Bolingbrook’s Mauricio Pineda looked a little nervous early on, but got things under control, putting in a gritty, 90-minute performance in a 1-0 win for the United States over Costa Rica in Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying on Thursday.
Pineda got the start alongside Justin Glad from Real Salt Lake. An errant pass by the Chicago Fire defender early in the match nearly led to a Costa Rica goal, but not long after, Pineda’s chipped pass to Colorado Rapids outside back Sam Vines started the U.S. buildup that resulted in Jesus Ferreira’s goal in the 35th minute.
After the match, U.S. U-23 men’s head coach Jason Kreis said he expected his defense to have some nerves, especially early.
“It’s not surprising to me, because we were asking our team to build up,” Kreis said. “I think it would have been a different affair if we had said every goal kick we get, we’re gonna take long, we’re gonna push into our opponent’s half, and fight for second balls. But that’s not part of our DNA, that’s not who we are, so we asked them to build up.”
The U.S. was able to hold on, and pull out a 1-0 win on a day when the team clearly wasn’t at its best.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the sign of a good team, I think it is a sign of a good team,” Kreis said. “It’s one thing that you’re looking for in your players to be able to gut out a result when things maybe aren’t going their way, when they’re super, super fatigued.”
Former Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailovic also got the start in the match. With three points, the U.S. sits atop Group A. Next up, the team faces the Dominican Republic this Sunday, March 21 (6:00 p.m. CT; FS1, TUDN). After that, it’s a matchup with Mexico on Wednesday, March 24 (8:30 p.m. CT; FS1, TUDN) to close out group play.
The top two teams from each group will earn semifinal spots, an a win there guarantees not only a place in the tournament final, but also a spot in the Tokyo Olympic games. The U.S. men haven’t qualified for the Olympics since 2008, something they’re looking to change in 2021.
“Now we say, yes, we’ve got the three points in our pocket, and we’re gonna be a team that will improve over the course of this tournament,” Kreis said.