With Adu leading the way, United States storms into Summer Olympics.
By Robert Wagman
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Thursday, March 20, 2008) -- The United States under-23 men earned a berth in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing with a 3-0 victory over Canada in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying at LP Field.
Once again, striker Freddy Adu's free kicks were the main U.S. offensive weapon. He converted one in each half from nearly identical spots -- just outside the penalty area on the right side. Both kicks came after fouls on Jozy Altidore, who had been sent through by passes out of the midfield.
This was, by far, the best game the Americans had played in this competition and, not coincidently, it was the strongest lineup U.S. coach Peter Nowak was able to field.
The addition of West Ham United's Jonathan Spector on the back-line and pairing him with Michael Orozco gave the U.S. not only a strong middle, but their range allowed the Americans to, at times, play two in the back and push both outside defenders far forward at the same time.
Rather than play Altidore as a lone forward, Adu pushed higher and played as a second striker. Stronger play in the U.S. midfield by both Dax McCarthy and Sacha Kljestan freed Adu to hold a higher line and to range from side to side.
Nowak credited the play of Adu and Altidore from the onset for setting the stage for the triumph. "We put enormous pressure on them, on their back-line, from the very start," Nowak said. "We kept our shape for the whole game and we were able to play our game, play the way we planned."
The U.S. started out in a strong fashion, pinning Canada deep in its own end during the first 25 minutes. It was then Adu's free kick that put the Americans ahead. From the right perimeter of the box, Adu hit a sharp bouncer that Canadian goalkeeper Joshua Wagenaar, clearly worried about two U.S. players lurking nearby, got a late start on and could not hold.
Wagenaar did a better job holding an Adu free kick from a much sharper angle in the 42nd minute, but the damage had been done.
After the U.S. goal, Canada opened up a bit and tried to push forward. It had a chance from Will Johnson from long range when he was not picked up by the midfield. It sailed high, as did a closer-range shot by Tosaint Ricketts just before halftime.
It was Adu again from almost the same spot who made it 2-0 on another free kick in the 48th minute. This time he left Wagenaar flatfooted as he lifted the shot into the top right corner.
Adu gave credit to Altidore for helping create his opportunities. "Jozy made great runs to force them into fouls," he said. "We had talked about free kicks and hitting them hard to the far posts while making runs to the ball. That's what I tried to do and tonight it worked."
Nowak was especially moved by qualifying for the Olympics. "This is the biggest moment in my short career as a coach, this and winning the MLS Cup at D.C. United," he said. "It was 20 guys believing in what we were trying to accomplish."
On Sunday, the U.S. will face Honduras, the other Olympics qualifier, for the largely ceremonial CONCACAF championship. Honduras defeated Guatemala 6-5 after seven rounds of penalty kicks following a 0-0 overtime draw in the first match tonight. Guatemala was the better of the two teams in a fast first half. Things were reversed in the second half with Honduras having the best of the play.
Both sides had chances late, but could not convert
It is likely a number of the U.S.'s European-based players will leave before Sunday because they will be joining the full national team for a friendly at Poland Wednesday.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Chris Seitz - 6: With no Canadian shots on target, had little to do but commanded his box well when it was required.
Defender Marvell Wynne - 6: Used his speed and physical play to great advantage on both ends of the field, covering a huge amount of ground. Still has difficulty delivering a quality cross.
Defender Michael Orozco - 6: Was the stay-at-home defender who allowed others to roam. Made almost no errors in an impressive performance.
Defender Jonathan Spector - 7: Was a dominant defender, roaming from side to side and providing coverage for others while marshalling the defense.
Defender Nathan Sturgis - 5.5: Played a strong match on the left side, often pushing far forward into the offense.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5: He covered a lot of ground in the middle and was often able to control the ball, but where McCarty was looking to push forward, he almost always conservatively passed back to a defender.
Midfielder Dax McCarty - 6.0: Was a pillar of strength in the midfield, constantly breaking up Canadian thrusts and pushing the ball ahead.
Midfielder Stuart Holden - 5.5: Was content to go up and down the left side more in a defensive role. Was solid enough, but did not have much of an impact on the match until a long run and beautiful layoff that resulted in the third U.S. goal.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan - 5.5: Was strong for long stretches, but too often was prone to wild passes or giving the ball up in his own end. Then, he beautifully converted a late chance for the third U.S. goal.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 8: Did everything one could ask from him, including his free-kick goals, creating chances for himself and others while usually being double- or triple-marked.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6.5: Was a handful for the Canadians. On three occasions, they had to haul him down, resulting in the free kicks that were the U.S. margin of victory.
Forward Charlie Davis (75th minute for Altidore) - 5: Still has a mystifying inability to keep his feet when sent loose. Was able to get free, but could make little out of his opportunities.
Midfielder Eddie Gaven (82nd minute for Adu) - 5.5: Did well mainly a defensive role as the U.S. killed off the match late.
Forward Robbie Findley (88th minute for Kljestan) - no rating: A short appearance in mop-up duty.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Freddy Adu.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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