GUADLAJARA, Mexico – Same old, same old, same old.
For the third consecutive Olympics, the United States Under-23 team will be spectators for soccer tournament.
The Americans could not dig out of a two-goal home early in the second half and succumbed to Honduras, 2-1, in the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying semifinals Sunday night.
The USA men’s side hasn’t qualified for the Summer Games for 13 years or since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Red, White and Blue failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Games. This drought has tied the longest drought when the U.S. failed to book at spot at the 1960, 1964 and 1968 tournaments.
Now the Americans must wait three years before trying to reach the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“Obviously we’re devastated, absolutely devastated in a locker room,” USA head coach Jason Kreis said. “The guys are like it’s a tragedy, a tragedy. We all wanted this so bad, so badly for so many different reasons. And I think could be that sometimes when you want it too bad. You put yourself in a position where you can’t perform to the level needed. At the end of the day, you know, I just don’t think we had enough.”
Failing to reach any major tournament is rough. This one possibly hurt more because one of the goals was self inflicted, a major mistake by goalkeeper David Ochoa on Honduras’ second goal.
Asked what were some of the reasons why the USA struggled in the tournament and did not qualify, Kreis replied, “There’s a lot of considerations. First and foremost just the time of the year that the qualification is in. I think it puts an American team in a difficult place because of the fact that we are just now entering preseason.I felt like last year the timing of it was a little bit better because the MLS season I’d already played three or four matches. So I think that’s difficult.
“The only solution I would say there is that if you can get the European players that are in mid-season, then perhaps you’re in better shape but we all know the difficulties of that as well. Those are the couple of things that jumped out to me that just make it a difficult prospect. Not to say that we weren’t good enough to get it done because I do believe we had enough quality in our team. WEe had enough ability in our team, we had enough fight and commitment, but just at the end of it, tonight I just didn’t think it was quite enough.”
Except for the four-goal explosion against the Dominican Republic in the group stage, the USA struggling, scoring only twice in their three other matches.
“I just think again it just comes down to general sharpness of players,” Kreis said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a game where we’ve had players miss control the ball so much. Balls rolling under people’s feet, passing out of bounds. These are things that are just really, you kind of scratch your head and you think what’s what’s going on here. But I also have been around the game enough in our country at a pro level to tell you this is what you see in preseasons … at the beginning of MLS seasons. It’s typical.
“On the quality in the final third I felt like we got there enough times were just lacking for me mostly the last pass but then we even got into areas where we should finish and we don’t.”
The Hondurans, who qualified for the Summer Games for the fourth consecutive time, scored only minutes on either side of halftime to turn the game on its end.
Four minutes into first-half stoppage time, Edwin Rodriguez sent a free kick from the right side some 40 yards to the far post, where Denil Maldonado headed it back across goal. Juan Carlos Obregon held off his defender and directed the ball forward into Ochoa, continued his momentum and pushed the ball across the goal line.
Two minutes into the second half, Ochoa produced a gaffe for the ages. After taking a backpass, Ochoa hesitated for a second before kicking the ball up field. It was questionable strategy as Luis Palma blocked it and sent it into the goal for a 2-0 Honduran margin.
“We knew that Honduras was a good side,” said U.S. captain Jackson Yueill, who scored his team’s lone goal. “Our game plan was to come out and take the ball to them and try to get a couple goals early. We were lacking a little bit in the first half. Now, it’s a hot game and I think difficult conditions in these tournaments. But overall I think the guys fought really hard and gave it to the end, just unfortunate to come out with the, with the loss but proud of the team and the effort that they gave it all until the last second.”
Yueill pulled one back for the Americans in the 52nd minute when he hit a screamer into the lower side of the net to slice the deficit to 2-1.
The USA essentially laid siege to the Honduran goal for the final 20 minutes as defenders either cleared misplaced passes or shot. The Honduras goalkeeper saved a Yueill free kick in the 69th minute.
Kreis said he already had regrets about some of the decisions he made before and during the tournament.
“This is who I am as a person,” he said. “I will look first and foremost at myself and think back about the decisions that were made about the roster, about the form of the players that were coming in, the players that weren’t here, absolutely. Anybody that knows anything about me knows that I point the finger at myself absolutely first. Having said that it’s a collective effort. It wasn’t just me making those decisions. But I’m more than willing and able to take the brunt of the blame, no problem.”