International football history is littered with examples of something that is often taken for granted about group play: no matter the teams, no matter the order, it usually takes all three games to guarantee your place in the knockout phase.
Who can forget the 2002 World Cup, when the U.S. was 17 minutes away from being eliminated before Korea scored the game-winning goal against Portugal and the team went on to defeat Mexico in the Round of 16? Or most recently, Landon Donovan’s 91st-minute goal against Algeria that not only put the U.S. through, but also allowed the team to win their group for the first time in U.S. Soccer history?
For the U-23 MNT, the situation is clear: a win and they are through to the semifinals. To have your fate on your own hands is what every team hopes for, and this group appears up for the challenge.
“Guys are good,” said U.S. head coach Caleb Porter. “They put yesterday behind them, and they are focused on El Salvador. They are looking forward to getting back on the field. The game can’t come quick enough.”
U.S. captain Freddy Adu, who was part of the 2011 Gold Cup team that rebounded from a group phase lost to Panama and reached the final of the tournament, puts tomorrow’s game in the simplest perspective.
“Tomorrow is our final, and everybody understands that,” Adu observed. “We know what we have to do to move on. Guys look motivated.”
Adversity is a part of any tournament and with loads of experience in youth international championships on this U-23 squad, the players have been through this before.
“It’s important to be able to respond in the right way because you’re going to go through adversity, and you have to have a short memory,” said Adu. “We’re going to work hard to right the ship.”
Ultimately, the focus and the belief within the U.S. team remains the same. And Porter firmly believes it will be on display Monday against El Salvador.
“We’re confident in our team,” Porter added. “The players are confident that we can get the job done. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to get the result tomorrow.”