How big a deal is it that the U.S. men again failed to qualify for the Olympics?
There’s no positive spin to be derived from the U.S. U23 men’s team’s inability to qualify for the Olympics for the third time running. Yes, you can trot out all the excuses you want about the team’s players being at the beginning of their club seasons — all but three players on the roster are in MLS — while the competition wasn’t. European clubs not releasing other age-eligible players like Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic is another reality the U.S. had to face. But the fact remains that a country with the resources of the U.S. should find a way to qualify on the men’s side. That it didn’t is a failure, plain and simple.
The outcome was down to some self-inflicted wounds. The team’s roster construction was a talking point from the moment it was announced, in particular a corps of midfielders whose abilities skewed toward the defensive side of the ball. Manager Jason Kreis said the group had more attacking skill than they had showed previously, and while that proved true for Hassani Dotson, it didn’t for Andres Perea and Johnny Cardoso. Tanner Tessmann showed some attacking ability, but he didn’t see the field with near enough regularity to have an impact. Then there were forwards Jesus Ferreira and Sebastian Soto, who didn’t provide much of a impact.
Kreis’ choices did little to dampen the suspicion that two Portland Timbers players, midfielder Eryk Williamson and forward Jeremy Ebobisse, would have helped, and he’ll have to live with that. So when goalkeeper David Ochoa‘s attempted outlet was deflected back into his own net in Sunday’s semifinal, the accumulated errors meant the U.S. couldn’t make it all the way back.
How big a blow is this to the U.S. men’s program? It’s certainly not fatal, especially in terms of qualification for the 2022 World Cup. It might not even be a body blow. Players develop with their clubs, not their national teams. Also, this failure also doesn’t hide the fact that the current crop of U.S. players is immensely talented. But it is a punch in the face and a reminder that even in CONCACAF, nothing is guaranteed.