The United States Under-23 national team rode an early goal from Luis Gil to a valuable 1-1 draw against their Colombian counterparts on Friday afternoon, putting them in the driver's seat for the last available berth in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Colombia dominated most of the match, holding 75% of the ball and outshooting the US 26-6, but played from a losing position after Gil struck in the fifth minute. The former Real Salt Lake midfielder started the scoring move, finding Mario Rodriguez down the right flank. The Germany-based attacker drove to the endline and cut back for the onrushing Gil, who was able to bury it with the aid of a slight deflection.
Colombia would pile on the pressure and eventually equalize via a Juan Quintero penalty following a foul in the box by Kellyn Acosta. It was a well-earned equalizer for los Cafeteros, but came only after Jordan Morris had hit the crossbar with the outside of his right foot minutes earlier.
AWAY GOAL ADVANTAGE:
A win would’ve been nice, but the USA’s away goal could very well prove vital for their Olympic chances. The fact that it came in the fifth minute was an added boon, as it allowed the US to play somewhat more conservatively in some truly stifling conditions:
The goal means that, in addition to a win, the US can advance to Rio with a 0-0 draw on Tuesday in the return leg. A 1-1 draw in Texas would send the series to extra time (where away goals still count). A higher-scoring draw or a Colombia win would put the South Americans through.
The two sides meet for the return leg of the series on March 29 in Frisco, Texas (9:30 pm ET, ESPN2). The team with the higher aggregate goals total will advance to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.