[USA-EL SALVADOR] In the long history of the men's national team program, there has never been a monumental goalkeeping error at such a crucial moment as Sean Johnson's failure to hold on to Jaime Alas' shot from distance in the fifth minute of stoppage time of the USA-El
Salvador game in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday night. Johnson will be remembered as the goat of the match that ended 3-3 and with it the USA's dream of going to the Olympics, but he was hardly the only
one to blame for the epic collapse.
NIGHTMARE ENDING. At least five players share the blame of Alas' tying goal. The trouble began at exactly the 4:00 minute mark of stoppage time when Brek Shea -- a starter on the senior national team -- played an aimless ball into midfield where a comedy of errors followed.
First, Mix Diskerud and Michael Stephens ran into themselves trying to take the ball from Alas, and when El Salvador lost the ball, Amobi Okugo kicked it straight to Herbert Sosa. Three times the USA had the chance to kill the game, and three times it failed.
Sosa laid the ball off to Alas, who was off to the races. Okugo couldn't keep up and Ike Opara was late coming out, allowing Alas to shoot unchallenged from 24 yards out. Yes, it was a speculative shot, but Alas' shot was hit hard, bounced in front of Johnson and ate him up. At first, it looked like the ball might pop over the crossbar but it spun over Johnson's left shoulder and into the goal.
ATROCIOUS DEFENDING. Johnson was only in the game because starter Bill Hamid left with a ankle injury suffered in the first half, but Hamid wasn't subbed before he gave up two goals that wiped out the first-minute U.S. lead.
As it was throughout the tournament, the U.S. defending was atrocious. The USA was supposed to have a huge advantage in size over the Salvadorans, but that mattered little because no one marked. Just like against Canada, the USA's defending on set pieces was horrible. And Lester Blanco scored on a header to the near post off a corner kick, beating three Americans to the ball.
Two minutes later, things got worse. As he was on both plays leading up to the first-half goals, Jorge Villafana was beaten down his left side. Perry Kitchen coughed up an easy ball, and seconds later Opara could not clear. That allowed Alas to play a ball through the area to the far post where Andres Flores, kept onside by Opara, snuck behind Villafana for the easiest of goals.
Only minutes earlier, Hamid had hurt his ankle diving for a ball. Could he have stopped either goal? Maybe, maybe not. But should he have been taken out of the game? No doubt.
LA SELECTA REWARDED. The stunning result from Monday's opening game had dropped Canada into second place and meant the USA or El Salvador would win the group and (in all likelhood) avoid Mexico in the semifinals. This turn of events was taken as good news for the USA but was a motivator as well for El Salvador, which had the advantage of being in a position to capture Group A with a win or tie.
Yes, the USA deserved credit for coming back from 2-1 down to take the lead on goals by Terrence Boyd, his second of the game, and a goal by Joe Corona, but the fact is, La Selecta was the better team on the night.
What would have happened if Mexican referee Roberto Garcia had seen Salvadoran defender Alexander Lardin punch Boyd in the nose -- in the penalty area no less -- and sent him off late in the second half? We'll never know. What we do know is the Salvadorans were moved to tears by the outcome, and they celebrated with the pro-Salvadoran crowd -- in Nashville of all places.
LOST OPPORTUNITY. The whole U.S. Soccer top brass was on hand at LP Field, and no one will be more disappointed with the USA's exit than national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He was on the West Germany team that went to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and he credits its run with building the momentum that led to its World Cup title two years later.
For a young team needing international experience -- and at least five other under-23 players who could have been recalled for the Summer Olympics had been left in Europe -- it was a big opportunity lost.
As it was, few of the U-23s Coach Caleb Porter brought in acquitted themselves well. Can you say anyone helped his reputation in Nashville? Perhaps Corona and Boyd with six goals between them, but even they were invisible in the 2-0 loss to Canada.
The wing play in the favored 4-3-3 was poor, the midfield was beaten badly in both the Canada and El Salvador games, and as for the backline? Well, if Klinsmann was looking for help for his aging backline, he certainly wasn't going to find it from the U-23s' wretched back four.
No, don't blame Sean Johnson. He wasn't alone.
March 26 in Nashville, Tenn.
USA 3 El Salvador 3. Goals: Boyd 1, 64, Corona 69; Blanco 35, Flores 37, Alas 90.
USA -- Hamid (Johnson 39); Sarkodie, Opara, Kitchen, Villafana; Diskerud, Okugo, Corona (Stephens 88); Adu (Gyau 90), Boyd, Shea.
El Salvador -- Y.Cuellar, Molina, Garcia, Mendoza, Chavarria (Ceren 73), Gutierrez, Alas, Larin, Menjivar, Blanco (Sosa 86), Flores.
Referee: Roberto Garcia (Mexico).