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