By Michael Lewis
The U.S. men failed to reach the Olympics soccer tournament.
And the sun also rises.
The 2-1 loss to Honduras stings, perhaps even more because it was the third consecutive Olympics tournament that the Americans failed to book a spot in.
If that sounds like the lede to the other column I wrote about the U.S. failure this morning, well, it was done on purpose. I just hate seeing history repeat again and again and again.
Given a country this size and huge ambitions and the fact that it is planning to host its second World Cup in 2026, along with Mexico and Canada, not qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics is embarrassing and humiliating.
There are many reasons why the U.S. Under-23 team will be on the outside and be spectators at yet another Olympic soccer tournament.
Here are some thoughts as to why:
Send in the C team
Let’s face it. The best Under-23 players were not on the U.S. roster, especially the European crop.
Whether it was COVID-19 protocols or clubs not having to allow players to perform at U-23 tournaments, the USA roster was well below par.
Imagine a U.S. team that included Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, who scored in the 2-1 victory at Northern Ireland Sunday, and the likes of Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, etc. etc.
Perhaps Mexico, Hondurans and the rest of the eight-team field would have had their optimum roster as well. But the bottom line was that the U.S. did not have it best and most creative players.
The Concacaf tournament essentially was held during the FIFA international window in March. FIFA should have made it mandatory for teams to release their players.
If FIFA will allow three overage players per team to participate in the Olympics, it should have all clubs in the world release their players for Olympic qualifying.
Show some balls.
This is soccer’s version of states’ rights.
Because FIFA did not mandate a rule, MLS and European clubs were not required to release any players for Olympic qualifying.
Essentially, the USA was forced to use a B or C U-23 team.
When clubs like Atlanta United don’t release key players such as defender Miles Robinson for the U-23 team, it hurts the national side.
It should be country before club.
That being said, I don’t want to see Atlanta United making a big deal in the future of players being called into the national team in its news releases. You can’t have it both ways, guys. Propaganda will only get you so far.
Like it or not, the best U.S. U-23 players perform overseas, mostly in Europe (this is another story to tackle for another time). This will be a recurring problem when it comes to qualifying for Paris in 2024.
COVID-19 pushed back the start of the Major League Soccer until April 17 and the start of training until March 1 as opposed to the recent more traditional start of January training and early March season kickoffs. That did not help.
Players were not sharp and were not at full match fitness.
This team didn’t have it
After watching the USA side during the group stage, you could see there were many things missing, including creativity, lack of rhythm and poor defensive decisions. You make a blunder in your defensive territory, you may pay dearly for it. I didn’t think the team had enough to qualify even then, unless it played Canada in the semifinals. The Canadians finished second to Honduras in Group B and were beaten by Mexico in the semifinals, 2-0.
While I like Jason Kreis personally, I think he missed the boat this time with lineups, strategy and substitutions.
BTW, since directing Real Salt Lake to great success, winning the MLS Cup in 2009 and reaching the championship game in 2013, Kreis hasn’t been able to find the same magic with New York City FC (fired after the season) and Orlando City SC (2016-18). And now this.
Hopefully, these are stern lessons learned for the future.
I hate seeing history keep repeating itself again and again and again.
I would say I would pull my hair out over this, but I am bald already. I probably pulled it out during other mind-boggling scenarios over the decades.
Hopefully, other soccer journalists,or any fans won’t have to go through that in the future.