Sebastián Córdova’s By Far The Best Player At The Concacaf Olympic Qualifiers

With four goals and one assist in two games, the América winger is a class apart.

When listening to people discuss the merits of the U.S. U-23 side on a player-by-player basis, it’s interesting to take note of this particular ilk of big-brained soccer ‘splainer as nothing more than a snake oil salesman well-versed in misleading radar plots.

What I can tell you for sure is that they don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of 19-year-old João "Johnny" Lucas de Souza Cardoso, they don’t spend much time watching Internacional in the Brasileiro and their sage words of advice for Jason Kreis are worth even less than their 8K Twitter followers.

Kris was criticized for effectively deploying three No. 6s in his midfield against the Dominican Republic on Sunday — Johnny, Jackson Yueill and Andrés Perea — but he was praised for his game-changing alterations in the second half. What’d he do? He brought on Hassani Dotson, who’s probably best described as a No. 6. 

This is just to say that (1) these players are too young to stuff into one fixed categorization (hell, look at Marcos Llorente’s late redeployment from a No. 6 to striker at Atlético) and (2) for once the U.S. almost looks ahead of the curve with the latest zeitgeist, which is the blurring of traditional roles and numbers in favor of players — like Dotson, Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest — who are capable of playing well in a number of different assignments.

But having watched 180 minutes of football down in Guadalajara, it’s evident that the strength of this U.S. U-23 group is in its midfield — where all four goals came from on Sunday night. What’s missing, as Stuart Holden said during the broadcast on FS1, is a player of distinct personality and attacking quality. 

That’s not to say that Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Yunus Musah and Brenden Aaronson don’t fit the bill (and the requisite age range), it’s just that they’re not at this tournament. 

Mexico, on the other hand, has this talent available in the attacking third. Piojo Alvarado is capable of jaw-dropping moments and was in devastating form for Cruz Azul before joining up with El Tri, and the Chivas duo of Uriel Antuna and Alexis Vega has combined for two goals and three assists already (while striker J.J. Macías is yet to be unleashed).

However, the highlight of the competition so far has been the play of 23-year-old winger Sebastián Córdova, who joyfully blends an ability to win one-on-one situations with quality decision making around the area.

In the past few months, Córdova has produced some memorable displays for Club América. Back in November, it was his two-goal, one assist performance against Tigres that booked Las Águilas’ spot in the 2020 Guardianes quarterfinals.

Right before this tournament started, Córdova dominated Chivas in the Súper Clásico, tormenting them on the dribble and ultimately walking in the final goal. 

He’s taken that form to the Olympic Qualifying Championship, where he began with a hat-trick against the Dominican Republic.

On Sunday evening, the difficulty level of the opponent increased exponentially in Costa Rica, but Córdova still delivered by creating the first goal and scoring Mexico’s third.

With six points from their opening two games, both Mexico and the U.S. have already punched their tickets to the semifinals, where they’ll most likely meet Canada or Honduras. 

Wednesday’s group finale between the rivals has been rendered somewhat meaningless since winning in the semis (which punches your ticket to the Olympic Games) is all that really matters now, but hopefully we’ll still get to see the U.S. measure itself against Córdova and Mexico’s best. 

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