2012 Olympics, Featured, March 2012

US Men’s Olympic Failure a Regional Failure, and That’s Unacceptable


Things were supposed to come easy for an immensely talented group. The grim reality of the qualifying disaster is that nothing comes easy in this region. Not anymore.

Jon Levy

It’s not okay. There should be blood.

Just a couple thoughts that danced through my head on Monday night. And nothing that I’ll ever back down from.

But none of that’s even strong enough to appropriately convey the disappointment. Disappointment compounded with a grim view of the future for American soccer/football.

Flashback to just a year ago and the US was still the predominant force in CONCACAF, the governing body charged with overseeing soccer in the upper Americas and Caribbean. The Red, White, and Blue may not have taken the 2009 Gold Cup, but using the national team starters to beat Spain in the Confederations’ Cup was a more than noble excuse. And a World Cup qualifying loss at The Azteca, as demoralizing as it was, was still bookended by Michael Bradley’s domination in Columbus, and a deeper run in South Africa (albeit by just thirty minutes).

Within the past twelve months we’ve seen the CONCACAF power structure change, and change again. But with each slight shift, there’s still been hope and justified confidence in the future for US Soccer loyalists to hang onto. On Monday night that all died.

It was a slow grind, but this was the cliché that broke US Soccer’s back. I wish the win in a relatively meaningless friendly match over Italy could make up for all the hard evidence, but it can’t.

-First, the most offensively talented group of Under-20 Americans ever to be assembled fails to qualify for 2011’s U-20 World Cup. Mexico eventually takes third place in the tournament.

-Then MLS flag bearers Real Salt Lake squanders a lead over two legs to lose the CONCACAF Champions League final to Mexican club Monterrey.

-Next, the USMNT takes a 2-0 lead over Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final before taking a hit via injury and allowing El Tri to dominate the rest of the match and leave with the trophy.

-After which the US Under-17 team just barely qualifies for the knockout stages of the 2011 U-17 World Cup. They get killed, in every sense of “this match was not competitive”, by Germany. Mexico wins the tournament.

But even in the face of this comedy of errors and missteps, there was reason to be optimistic. The summer of 2012 was going to be a good one for the American men’s soccer program. The best players from the awesome U-20 team that had absurdly found a way to not qualify for that youth World Cup in 2011 were primed to form the uber-determined core of the 2012 Olympic team. Throw in an elite overage player or two and the US might just be giving Neymar’s Brazil and Super-Duper Great Britain a run for their money in London this summer.

I’d pay good American dollars to go back a couple days to when that was my train of thought. That was a better time. That was a delightfully happy time in comparison to the here and now.

And make no mistake about it, what we have now is pure, unadulterated, disgusting reality.

No longer can we kid ourselves about the state of US Soccer. This isn’t an indictment of Jurgen Klinsmann, rather a reality check concerning what he’s actually walked into. Most readers of this blog have had a keen eye towards Jurgen’s progress (or lack thereof) in trying to teach a bunch of old dogs on the USMNT his new tricks concerning ball possession under fire, and building an attack from the back. But what about US Soccer’s greatest advantage in the short term?

While most of the CONCACAF countries were content to sit back and sip on tropical drinks during the summer of 2012, the very near future of US Soccer was supposed to gun for a medal in the London Olympics. How quickly that went awry. And for what reason? I think we might have to kick it all the way back to the beginning of this blog post for that one.

-First, the most offensively talented group of Under-20 Americans ever to be assembled fails to qualify for 2011’s U-20 World Cup. Mexico eventually takes third place in the tournament.

-The best players from the awesome U-20 team that had absurdly found a way to not qualify for that youth World Cup in 2011 were primed to form the uber-determined backbone of the 2012 Olympic team.

Fair or unfair, international soccer success is measured in tiny sample sizes. The newest crop of Yanks are wild underachievers, and their leader failed.

But let’s be honest, it wasn’t just the handful of players that participated in both failed qualification attempts. Just like it wasn’t just Thomas Rongen. And it wasn’t just Caleb Porter. It’s a larger issue; one that may be systemic, and one that’s about to shove a generation of now proven underachievers into the national team pool in the coming years.  Despite the fanaticism and hyperbole these results often bring– there’s one thing about international soccer that is undeniably true. At its core, success is measured in very small sample sizes. Moving forward, this group of young Yanks are wild undearcheivers who have failed to qualify for their last two international tournaments. And their leader, with all his collegiate championships, is an abject failure. Will uber-talents like Brek Shea learn from this experience– and a few years down the road make the safe clearance instead of the horrifying and unnecessary decision? Will Sean Johnson recover? Whatever will become of the enigmatic Freddy Adu? Again, talent points to recovery, and a bright future. Results, in two small sample dosages, suggest they’ve a ways to go.

I’d like to end this post on a positive note, but I can’t bring myself to say a good thing about the next generation of US Soccer. Not even about supposed gamers Joe Corona (a somewhat bootleg version of a young Clinton Dempsey) and Terrence Boyd. Currently the US youth setup looks a lot more like Ryan Leaf than Tim Tebow. And like former USMNT boss Bob Bradley, I’d rather take Tebow and the W’s than Leaf and the talent.

I guess the positive is the same one we always grasp for when the chips and the team are both as down as down can be: International soccer tournaments are short affairs that can be won by a hot team any time they’re contested, regardless of player age or prior form. Jurgen Kilnsmann will have a long time to prepare the US for that next tourney, but qualification will never again be an easy assumption. And you can bet your bottom dollar the Senior team’s qualifying run will be a dogfight.

Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at jon.f.levy@gmail.com and you should follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.

Jon Levy

  • If you’re referring to the looming 2014 qualification campaign I don’t believe there is ANYONE who has followed this team for a length of time has ever considered qualification at any level an easy assumption.

    • Wouldn’t say no one has– but I think it is worth noting that this will be harder. You begin to take things for granted when you qualify with room to spare as the side did the last three cycles.

    • Otherwise, great comments. And ones I think the author would almost certainly agree with– particularly the noted “steady improvement” of MLS.

  • Right on, Jon. It seems like we’re taking steps backward when we should be going forward. I don’t know what is to blame – probably not one thing is 100 percent at fault – but I do know that results matter, and last night’s was a very bad one.

  • Snipersghillie

    Meant to say how many times we play the long ball out of the back under Klinsmann…

  • I agree however I do believe failure breeds success.  When we look at the current batch of Mexicans they were brought up during the decade of dos a cero and had to deal with the mental frustration that came with it. That has been there motivation. We can only hope that the frustrations that these players have endured drives to senior success.

    • Jon

       That’s a nice thought, and one that can even be applied to a team like Spain. But those teams, while beaten up by a team or two within their regions, always qualified for international tournaments. Is this new level of American failure really a necessary hurdle on the path to success?

  • The complete tactical naivete was what bothered me the most last night.  If you’re going to say we’re lacking in anything as a nation it’s far and away going to be basic football smarts: how to kill a game, what to do with the ball in situation A, B, and C.  

    Shea has a lovely first touch and all the pace and verve in the world.  It means nothing when he launches a clueless pass into the middle of the field to spring the tieing Salvadoran goal.

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