US Olympic Failure: 8 Things It Will Mean For US Soccer

April 1, 2012

After being unceremoniously eliminated for Olympic qualifying last week, the U.S. men’s program will not have another important game until the end of May when the full national team begins gearing up for World Cup qualifying.

Now that the dust has settled from the debacle in Nashville, let’s see what the U.S. failure to qualify for the Olympics means for U.S. Soccer.

The U.S. needs to take a closer look at its youth coaches

At first glance, Caleb Porter’s selection as the U-23 coach seemed to be a perfect choice. He has had great success with younger players in his time at Akron, and his success in the NCAA tournament, a one-and-done tournament, seemed a perfect fit for the rigors of Olympic qualifying.

However, Porter proved that experience also counts. And his lack of experience coaching at the international level led to many dubious decisions such as starting Teal Bunbury against Canada, the lack of playing time given to Joe Gyau, the playing of Freddy Adu on the right flank, an unbelievably shaky backline, the 4-3-3 he deployed and the delay in subbing an obviously injured Bill Hamid against El Salvador, among others.

One wonders how much better the U.S. would have performed with a more experienced coach. And to that end, what about the lack of experience at other positions of the U.S. youth program?

Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna, both outstanding U.S. players in their own right, have little coaching experience yet have been named the U-20 team’s coach and Youth Technical Director, respectively.

As the sports world has shown time and time again, being a great player rarely translates into being a great coach.

The U.S. has serious future problems at the back

When the World Cup begins in June of 2014, the U.S.’s most consistent defenders over the past few years (Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu) will be 35, 35 and 32, respectively.

And while the U.S. does have some players who can step into the void (Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Zak Whitbread, Eric Lichaj come to mind), the lack of depth, particularly in our youth pool, is staggering.

Worse, the performance of the U-23 backline (Zarek Valentin, Kofi Sarkodie, Perry Kitchen, Ike Opara and Jorge Villafana) gave up a total of five goals in the last two games of group play against international minnows Canada and El Salvador.

If these guys can’t shutdown the Canadian and El Salvadorian attacks at their own age group, how will they ever be relied upon to play against international giants like Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Germany or Italy?

The mentality of U.S. Soccer needs to change

For far too long, these types of failures have been accepted, with coaches, players and U.S. Soccer officials alike making excuses and justifying their failures. And for far too long, American fans, content with occasional big victories over the likes of Spain and Italy have been happy enough to go along.

However, this “two steps forward, two steps back” approach can no longer be accepted by U.S. Soccer, or by the fans. The U.S. has worked for far too long and far too hard to continue accepting these types of colossal failures and simply chalking them up to the U.S.’s “development” as a nation in the world of soccer.

Sunil Gulati needs to bear some responsibility

In addition to this recent failure of the U-23 team, here is what U.S. Soccer has recently achieved under Gulati’s leadership.

U.S. Women

Full National Team
- 1st loss ever in group play in the Women’s World Cup
- Did not win the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the 1st time ever
- Almost didn’t qualify for World Cup
- Were the last team to qualify for the 2011 World Cup

U-20 Team
- Knocked out in the quarterfinals of the 2010 U-20 World Cup, the U.S.’s earliest exit in the history of the competition

U-17 Team
- Did not qualify for the 2010 U-17 World Cup after finishing 2nd in 2008

U.S. Men

Full National Team
- 1st loss ever in the group stage of the Gold Cup in 2010
- Effectively knocked out by Ghana (not exactly a world football powerhouse) in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups
- Embarrassing defeats to both Spain and Mexico in 2011
- 3-4-1 record under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann including losses to Costa Rica, Belgium and Ecuador

U-20 Team
- Did not qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup, the first time the U.S. failed to qualify since 1995

U-17 Team
- Lost in the round of 16 in the 2011 U-17 World Cup for 5th straight time in a humiliating loss to Germany

Style over substance is a failing philosophy

Jurgen Klinsmann, in his losses to Ecuador, Costa Rica and Belgium, has been happy enough to excuse the losses away to intangible successes such as playing more attractive football.

And, up until now, U.S. fans have been willing to give Klinsmann time to “implement” his system.

The failure of the U-23’s, however, playing the same 4-3-3 Klinsmann has shown preference to, have revealed the fallacy of this argument.

To put it simply, results matter more than style. Who really cares if your team plays the beautiful game, but loses? And worse yet, loses to teams that are far inferior?

The overwhelming majority of U.S. fans would be far happier watching the U.S. play an old-fashioned game of shutdown defense won off counter-attacks and set-pieces in the Olympics than watching their team give up five goals in two games to the likes of Canada and El Salvador and go crashing out of the competition.

This tournament in conclusive proof that MLS is not developing players for the USMNT

The U.S. backline of Ike Opara, Perry Kitchen, Kofi Sarkodie, Jorge Villafana and Zarek Valentin, all Major League Soccer players, was torn apart for an embarrassing five goals in the last two qualifiers against Canada and El Salvador.

