USA open Olympic qualifying with win over Canada

United States forward Jordan Morris scored twice as the Americans opened Olympic qualifying with a 3-1 win over Canada on Thursday.

JORGE MARTINEZ/MEXSPORT

KANSAS CITY, Kan.

It took 34 seconds for the United States under-23 national team to signal its intent in this CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. There were no machinations and no mistakes in this compelling start. A couple of quick passes, a determined run up the right from Jerome Kiesewetter and a simple finish for Jordan Morris secured the early lead against Canada. The opposition never touched the ball.

The early goal established the tone in this methodical 3-1 victory to open Group A play at Sporting Park. Morris added a second goal after 73 minutes to provide some latitude for the wobbles in the late stages. Michael Petrasso headed home in the final 10 minutes to spark Canadian hope for a late equalizer, but second-half substitute Luis Gil slotted home a penalty in second-half stoppage time to guarantee victory.

On the whole, the entire night offered the ideal start to this fraught tournament. The first victory calmed the nerves and supplied the riposte after the Americans failed to emerge from group play three years ago. The win also permitted the Americans to take full advantage of the unexpected 1-1 draw between Panama and Cuba in the earlier game. If the Americans can take maximum points against the Cubans on Saturday, then they would clinch a berth in a winner-take-all semifinal on Oct. 10.

If there were any doubts about whether this U.S. side entered the tournament with the proper preparation, then they were dispelled after the stunning sequence to open the match. The sharpness in the sequence of the passes created room for Kiesewetter to exploit on the right. Kiesewetter reached the byline and swung a cross back toward the goal area. Morris pounced as Maxime Crepeau flapped at the delivery to secure the opener.

Morris’ initial goal allowed the Americans to sit back, soak up pressure and wait for the opportunity to push forward on the counter. Canada knocked the ball around well enough with an extra man in central midfield, but Benito Floro’s side lacked the precision to break down an American defense well marshaled by Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga.

As Canada pushed its line higher and higher after the break, the space opened up behind for Morris and Kiesewetter to mine. Trapp created the second by playing a properly weighted ball over the top for the Stanford forward to collect. Morris made no mistake with the opportunity to double the advantage after 73 minutes.

The second goal ultimately proved the decisive one, though Canada strived to alter the calculus nevertheless. Petrasso — lively for much of the night on the left even as Canada flailed in its attempts to create gilt-edged chances — rose highest to glance home from a set piece and throw his side an unlikely lifeline.

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Even at that point, Canada did not look particularly likely to grab the necessary second. Gil erased even those lingering doubts when he converted from the spot after Kiesewetter tempted Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare to haul him down inside the penalty area.

There is further room for improvement as this tournament unfolds, but there is also a foundation in place. This group now finds itself in a favorable position to advance from the group and reach that precious semifinal. It is now incumbent on them to sort out their business on Saturday and start those preparations shortly thereafter.