NASHVILLE -- Just about the entire U.S. Under-23 national team collapsed to the pitch, shocked and in disbelief.

The Americans had just squandered a one-goal lead over El Salvador by surrendering a devastating goal four minutes into stoppage time that turned their Olympic dreams into a nightmare.

Midfielder Jaime Alas scored off a 25-yard shot that bounced once and skipped past goalkeeper Sean Johnson to lift El Salvador into a 3-3 draw and to the Group A title at the CONCACAF men's Olympic qualifying tournament.

It may go down in the record books as a tie, but it was an excruciating loss for the Americans, who failed to reach the semifinals.

"It's a painful moment. The players are devastated," a sullen U.S. coach Caleb Porter said. "To put in as much as they put in that game and all the heart they put in and played the way they did in the second half . . . To be seconds away from the No. 1 seed, it's unimaginable.''

Porter wasn't finished.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I'm sorry for the fans, sorry for U.S. Soccer that we couldn't get the job done," he said. "I've never felt anything like this in my life."

Alas' shot, not a hard one, got past Johnson, who had replaced an ailing Bill Hamid in the 39th minute.

"He feels like he's let every one down, his teammates down," Porter said. "I didn't [think he did]. The kid's got a great future."

The fast-paced and exciting encounter had a little bit of everything -- lead changes, beautiful goals, seven yellow cards issued by referee Roberto Garcia (Mexico), even a sucker punch by a Salvadoran defender that left Terrence Boyd with a bloody face in the 82nd minute.

Although only a crowd of 7,899 showed up at LP Field, the enthusiastic fans were so loud and boisterous that the game had the feeling of being played in Central America.

Boyd, who started over Teal Bunbury, struck for the first two U.S. goals, the first one 61 seconds into the match off a pretty volley. The second one was scored in the 65th minute after Lester Blanco (35th minute) and Andres Flores (37th minute) scored within 83 seconds for El Salvador.

Joe Corona, who had a hat trick in the United States' 6-0 win over Cuba on Thursday, scored in the 68th minute to give the U.S. a 3-2 lead.

El Salvador joined Canada as Group A semifinal participants. Canada tied Cuba, 1-1, in the first game of the doubleheader as second-half sub Dayon Blanco scored a dramatic goal to offset a 25th-minute goal by Canada's Lucas Cavallini.

There was some intrigue in that match as well. Yosmel de Armas, 22, was listed as "not present."

Given the history of Cuban players who have defected to the U.S. in CONCACAF and FIFA tournaments, it was suspected that de Armas was seeking asylum in this country, although it could not be confirmed.