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Starting the autopsy: the U.S. men’s Olympic dream ends

Mar 26, 2012, 11:43 PM EDT

us soccer

There is so very much to talk about after the United States’ crushing, last-minute elimination Monday from Olympic soccer. The longer-term “this” and bigger picture “that” must be addressed following the latest qualifying clunker at a sub-national team level. Surely there will be reckonings, and hopefully a thoughtful plan of how to make things better.

The short-term issues are all more stark and biting, fresh wounds of the moment:

The roster wasn’t good enough. The coaching wasn’t good enough. The leadership and problem solving fell short.

Heck, even the choice of venues from U.S. Soccer proved imprudent. (How nice would it have been for the United States, given the opportunity to choose its facilities, to have a packed, smaller house absolutely coming apart at the end, urging and helping the home team to grind out the last few exhausting minutes? We’ll never know; tens of thousands of empty seats is no recipe for whipping up a “stirring cauldron.”)

Nonetheless, it was thrilling and breathless, El Salvador’s 3-3 draw at LP Field. El Salvador moves into Saturday’s semifinals, and credit to the small Central American side for prolonging its own Olympic dream through a night of gritty belief.

For the United States, Olympic soccer from London in the summer of 2012 will be a TV event.  Here are some things to initially consider from Monday’s heart-breaker.

  • El Salvador was quicker, smarter and more committed over the telling first half, taking a well-deserved 2-1 lead into the break. Why? U.S. manager Caleb Porter and his men will need to answer that one. With so much on the line, the U.S. seemed content to “pretty” its way through the game initially – while the Salvadorans gave the home side a lesson in desire.
  • The best U.S. spell: Between the 60th and about the 90th minute, when the desperation finally kicked in, proving once again that a U.S. side backed into a corner is a U.S. side at its best.
  • Leadership and experience were sorely missing in the end, when U.S. players went diving emotionally into tackles at the telling moment. Rather than managing the final Salvadoran attack through shape and balance, American haste at winning the ball created the gaps that permitted the shot … that Sean Johnson bobbled so costly.
  • The American goalkeeping situation was shockingly poor. Five goals against in two matches, with at least two the product of mismanaged back-stopping. Bill Hamid’s meek moment led to a crushing goal against Canada. But Johnson’s fumbled effort in the dying seconds Monday was equally inept. These two, remember, have been in Jurgen Klinsmann’s full national team camp. We all expected better.
  • Playing three matches in five days is an absurd schedule; both teams looked spent toward the end Monday. So you have to wonder why Porter left two substitutions on the bench until it was almost too late? The Americans were dying for fresh legs.
  • The United States defense was a mess from the start of the qualifying tournament, and never got any better. Not once in the tournament did center back Ike Opara look up for the job.
  1. 69jaredallen69 - Mar 26, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    Pathetic is only word needed to sum up that game…what was going through goalies head? Why dive!

  2. footballer4ever - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    Autopsy!? No need for that, just bury it already. May this mini heartbreak upset act as a warning for the USMNT to avoid happening to the at any WC qualifiers. Now that would be a setback of castatrophic consequences.

  3. killabri - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:13 AM

    Pretty much spot on here, but more to the point #3 you alluded to: If Break Shea just punts the damn ball up the field instead of trying to start a quick counter for a goal they didn’t need, the ref probably blows his whistle. That said… that’s a save Sean Johnson has to make, period. Yes, 3 US midfielders couldn’t take the ball off of Alas, but that was a very stoppable shot.

    The roster balance was terribly off, and Porter could have used a bulldog in the midfield to see the game out and close down the kind of space that led to the dream crushing goal. The coach takes the responsibility for the roster, so that one is all on him. Waiting until the dying moments of the match to make subs is also very puzzling.

    The fact that goalkeeping has cost the US dearly in a match they had to win is something I really never thought I’d type.

  4. orbmech - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    I wonder if it was too big a step for Porter to go from college to international. He seemed a bit naive and too stubborn about 4-3-3. A little more pragmatism might have gone a long way.

    Soccer can be a very cruel game.

    • killabri - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:36 AM

      You’re exactly right, orbmech. When you hire an amateur coach with no professional experience of any kind and throw him into the deep end of international management, this is what you get. He was clearly not ready for this.

      However, that said… there are a number of players on this team who have spent time in the senior team camp. The fact that they can’t see out this result is astonishing. They had been punting the ball aimlessly out of the back all night then, in the dying throes of stoppage time, decide to try and play the ball out on the floor? I just don’t understand it and I can’t blame the coach for that. These guys have to understand the situation.

    • wesbadia - Mar 27, 2012 at 10:12 AM

      Two things:

      1) The hesitation of using his final two subs until the dying minutes could probably be contributed to the fact that he IS a college coach by trade and is not versed in the full FIFA rules enough to know how to properly manage a team at the international level. All the more reason why NCAA soccer needs to get on the same page as FIFA.

      2) This is a perfect example of why USSF should NOT be prescribing set formations for its program. Suggesting that the 4-3-3 should be used “in general” by US squads is a silly request and an insane mandate if it truly is one. By suggesting any one formation, you’re convincing the technical staff to adopt it and thus potentially harm the quality of the team. I cannot see how a 4-3-3 can properly work with the lineup that was picked for this qualifying. The wing backs were not adept enough at getting forward to help in the attack and defending the central third, which is required of them in a 4-3-3. This leaves a narrow midfield, and convinces the three “strikers” to not defend as much in the middle of the park. It’s best to leave anything dealing with strategies, formations, positions, and lineups to the coach that is directly managing those things, not prescribed in some “official” document handed down by Claudio Reyna and USSF.

  5. gazza305 - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:27 AM

    Who decides where the tournament is played? USSF or CONCACAF?

    I think this should have been played entirely in LA but definitely in a SSS of 20k to 25K.

    • zava55 - Mar 27, 2012 at 6:33 AM

      Or just flip the groups. If the other group had played in a “NFL” stadium, it would have filled up more. Just saying.

      (By the way, i hate the term “Soccer specific stadium”…. just call it a smaller stadium. Go to other countries and look at their “soccer specific stadiums”…. some equal those of our NFL stadiums.)

    • Steve Davis - Mar 27, 2012 at 8:11 PM

      Wrote about that one here
      that should have your answers

  6. footballer4ever - Mar 27, 2012 at 12:29 AM

    Everything in hindsight, it makes sense. This US23 does not deserve to go to the olympic and it’s better this happened as much as it might hurt. I only hope this loss does not go to waste in the future for the players who end up playing in the at the major USMNT to avoid that from repeating at the highest level.

  7. jumbossportsblog - Mar 27, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    Reblogged this on jumbossportsblog and commented:
    Just a few wees ago Team USA beat Italy and now this…

  8. slxc - Mar 27, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    NBC already screwed in his attempt to convey in its main channel soccer, everything was already timetabled and now what?

  9. soccerknowitall - Mar 27, 2012 at 6:06 PM

    I’ll coach the team! -_-

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