By Michael Lewis
NASHVILLE, Tennessee - Freddy Adu couldn't remember a worse moment in his career. U.S. coach Caleb Porter couldn't remember a worse feeling in his life.
Jaime Alas' injury-time goal earned El Salvador a 3-3 draw with the United States on Monday, sending "Los Cuscatlecos" to the semifinals of Olympic qualifying and ruining a gallant rally by the Americans that ended their hopes of going to London.
"This is probably the worst feeling I've ever felt in my life so far as a pro athlete," U.S. captain Adu said. "This is going to be hard to get over. . . . I never want to feel this way again, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to never feel this way again."
It was as devastating a result and setback in recent U.S. soccer history as anyone could recall and denied the Americans from going to the Olympics for only the second time since 1976.
After midfielder Alas scored his dramatic, 25-yard goal past goalkeeper Sean Johnson, the virtually the entire U.S. team collapsed onto LP Field in shock and disbelief.
"For us, it's a nightmare right now, because we were the team that had the most talent, I think," said forward Terrence Boyd, who scored two goals as he started in place of Teal Bunbury.
For Porter, who has celebrated the highest of highs in college soccer by leading the University of Akron to a pair of Division I championships, this was the lowest of lowest.
"I never felt anything like this in my life," he said. "It's a painful moment."
The Americans found themselves in a must-win situation after they suffered a 2-0 upset loss to Canada on Saturday night.
"That was the thing that broke our neck," Boyd said.
Then Alas' broke their hearts.
After taking an early advantage, then falling behind 2-1, the Americans retook the lead on Joe Corona's five-yard effort off Adu's second assist in the 68th minute.
Now, they had to protect the lead over the final 22 minutes of regulation and four minutes of stoppage time.
"All the minutes after our third goal felt very, very long, like hours," U.S. midfielder Mix Diskerud said. "But I thought we were going to make it."
Alas made sure the Americans wouldn't, beating Johnson, who had come on for Bill Hamid, who left the game with an ankle injury in the 39th minute. El Salvador coach Mauricio Alfaro told his team that he noticed Johnson was nervous and to shoot. Alas followed his instructions to the letter, sending a one-bouncer that Johnson failed handle.
"He feels like he's let everyone down, his teammates down," Porter said. "I didn't think so.
"I just hugged him. Cried a little."
A sullen and somber Porter said he told his team "that this won't define their careers. As low as this moment is for them and as painful as it is, they've got big days ahead - a lot of those guys that were out on that field. That's the future of our country.
"It's sad that I'm not going to get a chance to be in the trenches with those guys anymore. They did everything I asked. They made some mistakes that cost us the game. The guys have long careers ahead of them. I'm proud of those guys and I know they're going to do great things in the future. I'm sorry for our fans, sorry for U.S. Soccer that we didn't get the job done. But there's nothing to be ashamed about."