/Updated to include Mexico-Canada report/ On a sunny, 90-degree afternoon in Guadalajara, Mexico, Honduras was more aggressive when it counted and got some luck to defeat the U.S. U-23 team, 2-1, in the first semifinal of the CONCACAF men’s (U-23) Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The win sends Honduras into the Olympic men’s tournament in Tokyo and the U.S. was eliminated, missing its third straight Olympic Games.
The game started slowly, with both sides playing cautiously for the first 26 minutes, then stopping for a water break thanks to the heat. Honduras got two clean shots at American keeper David Ochoa, first in the 18th from Edwin Rodriguez at top of the box and then from Luis Palma in the 21st minute. The U.S. had a couple of promising attacks, but no shots on goal.
Ochoa saved a third shot off the re-start, but the game degraded into an ineffective series of attacks until stoppage time. With just seconds left in the game, the game got chippy and after a yellow card was handed to U.S. defender Henry Kessler for a tackle against Juan Carlos Obregon, Honduras scored.
A scramble near the endline saw a cross to the front of the net that was saved by Ochoa, but then Obregon bodied the ball forward into the goal past Ochoa for a 1-0 lead. Possession was even in the half, but Honduras has five shots to two for the U.S. and the only real chances at scores.
The U.S. had to be more aggressive in the second half, but its Olympic fate was sealed just two minutes in, as Ochoa lazily cleared a backpass that was flicked at by Honduras striker Luis Palma and the ball rolled back, behind Ochoa and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
After Honduras’s Jose Reyes barely missed a third goal, American midfielder Jackson Yueill took control of the ball and then turned to the top of the box and sent a right-footed rocket curling into the top left corner of the Honduran goal to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 52nd minute.
The U.S. increased the pressure and Yueill just missed another score on a free kick that was saved by Honduran keeper Alex Guity, prior to another water break in the 73rd minute. The U.S. created chance after chance in the final 10 minutes, but was unable to get the ball into the goal again.
The U.S. ended with 57% of the possession, but was outshot, 10-7, and where Honduras made the most of its chances, the Americans did not.
Honduras will go to its fourth straight Olympic tournament, and defeats the U.S. for the second time in a row in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying semifinal; the score was 2-0 in October 2015. The last U.S. men’s Olympic appearance was in 2008.
The second semifinal between Mexico and Canada followed the U.S.-Honduras match, with the winner going to Tokyo. Despite having only 35% possession in the first half and being out-shot by 6-2, Canada held Mexico scoreless.
The 0-0 tie continued into the second half, but a Canadian mistake on a clearance resulted in a pass to Uriel Antuna at the right of the goal and he sent it onto the back of the net in the 58th minute for a 1-0 lead for Mexico.
Then a second goal in the 65th minute salted the game away. An elegant free kick from Sebastian Cordova found the head of Johan Vazquez, whose shot smashed into the crossbar. But it then hit Canadian defender Callum Montgomery on the rebound and fell right back to Vasquez’s feet, who finished into the open net.
Mexico finished with 62% of the possession and had a 18-3 advantage in shots, which accurately depicts the one-sided nature of the match. “El Tri” will now be appearing in the men’s Olympic tournament for the third straight time.
The two semifinal winners – Honduras and Mexico, both now on the way to Tokyo – will play for the tournament title on Tuesday, 30 March.