The bad news arrived for the U.S. under-23 national team before kickoff, and it just got worse. And now the Americans' qualification for this summer's London Olympics is in doubt.
U.S. Soccer announced before the game that star forward Juan Agudelo had suffered a torn meniscus and was returning to the New York Red Bulls for rehab. The team responded with a listless performance against Canada, marked by criminal defensive work on two set pieces that irretrievably altered CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
The expected outcome -- that the Americans and Mexico would be the region's representatives in London -- appears almost certainly dead.
Canada tallied twice off corner kicks for a stunning 2-0 victory Saturday in Nashville, and it can win the Group A title with an expected victory Monday over last-place Cuba, a 4-0 loser to El Salvador.
The U.S. needs a victory over the Salvadorans to finish second, which likely would set up a clash with Mexico with an Olympic berth on the line. Form (and Agudelo's absence) suggests the Americans would struggle in such a matchup; one of two upsets -- Cuba over Canada or, Sunday at Home Depot Center, Honduras over Mexico -- would be necessary to avoid the showdown.
Only the semifinal winners March 31 in Kansas City, Kan., qualify for the Olympics.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
The Americans lacked spark, were outbattled and fell apart defensively, and that was enough for Canada to claim a deserved triumph.
Both goals came from corner kicks on which D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid's shortcomings were key.
Toronto FC's Doneil Henry escaped San Jose defender Ike Opara's mark and headed home Philippe Davies' corner after Hamid flailed at the cross in the 58th minute. Lucas Cavallini was left alone in the middle to head in a Davies cross following a short corner in the 83rd. Hamid's hesitation coming for the ball was costly.
The U.S. created little and found goalkeeper Michal Misiewicz tough to beat when opportunities did fall. Opara scored on a header from Philadelphia winger Freddy Adu's 48th-minute free kick, but he was correctly judged offside.
El Salvador is actually atop the group after swarming Cuba in a match that turned on Cuban captain Carlos Domingo's second yellow card four minutes into the second half. The first of two Andres Flores goals, just four minutes later, added to Lester Blanco's first-half opener opener, and the Salvadorans were in command the rest of the way.
Sunday's Mexico-Honduras clash at Home Depot Center takes on added meaning with the U.S. loss. The Group B victor likely will get the Americans in the winner-takes-all semifinals, an assignment neither wants. Panama and Trinidad & Tobago look to stave off elimination in the HDC opener.
Group A is back Monday, with that U.S.-El Salvador game deciding at least one semifinalist. Canada grabs the other with a win or tie against Cuba.
Panorama City's Richard Menjivar (Monroe HS), who played in the U.S. youth national teams program, scored the third goal in El Salvador's triumph.
Chivas USA's Jorge Villafaña (Anaheim/Anaheim HS) went the full 90 at left back for the U.S., with former Goats teammate Zarek Valentin moving to the right side in place of his former University of Akron teammate Kofi Sarkodie. Philadelphia's Amobi Okugo (UCLA) was a late substitute, but Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens (UCLA) sat on the bench for the second straight game.
GROUP A (Nashville, Tenn.)
1. El Salvador 1-0-1 (4-0) 4 points
2. Canada 1-0-1 (2-0) 4 points
3. United States 1-1-0 (6-2 GF-GA) 3 points
4. Cuba 0-2-0 (0-10) 0 points
Canada 0, El Salvador 0
United States 4 (Corona 11, 40, 88, Agudelo 37, own goal Diz Pe 43, Adu 62), Cuba 0
El Salvador 4 (Blanco 4, Flores 53, 80, Mendjivar 68), Cuba 0
United States 0, Canada 2 (Henry 58, Cavallini 82)
Canada vs. Cuba, 3:30 p.m. (Mun2)
United States vs. El Salvador, 6 p.m. (Universal Sports/Mun2)
GROUP B (Home Depot Center)
1. Mexico 1-0-0 (7-1 GF-GA) 3 points
2. Honduras 1-0-0 (3-1) 3 points
3. Panama 0-1-0 (1-3) 0 points
4. Trinidad & Tobago 0-1-0 (1-7) 0 points
Honduras 3 (Hernandez 19, Martinez 47, Lopez 87), Panama 1 (Glaize 55)
Mexico 7 (Pulido 29, Marco Fabian 33, 69, 85, Reyes 51, Jimenez 75, Cortes 91+), Trinidad & Tobago 1 (Molino 87)
Panama vs. Trinidad & Tobago, 1:30 p.m. (Telemundo)
Mexico vs. Honduras, 4 p.m. (Telemundo)
Honduras vs. Trinidad & Tobago, 6 p.m. (Mun2)
Mexico vs. Panama, 8:30 p.m. (Telemundo)
FINAL FOUR (Kansas City, Kan.)
Saturday, March 31
B1 vs. A2, 3 p.m.
A1 vs. B2, 6 p.m.
Monday, April 2
Final, 5 p.m.
All times Pacific