U.S. men out of Olympics. Again.

The average American soccer fan probably had never heard of David Ochoa until Sunday even though he was largely responsible for getting the USA past Costa Rica, 1-0, and into the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying semifinals.

By Sunday night, "Ochoa" was trending on Twitter after he gifted Honduras its second goal at the start of the second half with the worst blunder by a U.S. keeper since Kasey Keller played the ball off Mexican Carlos Hermosillo and into his own goal in their World Cup qualifier played in 1997.

That goal came all of 39 seconds into the match watched by 57,407 fans in Foxboro. Plenty of time for the USA to recover and earn a 2-2 tie en route to its third of seven straight appearances in the World Cup finals.

All that seems a distance memory for a men's national team program in mourning again.

Honduras beat the USA, 2-1, on Sunday in Guadalajara to earn a ticket to Tokyo. In one sense, the outcome was not surprising. The Catrachos have beaten the USA all five times they have met outside of group play in Olympic qualifying -- one win came in a shootout -- and they are headed to the Olympic men's soccer tournament for the fourth straight time.

The USA failed to qualify for the Olympics for the third straight time and fourth time in the last five tournaments. The last time the USA qualified, its star was Freddy Adu, who scored twice in a 3-0 win over Canada to advance to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“Obviously, we’re devastated,” said U.S. coach Jason Kreis. “Absolutely devastated. In our locker room, the guys are like it’s a tragedy — a tragedy.”



After the USA's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Sunday's debacle is another black mark for the men's program. More than that, it reflects an institutional failure of the sport.

To be sure, there were some extenuating circumstances, the most legitimate being the pandemic. The USA was already in Guadalajara in March 2020 when COVID-19 struck the sports world and forced the shutdown of Olympic qualifying before it started.

The team Kreis brought to Guadalajara a year ago much better than the team he had this year. Nine of the 20 players didn't return, including Reggie Cannon, Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, who moved to European clubs, and Richy Ledezma, Paxton Pomykal and Ulysses Llanez, who have all been injured (Llanez dropping out on the eve of the 2021 tournament).

But it should not matter that Cannon, McKenzie or Aaronson wouldn't be released, nor would Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams or Weston McKennie ever be. The USA should not lose to Honduras in Olympic qualifying five times in the semifinal round or later and it should not have lost to this Honduras team. After all, this is part of the Honduran age group that lost to Norway, 12-0, at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup, conceding nine goals to Erling Haaland.

But Sunday's result was legitimate. Honduras was better prepared, it was more confident, and it had better soccer players with the ability to make game-changing decisions in difficult moments. The USA looked lost.

Since the opening day of the tournament, Kreis defended his players, saying he was scratching his head, wondering how they could make silly mistakes he's otherwise not seen them make. He didn't use the word, but they looked scared.

“We have players that aren’t moving," he said afterwards. "We have people on the ball that aren’t committing defenders to make decisions to open up spaces, we have guys that look like they just don’t really want the ball."

Since about 2016 when Pulisic debuted at Borussia Dortmund, it was known that an exceptional generation (by American standards) was coming up through the ranks, but they would likely be off limits for the Olympic effort.

Still, it wasn't until March 2019 -- three years after the USA was eliminated from the Rio Olympics -- that U.S. Soccer even hired a coach. It wasn't someone like Tab Ramos, who led the USA to the quarterfinals of three straight Under-20 World Cup and knew the age group as well as anyone.

Kreis, who had a lot of success with Real Salt Lake but failed at NYCFC and Orlando City, was hired, and the first under-23 games were scheduled to work on assembling an alternate team of under-23 talent.



The thing is, we all get so caught up in the success of players like Pulisic, Adams, McKennie and others in Europe that we forget they are the exceptions. If you scratch the surface, the layer of young American talent breaking through at MLS clubs remains quite thin.

It's wrong to dismiss the club backgrounds of the Hondurans, but players like Jose Reyes and Edwin Rodriguez from Olimpia have something the MLS players in Sunday's starting lineup lacked, and that's championship experience, league titles in 2019 and 2020 and success in the Concacaf Champions League, where they knocked off the Seattle Sounders and Montreal Impact in 2020.

On the other hand, just four U.S. starters have ever even started and won an MLS playoff game and none has ever gone to MLS Cup.

