The soccer autopsies have been flying about this past week after the U.S. men’s under-23 team failed to qualify for the London Olympics.
All seemed to be going swimmingly for coach Caleb Porter and his troops following a 6-0 win against Cuba in the first of their CONCACAF qualifying Group A games in Nashville, Tenn.
Then the wheels fell off the cart. A 2-0 defeat at the hands of Canada was followed by a 3-3 draw against El Salvador.
After fighting back from 2-1 down to go 3-2 up, the Americans were seconds away from a semifinal place when they conceded a needless injury-time equalizer, ensuring El Salvador’s progression to the last four.
It will be Mexico and Honduras who will travel to the London Olympics to join 14 others following semifinal victories over Canada (3-1) and El Salvador (3-2) respectively in Kansas on Saturday evening.
The United States has now failed to reach two of the past three Olympic tournaments. You can add it to other recent underage disappointments, such as the Under-20 national team missing out on qualification to the World Cup amid high expectations, and the highly-regarded Under 17 national team failing to get past the last16 at the World Cup last year.
National men’s team head coach Jürgen Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer that he met with the devastated team after the game and told them that qualification was not lost against El Salvador, but by losing to Canada.
“You lost it because you were not consistent enough and you made too many mistakes,” he said.
Too many mistakes on the field, and — if you believe the experts — too many mistakes off it also.
LA Galaxy head coach, and form U.S. national team coach, Bruce Arena told the Associated Press that there needs to be new leadership and a “fresh way of doing things.” He was obviously referring to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who fired him after eight seasons and two World Cups as manager of the national team.
Fox Soccer analyst and former U.S. international Eric Wynalda, an outspoken critic of Gulati, argued on “Goals on Sunday” this weekend that that blame falls on those doing the hiring.
While that may be so, Klinsmann was actually involved in selecting Porter, coach of the 2010 NCAA title-winning Akron program, to lead the under-23 team.
The simple fact of the matter is that the under-23 squad assembled for the Olympic qualify tournament wasn’t good enough.
You might also legitimately question why Porter’s first event as coach was the Olympic qualifying tournament.
While he is one of the most promising and well-respected young coaches in American soccer, he is also inexperienced on an international stage.
However, you can’t blame him for the lack of players on the team who look destined to become part of the national team setup.
Yes, there were a few absentees, but the squad—including the likes of Brek Shea, Freddy Adu and Joe Corona—should have ensured progress.
When the Americans beat Mexico in a recent friendly victory, there was real hope that the team could impress in London.
Instead, we’re left trying to figure out what went wrong and wonder if United States soccer is going in the right direction.
Is the talent there, and if so, is it being adequately developed at the younger age levels in the right manner?
Those in the know may say it is, with the likes of the Development Academy system expected to bear fruit, for example.
However, a diet of dodgy goalkeeping, poor defending and misfiring attackers in Nashville suggests real advancement is not just around the corner.