US men’s football cannot qualify
The men’s soccer competition at the Olympic Games is a far cry from the most prestigious international tournament. However, failure to qualify can be both a worrying omen and a program stain.
And failing to qualify is exactly what the US men did on Sunday – for the third time in a row in an Olympic cycle.
A 2-1 loss to Honduras in a crucial semi-final extends the absence of games to at least 16 years.
An American B team under the age of 23, as dictated by the competition rules, was played out by a Honduran U23 squad and deservedly beaten.
The ultimate goal, however, was a grave, inexcusable mistake. The US goalkeeper David Ochoa played a costly pass directly on the goal of the Honduran striker Luis Palma. The ball ricocheted off Palma’s boot into a gaping net.
Ochoa, who had been excellent throughout the tournament, was disturbed after the game and walked across the field with his hands above his head.
Honduras had scored a few minutes before half-time to take the lead. Ochoas Gaffe doubled the lead at the beginning of the second half.
US midfielder Jackson Yueill, a 24-year senior reserve team, pulled the US back to one with a 25-yard bang.
But the young Americans couldn’t find a balance. And just like in 2012 and 2016, they failed the Olympics.
Contextualization of the qualification error
An Olympic qualification mistake is nowhere near to be compared to the 2018 USMNT World Cup qualification mistake. But the games are often viewed as a barometer of youth progress. Failures in 2012 and 2016 were alarming signs of insufficient progress in youth development.
This bug is a little different. The youth development of men has improved in recent years. A bevy of American stars under the age of 23 now play in some of the biggest clubs in the world. Weston McKennie is with Juventus (Italy). Christian Pulisic is in Chelsea, England. Tyler Adams is with RB Leipzig (Germany). The list is extensive and seems to be growing from month to month.
These players were not part of this Olympic qualification. Since the Olympic Games are viewed as a youth event and take place outside an official international window, professional clubs do not have to release their players for Olympic teams.
And so it was like a U-23-B team. Pulisic and others may have played in the actual Olympics. But that roster was mostly made up of MLS players.
Still, the US was preferred to qualify. It disappointed throughout the tournament. And the wait for a return to the Olympics will continue.