HERSHEY, Pa. -- A thing of beauty, it was not. But playing Canada to a foul-filled, scoreless draw last night advanced the U.S. Under-23 men's soccer team within a win of going to this summer's Olympics in Australia.
The Americans will face Guatemala here at 8 p.m. Friday, with the victor earning one of two Olympic berths from North and Central America and the Caribbean. Mexico, which easily beat Panama last night, will face Honduras in Friday's night's other semifinal, the winner of that 5: 30 game also going to Sydney.
U.S. coach Clive Charles said his team was a bit flat, knowing that advancement to the semis was all but assured.
"We knew it would be a difficult game, and I felt we just weren't quite as pumped as we were for the first game [against Honduras],"said Charles. "But we didn't want to lose. .... We went out to win, but they did a good job of stopping us from doing that."
Added U.S. central defender Chad McCarty: "They put us under a lot of pressure, but we're glad to come out of it with a tie, and we're looking forward to Friday."
Against Canada, a hard-tackling, close-marking team that never let them establish an attacking rhythm, the Americans pressed forward repeatedly, but got only a few good chances at scoring, even in the second half, which each team played with only 10 men following a first-half-ending tussle.
The Canadians, who needed to win by two or more goals to advance, seemed oddly content to defend heavily before 5,798 on a chilly, clear night at Hersheypark Stadium while hoping long passes to its one or two forwards might earn a breakaway goal.
D.C. United forward Chris Albright had the U.S. team's best two chances, in the 54th and 66th minutes, only to see Canadian goalkeeper Mike Franks make kick and plunging saves on his shots from about 12 yards.
Canadian forward Dwayne DeRosario, often playing alone in the second half, scared the Americans in the 48th and 58th minutes. But U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard smartly blocked the first one down and away; the second soared high over the goal.
Rough play stopped play repeatedly, with a total of 42 fouls whistled, 25 against the Canadians. Plus, eight cards were issued, five against the Canadians. Neither coach would comment on the officiating.
The scoreless first half was mostly tepid until its final minute, when U.S. defender and captain Brian Dunseth and Canadian midfielder Steve Kindel were ejected after scuffling. Dunseth said he was kicked while on the ground, but he also dropped Kindel to the ground with an American football type of tackle in retaliation.
Salvadoran referee Neftali Recinos first red-carded Dunseth, who entered the game with one yellow card, got another in the 25th minute for tackling from behind, and now must miss at least the team's next two matches.
Moments later, after talking with one of his linemen, Recinos sent Kindel off, as well.
Dunseth's ejection became an opportunity for former Maryland defender Dan Califf, who left college last year to turn pro. He entered in the second half, and Charles said he will play in Friday's semifinal.
"Dan will do a good job," Charles said. "He's a good player -- it's just a case of one center back coming out and another coming in."
Mexico (1-0-1) clinched its group in last night's first game, breaking out fast and outclassing Panama, 3-0.