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Costly mistake sinks U-23 USMNT vs. Mexico in Olympic qualifying group finale


The Under-23 U.S. Men’s National Team will play for its Olympic life on Sunday, but the Americans will do so fresh off a defeat to their most bitter rival.

A costly mistake from Sebastian Soto led to a Uriel Antuna goal deep in the first half and that doomed the U-23 USMNT to a 1-0 loss vs. Mexico in their group stage finale in Concacaf Olympic Qualifying on Wednesday. Antuna scored the winner in the 45th minute, pouncing on an errant back pass from Soto to fire the ball into the back of the net.

The result at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara moved the Mexicans to a perfect nine points and locked up the top spot in Group A while leaving the USMNT in second place with six points.

Jason Kreis’ side will face the Group B winner — which will be one of Canada or Honduras — on Sunday in the decisive semifinal game that will determine the Americans’ Olympic fate.

It was almost a flawless opening stanza from a defensive standpoint for the Americans, but a self-inflicted wound gave the tournament hosts the game’s only goal. Antuna broke the deadlock in the final minute of the first half, picking off an ill-advised pass from a withdrawn Soto before netting via a low effort from just outside the penalty area.

The Mexicans were close to having a great look earlier in the first half when left back Alejandro Mayorga got the better of USMNT right back Julian Araujo in the 28th minute. American central defender Mauricio Pineda stopped the ensuing shot with a well-timed slide tackle, though.

The USMNT had one of its better chances on the night in the 59th minute, though it came via a weak header from midfielder Johnny Cardoso that went right into the arms of backup goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado following a corner kick.

Jurado entered the match in the 39th minute after starting netminder Luis Malagon suffered an ugly left arm injury while attempting to clear a USMNT free kick. In visible pain, Malagon had to be carted off.

Soto had a chance to atone for his blunder before the hour-mark, but his 58th-minute effort was deflected wide of the far post.

Group A finished with the Mexicans in first place, the Americans in second, Costa Rica in third, and the Dominican Republic in fourth. The Costa Ricans routed the Dominicans to the tune of 5-0 earlier on Wednesday.


    • I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary, for Soto or any strikers to drop in, to get a touch on the ball. I saw Weah do it a lot in the last U20 WC, under Ramos. We’ve seen Jesus Ferreira, in a false 9 do it. I remember Zardes dropping down in the middle in the GC vs Curaçao. In a recent Berhalter interview, he talk about Dike being asked to drop into the midfield, and it being difficult for Dike. U23s play GBs 4-3-3. Soto wasn’t getting any touches. He dropped low into the midfield. Hopefully, he can redeem himself from the mistake.

  1. I like the science fiction futurism of trying a formation on the theory perhaps my children or my children’s children can execute it. Most teams are foolishly bound by space-time and try to win things called in the present tense “games.” Maybe we can make a team mission of futuristic formations, when we figure this one out we must abandon it for a space alien-delivered quantum physics approach that we will struggle with for centuries.

    I particularly find amusing what we do with the U23s where we compound the availability/graduation problem of not having the full selection by then trotting them out in a one size fits all formation with nothing to do with the players we managed to finagle. No, they have to be drilled in the national system. Which, amusingly enough, they look worse at than the adults they are supposed to be schooling in the formation of the future.

  2. In recent articles, it makes it sound like the loss to Mexico has put the US in jeopardy of missing the Olympics. The fact is, even if we beat Mexico, the team would “play for its Olympic life” in the semi-final. Mexico still has to win too in order to advance to Japan.

  3. Always hate to see them lose to the bitter rival, but hopefully that’ll keep them laser focused and biting to get back on the field soon for their next opponent, the most important game of the tournament.

    • The one bonus is while they half heartedly did chase the group win, they did rest or only sub in a few key players who hopefully will be fresher for the Big Game.

