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.
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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.