The Olympic Dream -- this distracting chimera that American soccer inflicts upon itself every four years -- is over. Once again, it has ended in failure. A lot of time and money and effort has been
spent -- slap-bang, one has to notice, in the middle of the MLS season -- and there is absolutely nothing to show for it.
One win, one tie, one loss, the melancholy 1-1-1 string that
reveals only an average performance. And it will be followed by a enormous amount of very
average analysis, when there's not much to analyze.
The results were not good enough,
because the players are not good enough -- and because the coach was not good enough. Had the USA advanced, Peter Nowak would no doubt have claimed his share of glory -- we can be certain of that from
his reaction to the opening game 1-0 win over Japan, which he hailed as "my first Olympic win." Note the "my" -- so we can treat yesterday's loss to Nigeria as Nowak's first Olympic loss. Both the win
and loss should also be Nowak's last. He has done nothing to warrant his continuation in the job.
The disciplinary fragility that led to the USA entering its final, crucial, game missing
two of its regulars because of yellow-card accumulation is inexcusable, a fact that was quickly underlined by Michael Orozco's 3rd minute red.
After that, the players -- not the coach --
did what they could. And they did well. It was noticeable that the team was at its best -- in both the Netherlands and Nigeria games -- when it abandoned itself to all-out attack. That mode does not
come from Nowak -- we saw his idea of attacking team tactics in the qualifiers (when the US averaged 1.2 goals per game) and in the Toulon tournament, when it managed only two goals in three games
So we learned that American players have tremendous spirit, that they never give up, that they fight to the last second and that they can belong on the same field as the European champions,
Did we really need this tournament to learn any of that? Absolutely not. Nor did we need this tournament to expose the weaknesses -- the inability of the team to play
with any sort of soccer style, or at least, one that isn't linked to the frenzy of the battle.
Did we need this tournament to find out that the USA produces good goalkeepers? Is it of any
use at all to know that Brad Guzan is "capable of keeping the USA in the game"? For that matter, it is quite possible that the knowledge is counter-productive. No team should be relying on its
goalkeeper to get it out of trouble. If it has to do that, then ipso facto
, it is not playing well. It needs to play better -- not turn to the goalkeeper.
Did we need the
Olympics to discover that Michael Bradley -- whatever he may believe -- is no Alfredo Di Stefano, the all-field maestro? Bradley is simply too slow for that, and his tackling leaves much to be
desired. After his absurd second-yellow in the Netherlands game, his judgment doesn't look so great either.
Yet Bradley, for whatever reason, seems to be looked upon as the shining light
of American soccer. Please.
Alongside Bradley on this team we were given a former shining light in Brian McBride. Heaven knows why. His selection as an over-age player always had the air
of a piece of opportunism, a suggestion that he was picked merely because he was available. Or maybe he was picked because he brought that wonderful intangible, leadership. This used to be the
fallback argument whenever Alexi Lalas turned up on a new team. No one seemed to notice that Lalas' teams never won anything.
McBride's record as a player and all-round good guy is
exemplary. But he didn't belong on this team -- not least because he basically got in the way of Jozy Altidore. To put it another way, he got in the way of the future. If we're not going to win an
Olympic medal -- and we're not, not stuck on 1-1-1 we're not -- then international experience is the only thing of value to be got from the Olympics. Something that Altidore should have, but that is
of no value to McBride.
It is traditional now for the USA to go to a big tournament -- at any age level -- and have a splendid win against a top team. After that, things fall apart
immediately -- either the win goes to the players' heads, or the level, or the intensity, of play cannot be maintained. And the USA goes home. The typical scenario was the under-20 World Cup in 1993,
when the USA started off with an extraordinary 6-0 walloping of European champion Turkey. Then, downhill it went -- a 1-0 loss to England, 0-0 tie with Korea, giving the inevitable 1-1-1 first round
record -- but those 6 goals against Turkey sent the USA into the next round and to a 3-0 shellacking from Brazil.
As it is safe to presume that this 2008 team was the most experienced,
and the best-prepared Olympic squad the USA has ever fielded, its failure to advance must be judged as the worst failure yet.
That must be the conventional view. For my own part, I care
little about those results. The Olympic tournament is of small consequence in the soccer world and losing games is no big deal. But, domestically, the Olympics matter to American sports fans -- so we
give them, every four years, a losing team.
Some thought needs to be given to that. And to the continued reliance on the same type of athletic, limited players, the same praising of the
USA's fighting qualities, the same tendency to rely on goalkeepers. None of those attributes can add up to a sound basis for a winning soccer team.