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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.
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