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EDGAR ZUNIGA - Wednesday, August 8, 2012
It's another long, hot summer day and bars across the nation are roaring with 'GO USA!' chants as fans have shown up in the middle of a work week to cheer on their nation.

The United States of America is not only competing in a respected global soccer tournament, we are actually in the final and all of America is bleeding red, white and blue in support of a soccer team that has brought hope to the hopeless and shown the world American resilience in the face of adversity.

To make things more interesting, our neighbors to the south have also reached the final and Mexicans all across North America will be screaming and pushing their team onto victory.

Don't we wish it was USA vs. Mexico?

Interestingly enough, though, this has nothing-yet everything-to do with the current state of our men's soccer program.

And, of course, I'm referring to the women's Olympic team and the Mexican men's team, who both reached the gold medal round at London 2012.

While we celebrate the continued accomplishments of our embattled women's team, we can only sit back-tight-lipped, arms crossed-and watch as the Mexican team goes to where no US men's team has gone before in the Olympics.

Some may dismiss the Olympics as a throw-away tournament, when compared to the World Cup or the UEFA Champions League, but it's still an opportunity to showcase the growth of our soccer on a global scale and maybe give everyone a glimpse of good things to come.

When the Under-23 squad failed to qualify for the Olympics, it happened in such an inglorious fashion, that it left everyone shaking their heads in disbelief.

The way the team fell apart has been dissected thoroughly by many pundits. But, no matter how you cut it, it always looks ugly and leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially when you look at what our only two CONCACAF representatives have done.

Tiny Honduras, who was also present at World Cup 2010, shocked the proud Spanish team en route to the knockout stages and nearly cut down a not-so-flashy Brazilian team that had to resort to shady tactics to escape the Catrachos.

In the case of Mexico, although they had a relatively easier route, they have taken advantage of this and played terrific soccer to earn the match-up against Brazil for the gold medal.

How would the US men's team have fared in place of Honduras?

Can you imagine the headlines if the US had beaten Spain once more in a tournament of this magnitude? Maybe the US would have actually been able to get past Brazil. And then what? A gold medal final match-up against Mexico?

Can you imagine all the watch parties and crowds flocking to bars across the country to see this epic clash between bitter border rivals?

Too bad it's all just speculation and wishful thinking.

The only clash between these old rivals this summer will be a Mexico vs. US "friendly" exhibition to be played in the choking smog of Estadio Azteca on August 15. How do you think that will end?

It really is just very frustrating.

Before anyone just shrugs it off as, "Oh, it's just the Olympics" think about what this says about the next generation of US Soccer.

The US didn't just fail to qualify for the Olympics; this happened on American soil and against teams whose financial infrastructure is nowhere near the level of ours.

So, they crushed impoverished, baseball-mad Cuba. That was a good start and rightfully so.

However, the loss to Canada proved that this U-23 squad had a glass jaw. Do you really see Canadians pouring loonies into the development of their soccer federation when they could just continue to focus on their hockey programs?

Then, the "loss" to El Salvador was the unkindest cut of all. A draw that had all the sourness of a loss to a nation whose soccer federation is drowning in a sea of controversy because of match fixing and whose funding was suspended as punishment.

In Honduras, soccer may be king, but do you think the amount they have invested into their programs in Honduran lempiras measures up to what is invested into our programs in American dollars? Is the infrastructure of their soccer program better when compared to ours in this vast nation we call home?

If you care about US Soccer, draw breath and have a pulse, this should bother you.

The one slim silver lining in the draw against El Salvador that doomed the U-23 squad was that it took a very late goal in the last match of group play to eliminate the US.

Just one goal separated the US from an opportunity to advance to the next stage of qualifying. Sure, there is no guarantee that the U-23s would've been able to defeat Honduras after struggling mightily against Canada and El Salvador. But, it would've been one step further than where they wound up.

On the other hand, to have everything boil down to that one goal, scored by Jaime Alas in the fourth minute of added time, shows how fragile the team was. Playing at home against opposition like this, they shouldn't have had to struggle this much.

The way things are shaping up it does not bode well for the senior squad as they get more involved in World Cup qualifiers.

They already struggle when playing on the road (even against Canada!) and rely heavily on their results at home. But, what if they start losing at home against teams they should beat?

Failing to qualify for the Olympics is a very tough lesson for US Soccer. In means that in a CONCACAF that is in constant flux and turmoil, nothing is guaranteed. Nothing can be taken for granted.

Yet, the strongest blades are forged in the harshest fires of distress. And, if lessons are taken to heart and evolution follows its path, the men's team will come out of this dark time better equipped to face the future.

Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith once said, "Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Hopefully, next time, things won't come down to a last second goal. Next time, Landon Donovan might not be there to bail us out.
Peter
Sunday August 12, 2012 12:35 pm
Meh...um.
Mexico wins the gold. You think they're saying "meh" across the border? As little as it may mean when compared to the World Cup, the Olympic champions get noticed. If it had been Freddy Adu scoring those two goals for a US medal, he'd be front page news.
Its a multi-edged sword. Yes, there have been great strides made in training our youth. Yes, we could use an additional pool of players to come from the traditional American powerhouse sports. Yes, nobody cares about Olympic soccer, UNLESS, and until you win it all, or lose it ala Brasil.
Let's see what the meaningless friendly in Azteca brings for Klinnsman and our boys. Another humbling experience, or a win where one isn't expected? Then with the next qualifiers in September, we may get a better sense of the US status.
2tone
Friday August 10, 2012 1:26 am
Meh. This is old already. We didn't qualify for the 2004 olympics either, and you didn't hear or read as much doom and gloom as you do now.

