Last night in what is being billed as a heartbreaking late draw against El Salvador, the United States Under-23 soccer team missed their opportunity to qualify for the Olympics.
“A nightmare loss,” says USA Today.
“This is probably the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life so far as a pro athlete,” U.S. captain Freddy Adu told Fox News.
The Washington Post points out that this is only the second time the team has missed the Olympics since 1976. And they lost against El Salvador, which is one game away from its first Olympic berth since 1968.
“Victory was only seconds away — and perhaps it should have already come, after the referee allowed the clock to tick beyond the allotted four minutes of stoppage time,” the Post reports. “But on what likely would have been the last shot of the night, [Sean] Johnson faltered.” The U.S. goalie misplayed a final, desperate shot from Jaime Alas, which resulted in a 3-3 tie and bumped the U.S. from Olympic qualification.
Now, there’s much talk in the sports world about the role the new national coach played in the loss and how this loss brings the team’s 2010 World Cup run full circle.
But our question is, does this even matter, when the focus of the soccer world is the World Cup?
“It will be difficult to determine just how damaging the failure to qualify is. The Olympics might not have the most prestigious soccer tournament on the planet, but they do provide the participants with a solid dose of international experience. Yet it has to be said that this generation of players has a history of international underachievement that is troubling. While only four players were on the U-20 roster that failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup, another nine were on the 2009 U-20 team that blew a golden opportunity to progress to the knockout rounds of that competition. Instead, they fell to South Korea 3-0 in the group finale and became one of just eight teams to be eliminated in the group stage. It’s easy to write off each of these incidents in isolation, but taken together the trend is worrying. At minimum, some momentum has been lost.”
“For a country the size of the United States, investing as much in the sport as this country is investing, those results can’t keep being written off to bad luck, or bad bounces. There have to be some questions asked about the direction of the national team program and whether the string of disappointing results are the product of bigger issues than lineup decisions and player errors.
“For US Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who hired every one of the coaches in charge of each of those failings, Monday’s Olympic elimination has to raise questions about the decisions he has made and the direction he is leading American soccer towards.”