U.S. men's soccer settles for Olympic tie
Before the first ball was kicked in the Olympic men’s soccer tournament, U.S. Coach Peter Nowak called his players naïve.
Sunday might have proved his point.
Only seconds away from a momentous victory over the Netherlands that would have clinched the team a spot in the quarterfinals, the U.S. gave up a free kick goal to the Dutch in the 93rd minute and had to settle for a 2-2 tie in Tianjin, China.
The tie means that in order to advance to the final eight, the Americans now have to either defeat or tie Nigeria in Beijing on Wednesday.
The Dutch, meanwhile, can advance with a victory over Japan, which was beaten, 2-1, by Nigeria in Sunday’s earlier match in Tianjin and is mathematically eliminated from advancing.
The U.S. and Nigeria are tied atop their group with four points each, the Dutch have two points and the Japanese have none. A tie with Nigeria would be enough to send the Americans into the quarterfinals because they would have an edge in total goals scored.
Sunday’s game saw the usual cautious start by the U.S., which fell behind in the 16th minute when Liverpool winger Ryan Babel knocked in a rebound after U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan had blocked his header.
The Dutch still held the lead at the half but suddenly seemed indifferent and willing to sit on their one-goal lead. The U.S., in contrast, came out firing in the second half.
It tied the match in the 64th minute when Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan latched on to a pass from Freddy Adu, danced around a defender and unleashed a shot that sailed into the upper left corner of the net to make it 1-1.
Before that, Dutch goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer had pulled off stunning saves on a shot by Stuart Holden and a header by Brian McBride. There was nothing he could do to prevent Kljestan from scoring, however.
Eight minutes later, the suddenly rampant U.S. took the lead. After the Dutch failed to clear the ball out of their penalty area, U.S. defender Michael Orozco, who plays for San Luis in Mexico, sent a fierce cross in from the left.
The ball deflected off U.S. forward Jozy Altidore and flashed into the net. Again, Vermeer had no chance.
The Americans held on to the lead through the end of regulation, and the game was in injury time when Holden, who had scored in the opener when the U.S. beat Japan, 1-0, committed a foul on the edge of the U.S. penalty area, giving the Dutch a free kick.
Gerald Sibon stepped up to take the shot and drilled the ball low beneath the U.S. defensive wall as the players in the wall leaped to block an anticipated high shot. Guzan could not get to the ball, which flew into the net seconds before the final whistle.
The U.S. will be without two players for the decisive Nigeria game at the Workers’ Stadium on Wednesday after Adu and Michael Bradley picked up their second yellow cards of the first round and must serve a one-game suspension.
In other games Sunday, Brazil clinched a quarterfinal place with a 5-0 victory over New Zealand as Ronaldinho scored two goals in a seven-minute span. Also, Italy reached the last eight with a 3-0 shutout of South Korea as American-born forward Giuseppe Rossi scored his second goal of the tournament.
Argentina also made it into the quarterfinals, defeating Australia, 1-0, on a late goal by Ezequiel Lavezzi.
— Grahame L. Jones
Photo: U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan dives for the ball during the men's soccer first round Group B match at the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium in Tianjin, China, on Sunday. Credit: Nic Bothma/EPA