  4. Looks the same as every other Mexico game since Berhalter took over. Ever consider that our problem is systemic? That a back looking to play the ball up the middle quickly against their pressure — itself silly — would formationally have just 3 midfield options to find? That they appear to have been tactically discouraged from bypassing the limited mid passing options by playing over the top to forwards? That if both the mids and forwards pinch in to create the wide space for the wingback overlaps, I don’t have the “back’s best friend” option of simply playing it to the wing in wide space? That it turns ordinary buildup into a combo play exercise starting with backs the least likely to be able to execute? That if I do find a mid I may discover they were selected as a DM or hustling 8 not suited to continuing possession, as opposed to a 10 type technician who might be able to keep the ball going well? That at forward (and elsewhere) we kind of haven’t decided if our goal in life is technique, speed, or crossing? We talk possession only to generally turn at the key creative moment into some 1990s “take the ball to the flag and hit hopeful crosses in” English side? The mocked 451 Sarachan ran was derided as “negative.”. But it was time tested, the personnel picked for it, and did its job. The 433 doesn’t accomplish what it’s supposed to. I’m bored of the politics of style but I want a functioning formation where they can find a pass and the layout pays a tactical bonus. Right now we are getting out coached every night — and you’d think we’d upset someone good once in a while if but on accident if the tactics worked. We are instead relying heavily on talent accumulation to overcome tactical naïveté. Which says the coaching adds nothing to the talent, if anything holds it back. Time for something different, this is a joke.

    • FWIW Klinsi’s version of this spread the field. At the cost of defensive naïveté I get some wings to pass the ball to. And force the defense to spread out more to mark everyone. Basically Curaçao. [What we found with that version was the tempo required to keep the ball possessed and moving, and connect the spread players, exhausted the team within 50’. We also ended up with one striker to find in the box to turn possession to goals. Who we struggled to find. A lot of 0-0 I recall.]
      Can we quit pretending we need more chemistry and years in the formation and consider this is simply what a narrow 433 does in North America and particularly against Mexico?

      • I pointed this out some time ago but I think most ignored it. What Klinsmann did was have Guzan take any goal kick and kick it up the field to the left wing to Zardes who would head it forward. It probably worked 80% of the time and if if didn’t, the ball was past midfield so it wouldn’t be turned into an immediate threat on goal. It avoided the dangers of playing from the back but was much more effective than just kicking the ball up field. It worked so often that it was clear that they had practiced it often. While I understand the benefits of playing out of the back, I have seen even top teams get punished for a mistake in the back from that tactic. A high press can cause problems for anyone. A year or two ago I saw Bayern use it effectively against Barcelona. At the ti8me I thought it was crazy, that Barcelona could beat anyone’s press. However, Bayern caused fits and got a number of turn overs and won the game handily. In short, I think a lot of coaches need to reevaluate the benefit of playing from the back.

    • Are we forgetting Klinsi’s spread the field strategy largely left Bradley double teamed by two CMs while the wide midfielders defenders just marked them at the touch lines leading to 100s of passes back and forth between Bradley and the CBs. Also because Klinsmann provided basically no tactical plan beyond how to set up the formation the players had no idea where or how to move and pretty much would stand around. The Klinsmann era largely failed because a generation of players generally failed to develop which wasn’t his fault but let’s not revise history to say Klinsmann was some sort of tactical genius.

  5. Three things worry me about this group. The extremely poor off the ball movement continually left the player with the ball stuck holding it too long, particularly in the final third. And they are technically subpar, which is the reason for the slow ball movement. Passes were consistently off the mark, passes were bouncing, first touch often was too hard or popped up on them. And the lack of awareness of where pressure was coming from was noticable, especially in the central players. I would expect more from this group of players. Yuell was especially disappointing. I would rule him out of the full national team based on what I saw in the first 3 matches.

  6. As far as losses go, that wasn’t bad and overall a better result than I was probably expecting. Mex needed a preseason-rust mistake to get their points.
    On to the real game coming up!!
    I would suspect we end up with Honduras, which is not ideal but I think this group can handle them. In any case all three potential opponents will be fighting for their lives to get to the next round. The Canada Honduras game will be fun to watch. Hopefully we get a tired opponent who will be on one day’s less rest!!!