This isn't a great revelation people the U.S. has always struggled in Central America for WC qualifiers.

There is positives and negatives to everything. Positives of not making the Olympics- 1. Maybe the governing bodies have awoke a bit now, and real changes will be implemented. 2. If we had made the Olympics some of these guys wouldn't be playing in pre-season with their respective first teams i.e. Gyau, Boyd, Morales etc... and Boyd wouldn't have started off his club career in such stunning fashion either.

Obviously the negatives are that the U.S. won't be showcasing that they can play well in a Tournament.

The U.S. is in better shape going forward than what some pundits in the states are portraying the USMNT program.

To make any conclusions on just the Canada friendly is a little ridiculous.

If the USSF wants to take the next Olympic qualifying tournament seriously than they need to start identifying players for the qualifying tournament, and hire a coach and coaching staff right after the 2014 WC. Schedule a years worth of friendly's before the qualifying tournament, and actually identify the depth at each position instead of just trying to plug holes in certain areas right before the tournament i.e. playing Kitchen out of position or trying to force Jared jeffrey into the CDM role or playing players that weren't ready or in match shape or not in form to play i.e. Kofie Sarkodie and Teal Bunbury. Like I said if you want to take the Olympics seriously than you need to start the process much earlier kinda like what Brasil did.
Observatator
Thursday August 9, 2012 8:11 pm
I disagree that the US's primary problem is that they can't attract the "best athletes." 1. What makes the "best athlete"? Looking at the US basketball team in London, I see maybe 3 of the players who would've made good soccer players. Tony Parker grew up playing soccer, and he's far more athletic than Nasri. Yet, he ended up being a far better basketball player.
2. Look at Spain. Excluding Pique and Torres, who on that side strikes anyone as super athletic (speed, size, agility)?

It's about tactics and technique. Athleticism helps, but it's not the most important ingredient. If it were, Onyewu and Eddie Johnson would both be playing on top 10 sides. Bocanegra, Dempsey, Bradley, and Cherundolo would all be playing fantasy league rather than actual league.

As for the Olympics, it would've been nice for the experience and exposure, but who really cares about men's Olympic soccer? The problem was that they didn't qualify for a tournament, but this is no more important than qualifying for all the under-age World Cups. Personally, I wish they'd pull men's soccer out the Olympics all together.
Travis
Thursday August 9, 2012 4:52 pm
Brent,

You gotta know we are better than AVERAGE. We have a good national team. We are trying to migrate from good to elite. It is a tough hill to climb, but that is where we are.

As far as the Olympics goes, it was unfortunate not to qualify, but it ultimately came down to a massive goalkeeping blunder. For all of its struggles defensively, that team should've been playing for a berth in the Olympics in the knock-out stages. There are a lot of positives to take in the massive comeback orchestrated by Freddy Adu and co.

While not qualifying for the Olympics was crushing, to me, when the US U-20s and U-23s of the current generation are playing well, you can see that their quality is at another level from what we are used to watching. I think that crop of US players can redeem their failures at the youth stages when they reach the senior team.
rick
Thursday August 9, 2012 1:34 pm
Peter, I coach as well, and the revolution in this country on how we develop our youngest children is one of the most influential changes that have led to our strongest youth pools ever.

The REAL REASON we are not there yet is because all the other soccer powers get there country's BEST ATHLETES to play soccer. We don't but we are making huge strides in this area. This shift towards better and better athletes choosing soccer in larger numbers, in combination with these kids getting training at 8 that i didnt get til college, and lastly the academy structure now i place.... all has the USA on the right path to being a soccer power. Our success over the last ten years is beyond incredible for any realistic soccer fan in America, and its only getting better.
Peter
Thursday August 9, 2012 12:06 pm
As a coach who already does teach technical skills to 4 and 5 year old kids, I see a different untrod path as to why we are less able to develop soccer players capable of greater things. You can pump all the dollars you want into the US system and it won't make much of a dent. Our youth need LESS adult intervention up to the age of 10, more time playing because they really simply love to play the game, the desire to emulate the great players of their own nation, to make believe they are the next, um, and here's the problem, who do they emulate (Donovan, Dempsey, Bocanegro, Bradley...)? Do they even watch the sport at home when not being chauffeured to their practices by Mom/Dad?
I know the inability to make the Olympics did not bode well for the USMNT developmentally. Will it prevent us from qualifying for 2014? That would be the real death blow.
Derek
Wednesday August 8, 2012 3:53 pm
Pumping trillions of dollars into the soccer infrastructure would attract the best US athletes, however, which would mean that Johnny no-skills would never even be a part of the conversation.
Brent
Wednesday August 8, 2012 10:36 am
There is no doubt that not making the Olympics leaves a bitter taste. But on the other hand, we are still a relatively weak soccer nation overall. We are Average, truth be told.
We are getting better and success will be measured in decades and not months. In 40-60 years, when we truly reach our potential it will be a scary site. We could have trillions of dollars pumped into our soccer infrastructure but that will not give little johnny the technical skills he needs to succeed in La Liga, Serie A or the bundesliga. Check back in 30 years when the coaches start teaching technique and skills to 4 year-olds.
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