U.S. has work to do but Colombia draw big step toward Olympic qualification
Three quick thoughts after the U.S. U-23 national team tied hosts Colombia 1-1 in the first game of the two-leg series that will determine who gets the final men's soccer berth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The series concludes Tuesday in Frisco, Texas (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN).
1. A great result for the Americans
U.S. fans were probably dreaming of a win when Luis Gil scored a goal after the first five minutes, following some gorgeous buildup and a slick cutback from striker Mario Rodriguez. More impressively, the Americans held on to that 1-0 lead for more than an hour despite being outshot and out-possessed.
Sure, Kellyn Acosta's arm tug on Rafael Santos Borre that resulted in the penalty-spot equalizer seemed unnecessary, but if you'd told Andi Herzog and his team beforehand that they'd leave Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Melendez with a potentially decisive away goal while conceding just once, they would've taken the deal in a heartbeat.
Yet somehow, there's a feeling that the visitors could've had more. The U.S. staff knew they'd have less of the ball on the road against a technically superior foe, and they planned accordingly.
The Americans were locked in defensively, absorbing almost all of the pressure -- Colombia managed 26 total shots, but put only six of them on target -- and were effective on the counter-attack when the chance arose. They also forced the hosts into an early tactical change after the opener, and had several chances to add a second. The best of them came on Jordan Morris' long-distance, outside-of-the-foot effort that rattled Cristian Bonilla's crossbar. Colombia's goal came three minutes later.
All in all, though, the U.S. can't complain much.
2. The American still have work to do
As good as Herzog and Co. will be feeling on Saturday's charter back home, the coach will no doubt remind his team that the series is far from over. Colombia is more than capable of scoring in Frisco, and Toyota Stadium will most likely be filled with plenty of yellow-clad fans supporting the visitors.
Herzog wanted to play the return match in a cold climate, knowing his side would be forced to endure 90-degree temperatures in Barranquilla. It didn't happen. The low in the Dallas area will be a balmy 65 degrees at kickoff on Tuesday. The Americans won't have any huge edge playing at home.
Still, the longer the U.S. is able to keep the match scoreless, the more Gil's away goal will come into play. Colombia has to find the net in Texas in order to advance to Rio, meaning the team will be forced to open things up and risk being hit on the break if things stay even in the second half. That's an advantage the Yanks will be happy to take.
3. Horvath's injury the lone downside
If there's any cloud hanging over the U-23s' successful South American sojourn, it's Ethan Horvath's suspected head injury he sustained just before half-time. The goalkeeper, who had made two good early saves, came out of his box to clear the ball and collided violently with Colombian forward Andres Renteria. The Molde keeper continued briefly before being replaced by backup Cody Cropper.
Given modern concussion protocols, there's no question it was the right decision. But as capable a replacement as Cropper is (the 23-year-old is the squad's former No. 1), it will still be a blow for the U.S. if they have to play Tuesday's decisive tilt without their starting backstop.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.