordan Morris, ending their nights off.

Kiesewetter sparked the offense with a goal and an assist in the second half, and the United States beat Panama 4-0 in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying on a rainy Tuesday.

Already through to the semifinal round, the Americans didn’t have much to play for and rested several of their starters. Scoreless at halftime, coach Andi Herzog turned to his bench for a lift, sending in Kiesewetter and Morris.

The U.S. caught a break early in the second half when Panama defender Fidel Escobar knocked in a crossing shot. Kiesewetter then scored about three minutes later and Morris right after that.

Luis Gil wrapped up the scoring by converting a penalty kick, helping the Americans advance out of Group A with a 3-0 record. Canada finished second.

“Overall, in the first half, Panama was not the better team, but created two or three chances,” Herzog said. “After halftime with three goals in 10 minutes, we showed them we’re the better team.”

Next up for the U.S. is an important game Saturday in Sandy, Utah, where the semifinal winners automatically qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next summer. The U.S., which failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, will play Mexico or Honduras, which face each other Wednesday night with the winner taking over the top spot in Group B.

U.S. goalkeeper Ethan Horvath had a rather quiet game as a steady rain fell most of the evening. He probably needed it as well, since he’s just arriving from his club team in Norway. Herzog had to all but beg Horvath’s club to allow him to travel to the U.S. for qualifying.

It just so happens that Horvath is from nearby Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

“At the end, I can’t make a decision if a player (will play) whether he’s born here or not,” Herzog said. “For me, it was clear that when Ethan was coming and felt fine, I wanted to start him right away.”

Goalkeeper Elieser Powell kept Panama close in the first half with one splendid save after another, including one where he tipped a ball over the crossbar.

Still, the disparity in talent was evident.

“These players have a better future than they have a present,” Panama coach Leonardo Pipino said through an interpreter. “We have to work hard, the federation has to work hard, to have something for them to do, a place for them to go.

“If you look at the U.S. and Mexico start lists, you’ll see players who play in the MLS, who play in Europe. … The federation has to work internally to find a place for them to go so they can continue to progress.”

There was a scary moment for the Americans near the end of the first half, when midfielder Maki Tall was tackled hard from behind and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. He returned a few minutes later, but didn’t play in the second half.

Gboly Ariyibi sent the pass into the middle that hit off Escobar’s leg and went into the goal to start the scoring spree.

With nothing really on the line in this contest, the U.S. gave goalkeeper Zack Steffen and defender Matt Miazga the night off. Midfielder Marc Pelosi didn’t play after needing stitches in his shin following a hard tackle in the Cuba match last Saturday in Kansas City, Kansas.

“We were kind of slow in the first half. They put the pressure on us,” Gil said. “Second half we got things going and once one goal came, three goals came right after it.”

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U.S. men’s soccer one win from Rio Olympics

Cameron Carter-Vickers
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KANSAS CITY — The U.S. is into the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, one win from reaching Rio 2016, after hammering an overwhelmed and undermanned (five players have defected since joining the team this week) Cuba, 6-1 at Sporting Park on Saturday.

Up next for the U.S. is a clash with Panama on Tuesday in Commerce City, Colo., which is not the must-win game for Olympic qualifying purposes. But it is important.

A draw with Panama secures the top spot in Group A, meaning the not-so-baby Yanks would play the runner-up from Group B (Mexico is expected to finish atop Group B) in the semifinals next Saturday.

The two semifinal winners advance to the Olympics. If the U.S. loses to Panama on Tuesday, Canada could finish atop the group with a win over Cuba and the making up of seven goals in the differential column.

The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2004 and 2012 Olympics and last earned a men’s Olympic soccer medal in 1904.

On Saturday, Cameron Carter-Vickers put the Americans on the board in the 16th minute, when he headed home Luis Gil’s free kick from no more than four yards out. Gil’s in-swinging ball beat the first line of Cuban defenders and fell ever-so-perfectly to the head of the retreating Tottenham Hotspur center back.

Matt Miazga gave the U.S. under-23 team a deserved 2-0 lead in the 36th minute. Matt Polster whipped in the out-swinging cross, Miazga rose above multiple defenders nine yards from goal and sent a looping, bouncing header for the far post where Cuban goalie Sandy Sanchez could do nothing about it.

