Math simple for US: Beat El Salvador to advance

Joe Corona has no mixed emotions and only one thought as the

Californian prepares to play El Salvador, his mother’s home

country.

”Right now I’m just thinking about going out there and doing a

good job and getting the three points,” the midfielder said. ”I

don’t want to get emotional with this. I just want to do well and

have a good game.”

The United States needs more than a good game from the Under-23

team Monday night. The Americans must win against El Salvador or

miss on qualifying for the Olympics for only the second time since

1976 and first time since 2004.

Canada and El Salvador are tied atop Group A with four points,

and Canada plays Cuba, which has given up 10 goals in two games.

The top two teams advance to Saturday’s semifinals in Kansas City,

Kan., where the winners qualify for London. Even if the Americans

reach the semis, they likely would have to beat Mexico for a berth

in London.

”The fact that we have got to win makes it a lot easier because

we know that from the first whistle that we have got to be giving

115 percent to go forward,” midfielder Zarek Valentin said. ”I

think that we’ll be ready. In all honesty, I know that the guys are

looking forward to it, and that everything is in our hands makes it

a lot better.”

Captain Freddy Adu, the only American on the roster from the

2008 team that qualified for Beijing here in Nashville, said they

have to move on.

Revving the offense back up will help, but the Americans will

play without Juan Agudelo, who tore cartilage in his left knee in

their 6-0 win over Cuba. He returned to the New York Red Bulls on

Sunday. Adu said someone will step up whether it’s Teal Bunbury or

Terrence Boyd.

”I trust in this team, and I know we’re going to come back and

respond in a big way,” Adu said. ”It’s going to be a very

important game for both teams. We know they’re a good team, but

when we come and we’re ready to play and we do the things we set

out to do, we’re very hard to stop.”

The Americans didn’t do what they wanted against Canada on

Saturday night. The Canadians packed the middle with what U.S.

coach Caleb Porter compared to a Christmas tree alignment of

4-3-2-1. That forced the Americans to attack from the outside, and

they couldn’t connect on the final passes when they had a

chance.

”I think we beat them all night,” midfielder Brek Shea said.

”We just couldn’t finish the ball.”

The Americans thought they had gone ahead in the 48th minute

when Ike Opara headed a Freddy Adu free kick into the goal. But

Opara was called offside, and Porter said scoring the first goal

would’ve helped open up the Canadian defense.

Playing Corona the entire game might help. Corona had three

goals against Cuba, but Porter substituted Joe Gyau for Corona at

halftime against Canada.

”Everyone wants to play 90 minutes,” Corona said. ”I

understand, it’s the coach’s decision. I’m always available for

him, and if he makes the tactical moves I’m OK with that. It’s

soccer, and I’m just trying to do my best and help the team

out.”

It might be tough for El Salvador not to look at Corona on

Monday night and think of what might have been if the midfielder

had decided to play for the country where his mother was born.

El Salvador coach Mauricio Alfaro said through a translator that

Corona is a good player who brings something special to the United

States.

”First of all, he didn’t really know that we could have him in

the lineup,” Alvaro said with a laugh. ”But in the end, Joe

picked whatever team he wanted in the end.”

El Salvador beat Cuba 4-0 on Saturday night to tie Canada with

four points, a point ahead of the U.S. squad. El Salvador has

played in the Olympics only once, back in 1968, and a win against

the Americans would put the team one win from ending that

drought.

”I think the players will motivated to play,” Alvaro said. ”I

think it’s going to be real a hard-fought game.”

The Americans are pretty motivated themselves. This is the squad

that beat Mexico 2-0 in an exhibition on Feb. 29 in Texas and put

on a show against Cuba with the attacking, open offense Porter

brought with him from his college coaching job at Akron.

”This isn’t the end of the world. This isn’t the way we wanted

it to play out, but everything is still in our hands,” Porter

said. ”We beat El Salvador, and then we’re through.”

Adu said they now must come out ready on Monday night.

”Just win – that’s basically it,” Adu said.

Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this

report.