Kansas City, Kansas. Olympic Qualifyers:
Sitting in the beautiful Livestrong Park in KC on Saturday evening watching a gallant El Salvador fall in extra time to Honduras before Mexico dismantled the game, but badly overmatched Canada in the nightcap, all I could think of was the opportunity missed by US soccer.
After all, it was so well set up for the US team to make it here to KC and to play their way on to London, that you would almost think the fix was in.
Remember when you first saw the groups.The US would play Cuba, Canada, and El Salvador. In Nashville, trying to get the home field, send Mexico and the rest to LA.
Which of those teams posed threat to the American’s. El Salvador can play, but not many thought they could knock off the US on home soil. That it took a calamitous error by the keeper in the 94th minute is beside the point, the game should have been wrapped up by then.
With Mexico on the other side of the draw, a final in Kansas between the giants of the region was all set up, with the Olympics already assured for both sides.
We all know how that turned out. So here we are in KC with Honduras taking on Mexico. Mexico look scary good. Scary that is for US Soccer, who are chasing Mexico again. The tide seems to have turned back Mexico’s way and in the youth ranks in particular, the US looks well behind.
So now we add this debacle to last year’s U20 failure. Two highly touted youth teams in a row have fallen badly. Thomas Rongen was fired after the U20 mess, and some are calling for Caleb Porter to be sacrificed this time around.
That seems unlikely. I agree with those that say we have to nurture coaches as well as players, but maybe with the Olympics at stake Porter should have served a more experienced manager as his second in command.
But what about the players? Are we developing the next group of senior players? Who from this U23 side is pushing for a place at the 2014 World Cup? Not too many of them. Maybe the wrong players were in Nashville, but the goalkeepers look over-rated and the defense shaky. People love Diskerud, I’m not sold. Freddy Adu has something, we saw it at the Gold Cup, but can he perform consistently enough to make an impact. Joe Gyau excited with his pace, but we need to see more. And Brek Shea? He has talent, but he has to make that step up in class. Does he need the challenge of fighting for his place everyday in Europe? I think he does.
Oddly for an American side, our future looks brightest up front, where Juan Agudelo and Terrence Boyd may be for real.
The reality is that Olympic soccer is not the be all and end all. But for the US, this performance is a blow to both our soccer pride, and a warning sign that we are not getting it right when it comes to player development.