The four U.S. entrants in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, which kicks off next week, should be considered the best of the best of MLS -- that's a stretch with Atlanta United, returning as the Open Cup representative -- but they generally started only 3-5 Americans and even fewer players with U-23 eligibility.

Philadelphia's two U-23s were McKenzie and Aaronson, who both were sold to clubs in Europe in January. Atlanta United had three -- Miles Robinson, George Bello and Brooks Lennon -- but it wouldn't release them, despite the place of its technical director, Carlos Bocanegra, on the federation board of directors. That leaves only Portland's Eryk Williamson and Jeremy Ebobisse, whom Kreis didn't take and who were both missed.

Kreis said he will second-guess his decisions -- whom he took and whom he didn't -- but he also added, "I just don’t think we had enough.”

Until that changes, the devastation and tragedy will continue.

33 comments about "U.S. men out of Olympics. Again.".
  1. John Bauman, March 29, 2021 at 6:30 a.m.

    Why can'we get our BEST players for these matches?  European Soccer apparently doesn't want us in the Olympics so they do not send our players when we need them?

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, March 29, 2021 at 6:22 p.m.

    John, it isn't a conspiracy. All nations are in the same situation. They cannot select their best players for Olympic Qualifying. This is one reason that the Olympics competition includes teams that are not known for World Cup success with their senior team.

  3. Craig Lange replied, March 29, 2021 at 9:50 p.m.

    John, the Olympics is not an officially sanctioned FIFA event, so teams are not required to release their players.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, March 30, 2021 at 7:32 a.m.

    Europe doesn't really care about the Olympic Soccer that much. Europe uses their u21 Tournament as Qualification Tournament.("The UEFA European U-21 Championship took place in Italy and San Marino from 16 June to 30 June, where the top four teams at the end of the tournament qualified for Tokyo 2020.)

  5. John Polis, March 29, 2021 at 7:56 a.m.

    Under-23 Olympic football isn't on the priority radar in Europe as evidenced by UEFA's qualifying method, which qualifies four teams from the Euro Under-21 competition. Qualifiers this time out: France, Germany, Romania and Spain. Not qualifying for an Under-23 international competition just isn't that big a deal. And in the USA, where the Olympics are a big deal, it's a different story. Most people in the United States don't even understand that Olympic competition from men is under 23. Last night's USA Today first article about this tournament said it was the US National Team that got beat. The writer had no clue. While this simply boils down to shoddy reporting, it underscores the confusion that exists and perhaps the mirage of the shiny ball attraction that the Olympics holds for Americans, made even more confusing by the success and exposure of our women's team. But it's apples and oranges. It's women's open competition vs. men's under-23. I point this out not as an excuse, because we should be able to get through this tournament. But in the end, getting our team into this tournament is more about the image of the Olympics in America and less about our country's overall progress with the game, something quite different than what exists with most other serious football playing nations. In England, Italy, Serbia, Belgium and many other nations of UEFA where U-23 Olympic football is just not that big a deal, there is justifiably less hand-wringing this morning. 


     

  6. Wooden Ships replied, March 29, 2021 at 1:25 p.m.

    Good explanation. I imagine those of us steeped in the international game know this, what might be telling is how many (percent) of our citizens raised playing vacuum soccer don't still understand. 

  7. Seth Vieux replied, March 29, 2021 at 2:39 p.m.

    I think the biggest disappointment for this is that the ACTUAL Olympic roster would have included nearly all of our top U23/24s which just so happens to be the majority of our actual USMNT. The lost opportunity for this guys to get more games in together in Tokyo, especially considering the Europe/MLS gulf of scheduling to enable us to put our best 23 together very often, and the benefit of that towards the WC is just a huge missed opportunity.

    We all know Kreis was a head scratcher pick, and his player selection (even allowing for Atlanta's BS) should be enough to ensure his time in any important position in USSF is done.

  8. humble 1 replied, March 29, 2021 at 11:10 p.m.

