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The Early Lead
Posted at 11:14 AM ET, 03/27/2012

U.S. soccer knocked out of Olympic qualifying after El Salvador’s late goal

The United States men’s soccer team’s memorable run at the 2010 World Cup began with an assist from a goalkeeping blunder for the ages.

England goalkeeper Robert Green allowed a seemingly innocuous low shot from Clint Dempsey to trickle into the goal, giving the U.S. a draw that sparked their run to the knockout stages.

On Monday night in a must-win match, the U.S. found itself on the other end of the equation.

With an essential victory over El Salvador only seconds away, backup American keeper Sean Johnson badly misplayed a long, desperate shot from Jaime Alas, allowing it to go off his hands and into the net. The 3-3 tie eliminated the U.S. from Olympic qualifying and sent El Salvador through to Saturday’s semifinals.

The United States under-23 team will miss out on the Olympics for the second first time since 1976 — yet another crushing blow to a soccer nation that continues to see progress followed by frustrating setbacks.

“It’s a painful moment,” U.S. Coach Caleb Porter said. “I’m sorry for the fans, and I’m sorry for U.S. Soccer, that we didn’t get the job done.”

If there was any doubt about how the U.S. would react to a stunning weekend loss to Canada, the team quickly showed it was eager for a bounce-back performance. Only 61 seconds into the contest, Terrence Boyd smashed a left-footed volley into the back of the net off a perfect cross from Brek Shea to give the U.S. an immediate 1-0 lead.

But after American — and D.C. United — starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid appeared to roll his ankle midway through the opening half, El Salvador scored twice in two minutes to grab the lead. Boyd knotted the score in the 65th minute with another expert finish, and Joe Corona — whose mother is a native of El Salvador — headed home the go-ahead goal in the 68th minute.


Devastation for Shea and company. Elation for Alexander Mendoza and El Salvador. (Mark Humphrey - AP)
Victory was only seconds away — and perhaps it should have already come, after the referee allowed the clock to tick beyond the allotted four minutes of stoppage time. But on what likely would have been the last shot of the night, Johnson faltered.

The draw puts El Salvador one win away from its first Olympic berth since 1968.

Over the years, quality goalkeeper in international competition has been a strength for the Americans, who rode the play of top-flight keepers Tim Howard and Brad Friedel during their 2010 and 2002 World Cup runs. But Monday’s setting was a difficult spot for the 6-foot-4, 22-year-old Johnson who plays professionally with the Chicago Fire and was making his first appearance of the tournament. But, as Green can attest, it’s often a costly goalkeeper mistake that resonates the loudest after a devastating defeat.

“I just hugged him and cried with him,” Porter said of Johnson, who was inconsolable after the game. “What more can you do?”

Fomer and current U.S. national team members watching at home were similarly distraught, but also noted the positives that can be taken from such a difficult loss.

MORE

U.S. - El Salvador match diary

El Salvador scores in stoppage time to oust Americans

U.S. Olympic campaign in peril after loss to Canada

By  |  11:14 AM ET, 03/27/2012

 
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