The U.S. U-23 team drew 3-3 with El Salvador, on the back of a 2-0 loss to Canada. They will not qualify for the 2012 Olympics. It’s embarrassing, as they were favored in what was seen as the easier group. It’s especially embarrassing since it happened on American soil. Fans will feel gutted. It will be a setback for promising Akron coach Caleb Porter, though reflecting soberly it’s not that important.
This was not the U.S. Men’s National Team. Unlike hockey, basketball or women’s soccer, Olympic men’s soccer is youth-restricted. There are exemptions for overage players wanting one last hurrah, but it’s an U-23 competition which holds little prestige.
Europe treats it as an afterthought. It comes in the same summer as the European championships and, with just four teams, the selection does not reflect the continent’s dominance in the sport. Europe holds no separate qualifying for the tournament, using the U-21 championships. Germany hasn’t qualified since 1988 (and won a World Cup, a European Championship and reached five finals in the interim). South America takes it a bit more seriously (especially Brazilians who have never won gold). Though, it’s really a tournament valued more by Africans and North Americans who have a better shot to reach the latter stages and win.
Playing in the Olympics would have been fun for American fans and beneficial for young American players, getting international experience and the chance to play in front of European scouts, but missing it, in isolation, is not that traumatic. It is a sideshow, not a part of the development path. Success or failure predicts little. Members of the 2004 team that failed to qualify had success for the senior team at the 2010 World Cup.
Cause for worry emerges when you pair it with the failure to qualify for the U-20 World Cup. The players arriving through the system should, theoretically, have had better preparation than any of their predecessors. The underperformance, if it is a pattern, could reflect badly on U.S. player development and foster the development of a sour culture within the program.
From the USMNT perspective, this qualifying will be a disappointment. Klinsmann would have hoped that players with senior experience, such as Adu and Shea, would grasp the leadership opportunity and that a couple members of this team would step forward as viable candidates for 2014, especially up front and in the back four.
Adu is what he is for the senior squad, a skillful player who can make things happen off the bench but has too many liabilities to start at top level. Shea showed both his customary flashes and his customary inability to focus for 90 minutes. A simple clearance from him at the end last night would have won the game. Terrence Boyd is an intriguing striker prospect. That’s about all to gleam.
[Photo via Getty]