The Futile Pipe Dream of Olympic Glory

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, the Netherlands.

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.

3 comments about "The Futile Pipe Dream of Olympic Glory".
  1. Adrian Gumowski, August 14, 2008 at 2:17 p.m.

    I've been reading your articles since subscribing to Soccer America 3 months ago. I like reading them. They are very opinionated but that's how it should be. That's what makes these articles interesting.
    I never post any comments. Who cares what some guy thinks, right?
    But not this time. The above article of yours disturbs me so much that I feel I have to respond. Probably, because I disagree with most of it.
    I've always been agitated by one-sided evaluation of American, not just soccer players but all athletes.
    Win – you are OUR hero, role model etc.
    Loose – YOU are a shame, not good enough etc.
    Sport and especially the Olympic Games are not only about winning. Just to participate is a glory for many athletes. But Americans have to always produce good, or should I say, great results (sometimes even 'good' is not good enough). If not – they are not good enough. It disturbs me.
    The Olympic Games are not a sporting event that anybody may participate in. You have to qualify. Not just sign up. And believe me, just to be an Olympian is a dream for every athlete.
    “The results were not good enough, because the players are not good enough — and because the coach was not good enough.”
    Had the USA not lost the goal in the 93rd minute that tied the game against Netherlands, they would have been...good enough?


  2. John Soares, August 14, 2008 at 5:57 p.m.

    Grouchy old man at his best/worst.
    Even the few "good" points you made are in hindsight. I agree with the McBride factor, only because I disagree with the 3 over age exceptions. This should not be the "show" for Ronaldinho Relquiem etc.
    Bet if McBride had scored three goals you would be praising him and how it took a senior citizen to save the team.
    Only one team can take the gold, World Cup or first place in any other tournament. USA qualified and played, for the most part very well in games two and three. Minus a stupid/deserved red card.
    Where was your beloved England? Resting same as in the EURO-08. Now that's shameful although well deserved.
    This was not "shameful" it was good for the sport, the players and the fans.
    Also aparently good for your job security.
    I still read (many) of your colums though. Occasionaly they are correct, rarely constructive more often than not a joke, intentionally or not.
    Gardner, Crankshaft and Rooney, you're in good company.

  3. Philippe Fontanelli, August 17, 2008 at 11:40 p.m.

    The two gentlemen above should stop being bullishly prejudice.
    "Who died that made you gentlemen an expert? I guess being a Polak and a Guese qualifies you!
    Judging your comments, Gardner has more soccer sense in his finger than the both of you put together.
    He has been a soccer (football) icon for at least fifty years, I have been reading his articles almost that many years. I may have disagreed him occasionaly, but he has always been very realistic and surely not a nepotist. So respects are due to him if nothing else.
    Secondly he is right on the money with his article. I have agree with him word to word.
    Bravo Paul, that he has the guts to tell the truth. Wynalda totld the truth and look what happened to him?
    It's the irony that the 2 Bs don't fare well in this country whether it's politics or soccer. Two Bs took us to war and ruined the country(the elder Bush and the current Bush) and the Two Bs (Bradley the player and Bradley the coach)will ruin the mens national team. NEPOTISM!

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