Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Once Again, US Men's Soccer Disappoints...

Early this morning the US Men's Olympic Soccer team lost to Nigeria 2-1, eliminating them from medal contention. This is the latest in a series of really bad disappointments from the Men's National Team since their quarterfinal run in the 2002 World Cup (which should have been a semifinal run or more, the Germany game is still a mockery of officiating).

I hate to say it, but we still have not learned to properly compete on the international level. We've got players with talent, a slowly but surely emerging league (the MLS is adding Seattle, Philadelphia, and most likely another Canadian city in the next 3 years), and some of our best players are in the best leagues in the world. Jozy Altidore now plays with Villareal, Adu with Benfica and now on loan at AS Monaco. Even Damarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, the two young promising stars from the 2002 Cup are still very good players.

We brough a mysterious U23 team to the Olympics, just like everyone else, with a few exceptions like keeper Guzan and Brian McBride. We played terribly in the first match, but still snuck through on a goal from Holden to beat Japan 1-0. We thought maybe this team of youngsters could pull something off. They fought back from a goal down against Holland to lead the game 2-1 in the final ten minutes, looking as though to go through to the quarters where they were expected to fail. Then...the usual team USA showed up. Freddy Adu got his second yellow in as many games, suspended for the final group game, and then was removed by coach Piotr Nowak, leaving nobody in the midfield to hold the ball away from the Dutch. Michael Bradley got it into his head to waste a ton of time around the 90th minute, and got himself a second yellow card in two games, suspending him for the thrid group game as well. And finally, the very same Holden that saved us against Japan made a costly foul in stoppage time to lead to the Dutch tying goal, screwing the US out of the win they deserved, and making the last group game against Nigeria a "can't lose" situation.

I'm not sure how the US would do in "must win" situations, but I know one thing: when all we have to do is tie, we always find a way to lose. It's incredible the kind of crap we get ourselves into when all we have to do is hold out for once.

All we had to do was hold for ninety minutes against Nigeria, one of the fastest teams at the games. We just had to settle in, not concede an early goal, and maybe carve out some possession to keep the Nigerians from cutting us up on the wings. Four minutes in, another typically American bonehead move cost us composure. Michael Orozco elbowed a man in the chest right in plain sight of the center referee, getting himself a red card. Playing a man down and without Adu or Bradley, the US allowed two goals to Nigeria before staging a desperate attempt at a comeback, leading to a Sascha Kljestan penalty kick and a Benny Feilhaber header off the crossbar.

Seeing the comeback fall just sort of the tie we so desperately needed just amplified how much we set ourselves back with the loss of Adu, Bradley, and Orozco even before the game really got started. The team shot themself in the foot once again, forced to play from behind in an insurmountable fashion.

Over the past six years we've failed spectacularly when everyone is watching. The 2006 World Cup was horrific in the opening loss to the Czech Republic, the two red cards against Italy, and Claudio Reyna's bum knee and Oguchi Onyewu's non-penalty against Ghana. Now with the collapse against Holland and playing from behind against Nigeria, I doubt the composure of any American team to compete on the highest level.

It's as though the run in 2002 didn't give us confidence so much as heap pressure on our team to the point where they are crushed under the stress. I don't really understand it, but with hope the senior national team can learn to relax, and perhaps play out the rest of World Cup qualifying with some ease, hopefully going to South Africa in 2010 with a new frame of mind.

No comments: