Tuesday, March 27, 2012

US Men's U23 Team Fails to Qualify for 2012 Olympics

Thanks to a 2-0 loss to Canada on Saturday night and a 3-3 draw with El Salvador last night, the United States has failed to qualify for the men's soccer tournament in the Olympics for the first time since 1976. Last night it appeared that, despite the shocking loss to Canada, the US team would advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers since they were leading the match, 2-3, over El Salvador, as the match went into stoppage time. But then, to American soccer fans, the unthinkable happened as Jaime Alas scored on a howler giving El Salvador the draw as well as earning that country its first trip to the Olympics soccer tournament since 1968.

For those unfamiliar with how Olympic soccer qualifying works, the US team at issue was its U23 squad, not the senior team that features in the World Cup qualifiers and finals. While a knee jerk reaction to the US's failure to make it the Olympics would be to paint a portrait of doom and gloom for the future of the US Men's team, it's way too early to do that. These players are young and still have plenty of time for growth and development before some of them will become regular fixtures on the senior team's bench and later its starting squad. Additionally, there's reason to believe that with all the recent changes that have occurred within the coaching and development structure at US Soccer, the response to this "failure" will be more efficient and creative.

While it is a shame that US Soccer will not have a men's team competing in the Olympics this summer, it's not the end of the world, by any means, for US Soccer. While the Olympics in general are very popular with television viewers in the United States, coverage of soccer has usually received low priority, especially when compared to the "sexy" events like gymnastics, swimming, and track and field. In the bigger scheme of the soccer world, men's Olympics soccer is to the World Cup what the NIT is to the NCAA Tournament (or to make another current cultural analogy, men's Olympics soccer is to the World Cup what Peter Campbell is to Don Draper).

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