The U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team accomplished its key mission in its Olympic qualifying opener against Costa Rica, but the 1-0 victory alone wasn’t enough to excuse what was an overall lackluster performance from the Americans.
Jason Kreis’ team created few goal-scoring chances, committed a plethora of mistakes in possession and surrendered enough quality scoring chances by Costa Rica to require goalkeeper David Ochoa to deliver a nine-save masterpiece.
There isn’t as much concern about a stumble heading into Sunday’s match against tournament underdog Dominican Republic, but the Americans know full well it will need to deliver much better performances in the looming matches against tougher opponents.
“I think the entire team knows and staff knows that we could have played better,” Kreis said. “And it’s our objective to not only win games, but win them in a certain way. I think we have a hungry group that wants to get another win tomorrow night and do it in a much better fashion.”
With only three days between Sunday’s match and a rivalry game against Mexico on Wednesday to round out the group stage, Kreis confirmed that changes to the starting lineup should be expected.
“We feel that we’ve got an extremely deep team now with a ton of experience,” Kreis said. “And I wouldn’t see any reason why we couldn’t have the majority of these players contributing for us, either in this game or the next game.”
Kreis stopped short of confirming what changes would be made to the lineup, but he did add that forward Jesus Ferreira is healthy after a hamstring scare caused him to be subbed out against Costa Rica.
“It was just a cramping situation, we had a couple of players that that were in the same situation as Jesus, where their muscles were cramping,” Kreis said. “We’re not quite match fit yet. But we’re hoping to continue to build that fitness as we move forward in this tournament.”
The Americans will look to flex their attacking muscles on Sunday against the overmatched Dominicans, which suffered a 4-1 loss to Mexico in its group opener. Sebastian Soto should get the nod at striker and Sebastian Saucedo should start on the wing after both came off the bench against Costa Rica.
Johnny Cardoso is a good bet to slide into the defensive midfield role normally filled by captain Jackson Yueill. The Brazilian-based midfielder will have the task of helping the American attack move and keep the ball better than it did against Costa Rica, which successfully hindered the U.S. team’s passing process by man-marking Yueill for much of the match.
“We just need to get on the ball more, find spaces and find passing lanes from the backline to our six, I think that’s the first thing that we can build off of,” Mihailovic said. “Ultimately, the midfield is an outlet to advance the attack so we just got to do a better job of doing that.”
Kreis will have to consider making a few defensive changes in order to rotate bodies ahead of the big clash with Mexico. Julian Araujo and Henry Kessler should get their chances to start against the Dominicans.