In 2012, the U.S. men’s soccer team failed to reach the Olympics because it didn’t advance out of its group in CONCACAF qualifying.
In 2004, it missed the Athens Games because it had to play (and lost to) Mexico in the CONCACAF qualifying semifinals, after Mexico finished second in its group.
The U.S. avoided both of those fates this week and will play Honduras in a winner-goes-to-Rio game in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.
Mexico edged Honduras 2-1 on Wednesday to join the U.S. as group winners, making it so that the two CONCACAF powers reached separate semifinals. Mexico gets Canada in the other winner-goes-to-Rio semifinal Saturday.
If the U.S. loses to Honduras, it can still qualify for Rio 2016 if it beats the Mexico-Canada loser in a third-place match Tuesday and then defeats Colombia in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff in March.
In CONCACAF group play, the U.S. looked strong in its three matches, beating Canada, Cuba and Panama by a combined 13-2. Honduras beat Haiti 1-0 and Costa Rica 2-0 before losing to Mexico.
Honduras should not be overlooked, given it did qualify for the 2012 Olympics with Mexico. Of course, this year brings a whole new group of U-23 rosters.
If the U.S. does qualify for Rio, the next question will be the makeup of the 2016 roster. For next year’s Olympics, nations may add three players born before Jan. 1, 1993, to rosters.
The U.S. took advantage of the over-age exception to add World Cup veterans in 2008 (Brian McBride) and 2000 (Brad Friedel).
The U.S. can already add three World Cup players without using any over-age spots, since John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin will still be eligible for the U-23 team in 2016. Even though none were used in CONCACAF qualifying.
MORE SOCCER: Olympic men’s soccer coach discusses over-age players