U.S. U-23s beat Canada to secure Olympic berth

March 20, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jozy Altidore taking fouls and Freddy Adu handling the free kicks. That's a winning combination and a big reason why the Americans are going to the Olympics yet again.

Adu scored twice on free kicks, and the U.S. Under-23 team earned an Olympic berth Thursday night by beating Canada 3-0 in the CONCACAF qualifying semifinals. Sacha Klejstan also scored in a victory that gave the Americans their seventh berth in eight Olympics dating to 1980, with 2004 the lone miss in that stretch.

"It was worth the pain in the end because now we get to play on a bigger stage, with the best players in the world," Altidore said.

Asked what he thought of Adu's free kicks, Canadian coach Nick Dasovic had a simple answer. He hated it and didn't like seeing Adu preparing to take the kicks.

"When he's in front of the goal with so much space, he can almost pick a spot," Dasovic said.

Now Adu, 18, and the rest of the Americans can start preparing for a trip to Beijing.

"The Olympics are great. Everybody watches it. I watched it growing up. It's just an honor to represent your country in such a big event," Adu said.

Honduras took the other berth in Beijing in the earlier semifinal in a 0-0 tie decided 6-5 on penalty kicks. Honduras and the U.S. will meet Sunday for the tournament championship in a rematch of a game last weekend the Americans won 1-0 in Tampa, Fla.

The Canadians missed qualifying for the Olympics again in a drought that stretches to 1984. They earned a spot in the semifinal by beating Guatemala 5-0 last weekend in Group B qualifying, but had trouble generating any offense against the Americans.

The United States, which had allowed only one goal in Group A qualifying, took the only seven shots on goal. The Canadians were shut out.

"We just didn't have it," Dasovic said.

U.S. coach Peter Nowak said Altidore and Adu put a lot of pressure on the Canadian defenders.

"This is a good sign for the future, and I'm sure that Freddy knows. He's part of this team, he's part of the senior team, and I'm very proud of how he works together with Jozy."

Nikolas Ledgerwood tripped Altidore, and Adu scored on a free kick in the 27th minute for a 1-0 lead.

Goalie Joshua Wagenaar caught the ball on another free kick by Adu in the 42nd minute. But he couldn't stop Adu on another free kick opportunity in the 47th minute when Andrew Hainault was given a yellow card for a collision when he stuck out his leg and collided with Altidore's knee.

Adu's kick cleared a line of defenders and bent away from the goalie into the right corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead. He ran over to the end line and was smothered by his teammates in celebration.

Altidore picked up a yellow card himself in the 66th minute for tripping Dejan Jakovic. But a few seconds later, he gave the U.S. the chance at another goal as he dribbled the ball down the right side and passed to Adu in front of the goal only to see Adu's kick go just wide.

Adu also set up the third goal with a long pass from midfield to Stuart Holden, and he passed over to Kljestan who scored from just in front in the 78th minute. Kljestan was happy to help ice the victory. He said the team hadn't thought much about the Olympics during the qualifying tournament.

"Now that we booked our place, obviously we say we'd like to go for a medal," Kljestan said.

Nowak substituted in the 76th minute, pulling Altidore for Charlie Davies. Adu, the tournament's leading scorer with four goals, went to the bench himself in the 82nd minute, replaced by Eddie Gaven.

Canada's best scoring chance came on a pass by Will Johnson, who came in with three goals in this tournament, to Andrazes Ornoch. But Ornoch's header didn't come close to the goal in the 68th minute. Tosaint Ricketts got around defender Jonathan Spector only to have Marvell Wynne clear the ball from him near the goal.

The U.S. improved to 4-2-1 against Canada in Olympic qualifying.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press