Every game between the United States and Mexico in men’s soccer has real meaning. But if ever there was a time to take a narrow loss to El Tri as a mulligan in a competitive fixture, it was Wednesday.
With the U.S. and Mexico both assured qualification in the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament to the knockout stage and the all-important semifinal game, they squared off in the group stage finale Wednesday in Guadalajara, Mexico, the hosts coming out 1-0 winners courtesy of Uriel Antuna’s goal.
For U.S. U-23 captain Jackson Yueill, the defeat is a learning experience for his team.
“I think we learned some of our weaknesses, I think we know that we need to be able to create more chances, and to capitalize on those chances,” Yueill told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. “Because these are now going forward one game at a time. So I think we’re going to minimize our mistakes and capitalize on opposition’s mistakes, and I think we know that we only have 90 minutes to play and to do what we need to. We’re not going to have any extra time, or actually games to fall back on now. So I think yesterday’s game was was a good challenge for us. I think we played well for most of the game, and I think we’re ready for this upcoming game knowing that we have to leave it all in on the pitch.”
The U.S. await their opponent for the semifinal game on Sunday, which they have to win in order to actually qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
While that game looms larger than a potential slot in the tournament final, Yueill said the goal all along for the U.S. was to win the competition.
“I think our first goal of the tournament was winning the whole tournament,” he said. “It wasn’t just qualifying for the Olympics. I think it was to make a statement that U.S. Soccer and U.S. youth national teams can compete in these tournaments and win trophies. And so that’s our goal, I think we came up from the first day of training with with those in our sights, and I think we’re on a good path. And I think the dynamic between the group is there’s a lot of hunger, to keep pushing forward and keep doing well.”
Yueill is one of two San Jose Earthquakes players on the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying, and one of three first-team players from the Quakes at the tournament, along with Eric Calvillo playing for El Salvador.
With the annual preseason trip being a big point of emphasis for San Jose head coach Matias Almeyda, Yueill said he’s keeping tabs on the current camp in Santa Barbara, and says the coaching staff understands the reasons the Olympic qualifying contingent are not present.
“I always keep in touch with the guys and make sure that they’re doing well and they’re having fun at the preseason. I know how challenging it can be with with Matias and how much running they’re all probably doing, so I like to give them some jokes, every once in a while,” Yueill said with a wry smile. “But I think the relationship is good with myself and the coaching staff, we always keep in touch and send notes to each other, and I think they’re very happy for me and JT [Marcinkowski] in being in the situation and are wishing us the best here and I think they’re ready for us to come back when the time is right.”
Yueill was asked about the possibility that Olympic qualifying could be a shop window for international teams, but he shrugged off an imminent desire to move abroad, saying he was “happy [in San Jose] at the moment.”
But if Yueill and the U.S. seal the deal Sunday in their win-and-you’re-in semifinal in qualifying, the midfielder will likely be doing plenty of traveling around the world this year, even while representing the Earthquakes on a club front. Stay tuned.
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