The US U-23 men’s national team got its qualifying campaign for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo off to a winning start, taking a 1-0 group stage victory over Costa Rica in an entertaining match at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico on Thursday.
FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira scored the only goal of the match in the 35th minute to pace an MLS-heavy US side, which is trying to qualify for its first Olympic Games since 2008.
The US nearly found the opener just three minutes after kickoff when Ferreira forced a turnover deep in Costa Rica’s end and found himself with an open look on goal, but he couldn’t quite convert, putting his shot from a tough angle off the near post.
That set the stage for a wide-open, back-and-forth first half that saw both teams rack up chances at finding an opening goal, with each backline showcasing some nervy moments. It was the US who would find the first-half breakthrough courtesy of Ferreira, who atoned for the early missed opportunity by jumping on a loose ball in the box and slotting home the finish off a low cross from the Colorado Rapids’ Sam Vines.
That turned out to be the only goal the US would need on the day, even as the high-octane pace continued into the second half. Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa managed to preserve the clean sheet with some timely saves, while Ferreira had perhaps the US’ best chance at doubling the lead on a 65th-minute breakaway that wound up getting saved.
35′ – US – Jesus Ferreira
THE BIG PICTURE: It wasn’t always the prettiest game, especially in the second half, but credit to the US for getting group play off on the right foot with a crucial result. There’s still plenty of work to be done looking ahead to their next matches against the Dominican Republic and group favorite Mexico, but the victory at least puts this group in a position where they continue to control their own destiny as they try to advance to the all-or-nothing semifinal round.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: He’ll want that early breakaway shot that he put off the post back, but Ferreira couldn’t have picked a much better way to make up for it with his first-half tally that wound up standing as the game-winner.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Who would get the first start in goal for the US was one of the biggest questions going into the match, with Ochoa’s name coming as a surprise to some when he was revealed as the choice. The RSL man proved more than up to the task, bailing the team out multiple times with highlight-reel saves.