Loss to Canada leaves U.S. in a challenging spot for Olympic qualifying finale

Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 10:27pm

It is just this simple for the U.S.: Win or go home.

A poor performance against Canada has left the Americans in a difficult position for Monday night's final group game at LP Field. Here are five things to watch in the U.S.-El Salvador game (8 p.m. at LP Field, TV: Universal Sports, Telemundo)

1. How much gas is in the tank?

Six U.S. players (Freddy Adu, Perry Kitchen, Ike Opara, Mix Diskerud and Zarek Valentin) have played 180 minutes since Thursday. That's a lot. Blame CONCACAF if you like for holding such a compressed tournament, but every team will be tired in the third game. El Salvador has five players who have played the full amount.

2. Moving a parked bus

Canada played the so-called "Christmas tree" formation (4-3-2-1) against the U.S. and the effect was a mass of players clogging the midfield and the box. All of the open space that attacking midfielders Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud found in the first game was gone. With El Salvador needing only a tie, look for similar tactics to stop the free-flowing game U.S. coach Caleb Porter wants to play. An early goal would force things to open up — and might be a welcome shot of adrenaline for tired legs.

3. Defending set pieces

The U.S. looked extremely shaky defending corners with goalkeeper Bill Hamid beaten for one goal and center back Ike Opara beaten for the second. But Canada had good chances throughout the game off of free kicks as well and the U.S. cannot afford to give up a lot of chances in their own end. Hamid echoed this after the Canada loss: "I just made a mistake on the first one. You know, mistakes happen. We’ll move forward. I’m not sure if it was a slip or a push or something on the second one, but at the end of the day, we just can’t give away anything on set pieces.

4. Who replaces Juan Agudelo?

It's very likely that Borussia Dortmund striker Terrence Boyd will get his first start in a U.S. uniform. Teal Bunbury wasn't very effective at the top of the U.S. 4-3-3 on Saturday, failing to link up with Brek Shea the way Agudelo did. One other possibility is to move Shea and his 6-3 frame to the top and bring on the speedy Joe Gyau as a winger. In any respect, the best chances against Canada came from Ike Opara's head, something that needs to change if the U.S. wants to advance.

5. Setting the backline

The U.S. changed outside backs for the second game, sliding Zarek Valentin over to his natural right side and bringing in Jorge Villafana on the left. While Valentin overlapped well with Adu a few times, Villafana was beaten a few times. With no clear subs in the middle — Opara is the only true center back as his partner Perry Kitchen is more of a natural midfielder — Porter may have to be creative in getting fresh legs and a stout line ready for El Salvador. Valentin seemed to have the right mindset: "The fact that we have got to win makes it a lot easier because we know that from the first whistle that we have got to be giving 115 percent to go forward. I think that we’ll be ready. In all honesty, I know that the guys are looking forward to it, and that everything is in our hands makes it a lot better."