David Ochoa might not have been expected to be the first-choice keeper for the U.S. at the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, but Jason Kreis is sure glad he went with the Real Salt Lake goalie in the USMNT’s opener. Ochoa made nine saves and Jesús Ferreira scored on the other end as the U.S. opened the qualifying tournament with a nervy 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Thursday in in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Ochoa, a 20-year-old with one career appearance for RSL, is the youngest of three keepers and fourth youngest overall on Kreis’ U-23 roster, but he put in a Man of the Match performance to keep Costa Rica off the scoreboard.
¡Espectacular!Ochoa voló por los aires de el Jalisco para salvar a los Estados Unidos
— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) March 18, 2021
The Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship features two groups of four teams with the top two in each group advancing to the semifinals. The semifinals are the biggest games of the tournament, as the winners of those two matches advance to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. There is a final but it’s mostly for bragging rights. For more on the tournament and how to watch the rest of the competition, click here.
The U.S. and Costa Rica share a group with Mexico and the Dominican Republic, making Thursday’s win massive for the Americans who know there is little margin for error. Costa Rica plays group-favorite Mexico on Sunday while the U.S. will take on the Dominican Republic.
This qualifying tournament and the Olympics are U-23 competitions, but not all of the USMNT’s best players under 23 are on this team. Guys like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna could compete in the competition but are being reserved for the senior national team, which plays a pair of friendlies against Jamaica and Northern Ireland next week.
Men’s US Olympic Qualifying Highlights vs. Costa Rica
The U.S. came out roaring and nearly took a lead in the opening minutes. FC Dallas’ Ferreira stole the ball at the top of the box before smashing a shot off the near post. Costa Rica eventually worked its way into the match and nearly scored in a similar manner only for Alonso Martínez’s effort to be denied by Ochoa rushing off his line, sparking praise from an RSL goalkeeping legend.
Ocho showing up early.— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) March 18, 2021
In a first half full of defensive sloppiness, it was a cross that Costa Rica failed to deal with that led to the only goal of the game. Presented another opportunity in the 35th minute, Ferreira didn’t miss when he came in with a late-arriving run to connect with a ball in from Sam Vines.
Instead of taking control of the match after the goal, the U.S. did what U.S. men’s teams so often do: get way too defensive. Costa Rica dominated possession as the second half wore on and only the heroics of Ochoa kept the U.S. in front.
The Americans did threaten on the counter and looked like they might double their advantage in the 66th minute when Hassani Dotson played in Ferreira, but the striker couldn’t get his shot past keeper Kevin Chamorro. Ferreira was shaken up on the play and replaced by Sebastian Soto.
¡Jugada espectacular del cuadro de las barras y las estrellasChamorro les negó el segundo
Estados Unidos 1-0 Costa Rica
— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) March 18, 2021
Jurguens Montenegro hit the post in the 84th minute with a header off corner, but Costa Rica couldn’t find a way past Ochoa as Kreis and Co. recorded a huge win to kick off Olympic qualifying. A win against the Dominican Republic on Sunday could see the U.S. all but clinch a spot in the semifinals as the USMNT tries to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2008.