What’s worse – the last time Canada qualified for the World Cup was 1986, the last time El Salvador qualified was 1982. Not exactly world-class competition.

The better talents from the U-23 will be available for the full national team this summer

One of the lone bright spots coming out of this qualification disaster is that the full national team will have a number of the more promising U-23 players available for World Cup qualifying this summer.

In addition to Timothy Chandler, Jozy Altidore and Josh Gatt, who did not play in Nashville, but were age-eligible and may have been with the U-23 team this summer, the full national team will have Freddy Adu, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Terrence Boyd and Juan Agudelo available should Klinsmann call them up.

The U.S. does have some nice attacking options for the future

The lone bright spot of the U.S.’s aggressive tactics in the qualifiers was that it showed the U.S. has some nice attacking options for the future.

The performances of Joe Corona, Freddy Adu, Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd and Mix Diskerud all proved that they can be key to the U.S. attack for years to come.

John D. Halloran

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3 Responses to US Olympic Failure: 8 Things It Will Mean For US Soccer

  1. DE Dupuis on April 4, 2012 at 6:05 am

    JD – luv ya, agree with you some and disagree with you some.
    I still can’t believe there are not more people engaged with your site, your pieces are much better than Fox and ESPN.
    Agree with you about the amount of talent that is still poorly tapped.
    Totally disagree with you about how to make USA better.
    Spain developed their world conquering style of football – before they got super good. Their winning is a consequence of their style not the other way around.
    Possession based, technically demanding football is the present and future of winning football. Coupled with the superior athletes that the US frequently has and that’s our winning formula.
    There is a logical disconnect between the ideas that our defense sucks and we have to park the bus and counter to win.
    The current 20 somethings are the first American generation of any significant numbers to have played football their whole life as their primary sport. When I sit at my dinner table I look across at a 14 year old boy who’s technique looks like a young spanish player but who is 6’1″, 170 lbs and can run like the wind. And there are a lot of guys and gals like him coming along. He hates kick and run around soccer, loves playing like Barca or Swansea. The future is bright player wise.
    As a soccer country we need a long term soccer vision. Down play or change the NCAA stupid kick and run around soccer, same for MLS which is just NCAA with more expensive tickets. Adopt as a country a commitment to developing technique first, followed by tactical development (which must follow technical mastery). And have this be uniform from pee wee through the senior national team. At US Soccer coaching clinics they are still insisting that everyone learn to dribble like Ronaldinho – not a passing triangle in site – silliness.
    OK rant over – keep the good stuff coming.

    • John Halloran on April 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm

      DE, Thank you for the kind words.

      As far as our style, I wasn’t very clear with what I meant to say. What I ideally would like to see is a German-type style brought to the U.S. which prides itself on its ability to defend and then counter-attack with world-class efficiency. I certainly don’t want to see a return to old-school kick and chase. When I watch the Germans play I am in total admiration of the way they can tear a defense apart with 3 or 4 perfect passes on the counter and their runs off the ball. I think that would be a good “in-between” style between kick and chase and tiki-taka. I totally agree that our next generation is getting there, even our U-23′s were impressive in their possession during Olympic qualifying, but our kids, even those with soccer as their primary sport, don’t live immersed in the soccer culture that most kids do in other countries.

      The NCAA creates their own problems with unlimited subbing. It makes it harder to reap the rewards of a possession-based system, plus the talent pool in the NCAA is too diluted compared to other nation’s professional reserve/youth leagues.

      • Dupuis on April 12, 2012 at 7:30 am

        Concerning the NCAA, yes exactly, that and for too many players its their apex team.

        You must like Bilbao then. They counter often and effectively. And they are a great model for development here, after all they have a really good team that comes completely from a tiny geographic area. But they do have vision and a mission. US soccer has neither.

        Here’s an example of the problems with youth soccer. I live in New Hampshire now, the largest league in the state (over 6,000 players 8-18 in a tiny state)scheduled their playoffs during the ODP regional tournament weekend. When I pointed this out to the organizers they basically told me to buzz off. Its depressing, how do we go forward with “leaders” who don’t seem to care or know what needs to be done.

        As for soccer culture, or lack there of, it has been a problem, but I think Fox Soccer and GolTV are starting to change that. In the two hours between school and practice there are typically 6-10 boys over at my house (without me because I’m at work still) watching world class soccer and arguing about the relative merits of Blackburn’s and Newcastle’s strikers, or why Levante will be in CL next year. By way of bragging, these boys, my U15 team, are playing in the NH President’s Cup final this weekend, no team from our club has ever made it that far before. We may or may not win, but we’ll have 70% of the possesion, and make our fancy (from a very big and expensive club)opponents look silly chasing the ball around for long stretches of the match.

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