Los Angeles Soccer: Evan James
Dramatic finishes first dangled and then jerked away from the U.S. a trip to the London Olympics on a devastating evening for American soccer.
The Americans' under-23 national team rallied from a second-half deficit against El Salvador in the Group A finale and stood just seconds from the victory required to advance to CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying semifinals when a long-range shot -- and another goalkeeping miscue -- forged a 3-3 draw that ended U.S. hopes.
Jaime Alas' 30-yard blast more than four minutes into stoppage bounced off prematurely diving Sean Johnson and into the net Monday night in Nashville, Tenn., giving El Salvador (1-0-2) the group title and a March 31 semifinal showdown with the No. 2 team from Group B -- Honduras is expected -- for one of the region's two berths at this summer's London Games.
Canada (1-0-2), which on Saturday beat the U.S., 2-0, claimed A's other final-four berth with a 1-1 draw against Cuba and likely will face Mexico for an Olympic berth.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
- WHAT HAPPENED?
The U.S. (1-1-1), an overwhelming favorite to join Mexico in the 16-team London field, failed to qualify for the second time in three Olympics as a revived attack -- Philadelphia's Freddy Adu, FC Dallas' Brek Shea and German-born Terrence Boyd the instigators -- could not overcome subpar defending nor poor management by coach Caleb Porter.
The day had held so much promise. The Americans, expecting a winner-takes-all semifinal against Mexico should they win, were given a different path to London when Cuba's Maykel Reyes scored in the 91st minute to pull even with Canada. A victory would give the U.S. the top spot in Group A and prevent, almost certainly, the need to beat Mexico for an Olympic berth.
Then Boyd, a Borussia Dortmund forward, scored after 59 seconds. Things could be going no better.
CARSON -- The last time the Galaxy lost three in a row? Go back to the 2008 regular season, before Bruce Arena was deeply into the rebuild that would take the club to 2009 Western Conference title (and MLS Cup final), Supporters' Shields the past two seasons and last November's championship-game triumph.
L.A. is struggling three weeks into its preparations for the Major League Soccer season, not that it matters. Tuesday's 3-0 loss to expansion Montreal on the club's training field at Home Depot Center -- following losses to Portland and Houston -- barely registers on the radar.
“Not losing a whole lot of sleep over it, to be honest with you,” Arena said. “This is, just for us, evaluation. Fitness, basically. That's what it is.”
The verdict: The Galaxy isn't as fit as its rivals, not at this point. They started a week later than a lot of the clubs, and a briefer offseason than the everybody else enjoyed has them on a different pace in the buildup to MLS's opening weekend in 3½ weeks.
“I think there's a little bit of understanding not that we're behind, but we have a little bit different schedule than everyone else,” said Todd Dunivant, who played 62 minutes at left back. “We finished Dec. 7 [after a postseason tour of Asia and Australia], and most teams finished at the end of October. We had a lot less of a break, and I think we're [following our own pace], which is the right thing to do.
“We're not going to win any championships these first weeks of preseason, but as it continues, we need to continue to keep getting better, get our fitness right, and I think that is improving. Personally, 60 minutes today felt a lot better than 45 did Friday [in the 1-0 loss to Houston], so that's a good sign. If we can keep building those things, the rest of it's going to come.”
The Galaxy have been without Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, both on loan in England, and Juninho hasn't arrived yet from Brazil. There's still a hole at the back, with rookie Tommy Meyer getting starts next to A.J. DeLaGarza in all four preseason games to date. Arena has used the games -- a rout of the L.A. Blues followed by a 4-1 defeat to Portland and the losses to the Dynamo and Impact -- to gauge the young players and build fitness. From that prism, things are going well.
“I think it was a good morning for us. We got a lot out of it,” Arena said. “I think to Montreal's credit, they pushed the pace of the game. Our midfield play in the first half wasn't good. We turned the ball over too many times, but I thought it was a real good game to evaluate some things, which is good, which is the purpose of these practice games.”