    • We have only two potential opponents. ES can’t win the group, the best they can do is come in second. So we’ll get the winner of Canada – Honduras, or if it’s a tie we get Honduras.

  7. My starting eleven for this weekend…




  8. The team looked good compared to the other games and with the lose. Araujo made me nervous. Better game from Pineda, but that backing was shaky. Soto had a bad game almost didn’t see him at all in 1st half and then that blunder. Johnny was green. The rest were good, subs maintained the momentum. Ochoa was great, to the point hr was getting into the nerves of my Mexican wife lol.

    I liked how we lost and now on to that ticket game, who do you guys want and who don’t you want?

    I want el salvador and do not want honduras. I think Canada is in same situation like us with an out of form team as they depend on mls and we have better caliber players. Honduras has gone to the Olympics second to Mexico and has that grit that can cause us problems. We can dominate ES physically, but they most likely go on to face mexico.

  9. The first half we pretty much played them even until that critical mistake. Still too many errors, but he team was playing better. The offense is anemic and lacking speed of play and are way too passive. Several times a winger would bring the ball up, have a teammate running ahead, splitting two defenders. There was enough space for a good through ball to open up the defense, but it was never played. The outside backs and wingers seemed intent on dribbling up themselves until they gave up the ball, which they seemed to always do, before even getting off a cross. Speed of play on attack was literally pedestrian. The team really needs a Pulisic to attack defenses. Another problem which I have noted before with US teams is a hesitancy to shoot. It’s like they want to play a perfectly worked play that leads to a tap in. Hey, if you have any opening for a shot on goal and you are in the 18 yard box, shoot it, you never know what will happen. The second half was much more controlled by Mexico as the US made more mistakes. It seemed like they tired more than Mexico did and thus made more errors.

    • You’re an LAG guy, would you say Antuna has improved a lot since leaving Galaxy? He looked really dangerous. Did they switch him from left side in the first half to the right side in the second. I felt like Araujo kept him somewhat in check but he could do whatever he wanted to Herrera?

      • Antuna looked noticeably better than when he played for the Galaxy. He wasn’t bad for the Galaxy, but he didn’t stand out and didn’t look to be a difference maker. Listening to the announcers I got the impression that the Mexicans thought Joe Macias was the big Mexican threat and Antuna was clearly better. So, maybe Antuna has improved.

  10. Quick Thoughts
    – Never fun to lose to Mexico
    – Wide players for US have been poor, indecisive then try to dribble through three defenders
    – We out possessed Mexico on the road in the first half I’m sure it didn’t end up that way. Unfortunately the final ball was never even close to connecting.
    – Soto and Cardoso stock dropping
    – Mexico A- team needed our #9 to drop to #6 spot and play a lazy pass to their best player to win
    – Ochoa is fun

    • Wingers have bad through 3 games and the 3 cms have been basically played out of position(Johnny). Just a tough roster selection when all age eligible players are sr team players plus injuries. Depth is the issue, but when next game and it won’t matter. Herrera should be sent home Cuz that kid just doesn’t have it.

      • I get Johnny’s been playing as a 6 but last March when we first heard his name the only highlights you could find of him was as #9 or #10 so you’d think he’d have some idea how to combine. But again his header from his knees was our best chance of the night. He’s just so raw.
        I would say tonight only Johnny was out of position, Dotson plays all over but I think he ends up as a box to box guy in his career, Perea is a 6 maybe not a line breaking 6 but we seem to want to play wide in instead of inside out anyway.

    • Indecisive is the accurate description of the US wide players, and as a matter of fact, a few other players on the team. Saucedo, Johnny Cardoso and later on Lewis. Having said that, the US have put together the best first half (minus the fatal mistake by Soto), with the effective high press against El Tri, that I’ve seen during the first 3 qualifying games. I’m confident that we’ll qualify on Sunday. Go USA!


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