The dichotomy of emotions for Real Salt Lake’s four players and three additional players with RSL ties competing against each other as the U.S. took on Honduras in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying semifinal was summarized in one exchange between David Ochoa, Douglas Martinez and Luis Palma.
The final whistle had sounded, Honduras qualifying for a fourth straight Olympics with a 2-1 victory, and Ochoa hunched himself on the field, likely replaying the two goals in his head as the U.S. failed to qualify for the Olympics for the third consecutive cycle. Martinez and Palma crouched in front of him, offering words of encouragement as Palma lifted Ochoa’s head. In a devastating moment for Ochoa, it was a current teammate at RSL in Martinez and a former teammate with the Real Monarchs in Palma that put their own celebrations on hold to console a friend.
Entering the match, someone was going to go home disappointed while the others would celebrate an Olympic berth. As it turned out, Ochoa and RSL teammates Justen Glad and Aaron Herrera – each of whom started and played 90 minutes in the match - will return to Utah without plans for a summer trip to Japan to represent their country. Neither will RSL Academy products Sebastian Saucedo and Sebastian Soto.
On the other side, Palma and Martinez will advance to the tournament final on Wednesday, but more importantly qualify for the Olympics.
The first half was a slug-fest as both teams fought for an advantage, Honduras on the front foot and the U.S. struggling to build possession in a back-and-forth contest. Ochoa made three dramatic saves to keep the match scoreless.
However, for the second straight match, a goal just before halftime sent the U.S. into the break trailing 1-0. It looked like Ochoa would smother a ball in from the left side, but when it came momentarily free, Juan Carlos Obregon’s diving effort into the goal mouth resulted in the ball spilled into the net for a goal.
To start the second half, Ochoa was sending a low pass out to the wing, but Palma got a foot to his pass and the redirection bounced uncontested into the open net for a 2-0 lead in the 47th minute.
That goal seemingly served as a wake-up call for the U.S., as Jackson Yuiell fired a goal from distance in the 52nd minute to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Head Coach Jason Kreis used his subs to press for an equalizer. After already bringing Saucedo into the match for an offensive spark at halftime, Kreis subbed Soto onto the field in the 62nd minute to add another attacker to the mix. However, it wasn’t enough to mount a comeback and the match ended at 2-1.
Ochoa, Glad and Herrera will rejoin RSL’s training camp during the team’s upcoming trip to Arizona for preseason matches against the Colorado Rapids (April 3), Phoenix Rising FC (April 7) and the LA Galaxy (April 10). The matches against Colorado and LA will be streamed live on the KSL TV app. Martinez will continue with Honduras in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying final on Wednesday against either Mexico or Canada, pending the result of their semifinal match late Sunday evening.