The U-23 MNT returned to the United States immediately following Friday’s 1-1 draw with Colombia in the stifling heat at Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez in Barranquilla with their heads up, but still knowing the job is not done. The teams will meet again Tuesday in Frisco, Texas to complete the two-leg Olympic Qualifying Playoff to determine the final entrant in the Olympic Games in Rio.
“I think it was a real good game for us, 1-1 is a good result,” U-23 MNT head coach Andi Herzog said after the match. “You could see Colombia and us had a real good fight for 90 minutes. I expect in Dallas for us to be even better than today, and we have a chance to qualify.”
The U.S. took the lead in the 5th minute on a goal by Luis Gil, giving the USA an important road goal which count double in this format should the aggregate be tied after the two matches.
Looking to reverse the course, Colombia made a change after just 33 minutes by replacing more defensive-minded midfielder Jose Leudo with an offensive midfielder in Jarlan Barrera, tilting the field in the home team’s favor.
“There was a lot of pressure from the Colombia team,” Herzog said. “Overall we did a good job defensively, but like I said at home we have to connect much better, we have to control the game much better.”
The temperature at kickoff in Barranquilla was 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity near 70 percent. By all accounts, the little and if any breeze and the below-ground bowl makes it much more stifling than reported figures.
“It was not easy for us. It was real hot here. We were expecting the tough conditions, and that’s why I have to give a huge compliment to my team,” Herzog added. “Everyone saw that Colombia had a lot of pressure, and at the end they only had one goal.”
The second leg is Tuesday, March 29 at Toyota Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. This is where things get a little complicated. The playoff winner is determined by the aggregate score from both games. In the event that the score is tied, goals scored by the away team count double.
Since the first match finished 1-1, if either side wins they would clinch an Olympic berth. A scoreless draw would send the USA to Brazil, a 1-1 draw would force extra time, and any other draw would see Colombia through due to away goals.
“Colombia is a good team that can easily score away from home, too, but we will have a better game at home,” Herzog said. “I expect another real fight for 90 minutes. It’s still close. Finishing 1-1 with the away goal was huge for us. I saw my team with a great fighting spirit, but at home we have to do a better job in possession and we’ll have a chance to qualify.”