Three times in the leadup to the last three Olympic Games, the U.S. went into its final match of qualifying needing just one goal to keep alive its hopes of playing in the men’s tournament.
And for the third time the U.S. came up one goal short Sunday, losing to Honduras 2-1 in a chippy, physical semifinal of the CONCACAF pre-Olympic tournament on a warm 90-degree afternoon in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The win sends Honduras on to the Summer Games for a fourth straight time while the Americans, who haven’t qualified since 2008, will have to wait three years for another chance.
“We’re devastated,” U.S. coach Jason Kreis said.
Mexico met Canada in the other semifinal Sunday with CONCACAF’s second berth in the Tokyo Olympics on the line.
This time the Americans were done in by some of their own, with Juan Carlos Obregón, who was born in New York and played college soccer in the U.S., and Luis Enrique Palma, who once played for Real Salt Lake’s USL affiliate, scoring Honduras’ goals on either side of half time. Both goals bounced in off U.S. goalkeeper David Ochoa.
Jackson Yueill halved the deficit in the 52nd minute with a right-footed strike from distance and the U.S. nearly pulled even 10 minutes after that, but Jonathan Lewis’ header from the center of the box was cleared off the line by defender Wesly Decas.
The qualifying tournament, like the Tokyo Olympics, was delayed a year by COVID-19, giving Kreis an extra 12 months to prepare. It didn’t seem to help as the Americans were outshot in three of their four qualifiers, scored just one first-half goal in the tournament and didn’t even put a shot on target Sunday until Yueill’s goal in the 52nd minute.
Honduras, playing for the fourth time in 10 days, opened the scoring four minutes into first-half stoppage time. The sequence started with Edwin Rodríguez opening up the U.S. back line with a long cross to Denil Maldonado deep in the penalty area. Maldonado’s diving header deflected the ball in front of the goal for Obregón, who nudged it off Ochoa and into the net.
United States's Christian Pulisic, right, duels for the ball with Northern Ireland's Ciaron Brown during an international friendly soccer match between Northern Ireland and United States, at Windsor Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Palma doubled the lead less than two minutes into the second half on a huge gaffe by Ochoa, his former teammate with the USL’s Real Monarchs. After taking a back pass from defender Aaron Herrera, the U.S. keeper tried to send the ball back upfield, only to see Palma stick his left foot in the way of Ochoa’s lazy clearance, deflecting it into the goal.
With the U.S. chasing the match, Yueill gave the team some hope with his strike high into the back corner. Honduras then weathered an increasingly desperate U.S. attack, bending — the Americans had the ball for two-thirds of the match — but never breaking, protecting its slim lead with goalkeeper Alex Guity called on to make just one save.