Two minutes later, Jordan Morris fed Jerome Kiesewetter his first goal of the tournament on a silver platter. Gil played Morris, who scored twice off of Kiesewetter assists Thursday night, into the penalty area. As Sanchez raced out to close down Morris’ shooting angle, the Stanford standout squared the ball to Kiesewetter at the top of the six-yard box. No mistake from Kiesewetter, who slotted the ball home first-time.

Kiesewetter made it 4-0 to the U.S. U-23s in the 49th minute. Marc Pelosi crossed the ball from wide of the six-yard box, past the scrambling Sanchez, all the way across the endline. Kiesewetter, 22, was waiting at the far post and hammered the ball into an empty net.

Emerson Hyndman’s finish from a tight angle made it 5-0 in the 69th minute.

Alonso Hernandez made it 6-0 in the 76th minute. Gboly Ariyibi played the FC Juarez striker into the penalty area, where a thoroughly defeated Cuba defense was slow to close him down. Hernandez for the near post and bagged his first goal of the tournament.

Daniel Luis scored Cuba’s late consolation goal in the 92nd minute.

MORE SOCCER: FIFA says soccer clubs don’t have to release players for Rio Olympics

U.S. downs Canada to open Olympic men’s soccer qualifying

Jordan Morris
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KANSAS CITY — The U.S.’ Olympic qualifying quest got off to a strong start Thursday night, as Andi Herzog‘s squad knocked off Canada 3-1 at Sporting Park.

Jordan Morris bagged a brace, his fourth and fifth U-23 U.S. national team goals of the calendar year, on a night that saw the not-so-baby Yanks race out to an early lead, defend for their lives for the better part of 45 minutes, score a second goal against the run of play and concede shortly thereafter to keep the final result in doubt until a third goal secured all three points.

The U.S. must advance from its four-team group as one of the top two sides and win an Oct. 10 semifinal in Sandy, Utah, to automatically qualify for the Olympics.

If it loses its semifinal, it can still make it to Rio if it wins the CONCACAF third-place game on Oct. 13 in Sandy and then beats Colombia in a later playoff.

The U.S. men failed to qualify for the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Olympics and last won an Olympic medal in 1904.

Up next for the U.S. will be Cuba at Sporting Park (Watch live, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET on Telemundo). Canada will face the other half of Thursday night’s opener, a 1-1 draw, Panama at 2:30 p.m. ET.

On Thursday, the Americans took an early lead before Canada had their first touch of the ball. Jerome Kiesewetter raced down the right wing and whipped a dangerous cross to the top of the six-yard box, where Morris was waiting. The 20-year-old collegiate star rose above his marker and headed the ball home with ease.

Kiesewetter continued his tormenting of Canada in the 21st minute, when he was once again released down the right wing, cut inside on Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare and unleashed a left-footed strike that looked destined to nestle itself inside the far post. If not for the outstretched paw of Maxime Crepeau, it would have been 2-0.

Canada began the second half on the front foot, much like the final 15 minutes of the first. Wil Trapp, Emerson Hyndman and Fatai Alashe, the U.S.’ three deepest-sitting midfielders, were guilty of a number of turnovers inside their own half of the field, which made short work for ensuing Canadian counters. Quality of the final ball was clearly lacking, though, as U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen faced just one shot on goal to open the second period, a slow-roller from Caleb Clarke.

[ MORE: Get to know the current USMNT U-23 squad ]

The U.S.’ first chance in nearly 30 minutes came courtesy of a perfectly weighted through ball from Hyndman to Kiesewetter down the same right side. The Berlin-born 22-year-old raced into the penalty area and fired for the far post, only to see Crepeau come make the stop once again.

Steffen was called into action again in the 68th minute following another careless American turnover. Cristopher Mannella cut inside from the right wing and hit a tame, curling shot for the far post, but the 20-year-old Freiburg keeper sprang to his right and held the ball well.

Morris bagged his second of the night when he raced behind the Canadian backline in the 73rd minute. Trapp played a delicately chipped through ball over the top, Morris beat Luca Gasparotto to the ball, held off the Toronto FC II defender and finished with great composure between the legs of Crepeau.

Canada pulled back to within a single in the 81st minute, as Michael Petrasso‘s flicked header following Mannella’s in-swinging corner kick eluded a frozen-in-place Steffen and snuck just inside the far post.

Luis Gil capped off the night’s scoring from the penalty spot in the 92nd minute. Gagnon-Lapare’s last-gasp, sliding challenge brought Kiesewetter down inside the box moments earlier.

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