    Comparing US to Europe like apples
    to oranges.  They have a rich platter of competitions.  We do not.  This is pure and simple putting the cart before the horse and taking our eye off the ball.  The upcoming Olympics was the most important competition to harden and test our next generation of men.  We did not get it done.  This was not on the players, had any one of them been asked they would have accepted the chance to play, this was on USSF.  One of the main missions for the USSF is to field our national teams. USSF is not tasked to support MLS academies, or put players on European teams.  The two most important world competitions are the Olympics and the World Cup.  We just failed to qualify for the mens Olympic competition, right after failing to qualify for the mens world cup.  Neither of those are good outcomes.  The last two failures to qualify for the Olympics where bell weathers to the dearth of talent we see in the 24 to 32 age group which was a factor in missing the world cup.  There are signs that the talent gap has been filled, that ship has been righted, a raft of young talent appears to be breaking through, but beware, because if we are so awash in talented young soccer players how in the world did we manage this failure?  A lot of the soccer world is questioning the wisdom of fielding a MNT team friendly against Northern Ireland of essentially U21s the same day and before our U23 boys played in the final for Olympic qualification.  What were they thinking?

  9. humble 1 replied, March 29, 2021 at 11:52 p.m.

    So just to be clear on and hammer home the point of why the Olympics is more important for the US than it is for Europeans.  Just open your Soccer Match app of choice and look at the games over the last weeks.  Look at the games in Europe, look at the games in CONCACAF.  It is clear, is it not, that we cannot compete in the UEFA competitions.  Fun to watch, very entertaining, but not for our boys or girls.  News flash, we are in CONCACAF.  But, there was a CONCAFAF competition that could have led to games against the likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina.  That road lead through Honduras, and we failed.  Instead of our boys it will be the Hondurans that step on the Olympic pitch to test themselves, and hats off to them, they earned it.  There is work to do here.  We need resutls.  We need to focus on what is important to us in America, not on what is important for UEFA.  We are different.  We have to get through CONCACAF to beat EUROs in competitions that matter, not friendlies. Qualifying for the Olympics in 2021, would have got our boys on the pitch against the likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, games we all would want want to watch.  Wake up Chicago House! 

  10. Sean Guillory, March 29, 2021 at 8:30 a.m.

    Four years ago I was more upset about this because we did not seem to have Nyvgreat young players coming though.  I think Pulisic was still 17 and even Richards was 15?  Now it's a different story, our best and even next best have progressed beyond this tournament.  I wanted to qualify but like every sport it's about players and Honduras' best players were better than our C level under 23 players.  Keep this in mind, forget about Pulisic, Mkennie and Adam's.  We did not also bring Dike, Richards, Capis, Sargent, Weah, Reyna, Hoppe, Reynolds, Dest, Musah, etc.  I can fill out 25 players just playing in Europe we did not bring who were eligible for this.  We wanted our best players playing in Europe at a young age well this is the price you pay for that.  If we don't qualify for the World Cup again the. I am worried.  What this tournament did provide is a window to show us who really is ready to play for the National team and really only Yuel and maybe Tessman are ready for the next level.

  11. frank schoon replied, March 30, 2021 at 8:07 a.m.

    Ships, another comment that's is just cracking me up....and it is so True....

  12. Alexander Glass, March 29, 2021 at 8:52 a.m.

    5 years ago Germany qualified for Rio on the men's side. The federation there brought in a hugely respected coach and then sat the clubs down at a roundtable and hammered out a deal that ensured no club would be asked to release more than 2 or 3 players. Clubs could even self nominate players, bit like an expansion draft. In the end, the team selected wasn't the A team but it was a decent representation of German football, and they reached the final.

    Point is, that is the role of a federation. Bring the sides together. Nobody back home or abroad cares if it's a B team: if it wears the badge then it's representing the country in front of its peers. We are, again and rightfully, a laughingstock in the region this morning.

  13. Wooden Ships replied, March 29, 2021 at 1:29 p.m.

    Good observation on Germany. Not to worry, we lead in wokeness, could get the Gold. 

  14. Seth Vieux replied, March 29, 2021 at 2:45 p.m.

    Great point. Ships you're killing me :-)

  15. frank schoon replied, March 30, 2021 at 8:43 a.m.

    Ships, another comment that's is just cracking me up....and it is so True....

  16. Ben Myers, March 29, 2021 at 9:57 a.m.

    Let's not lament too much the failure of our Under-24 team failing to qualify for the Olympics.  For all practical purposes, it was the US second team.  The USMNT is heavily laden with Under-24's.  Men's soccer at the Olympics ies small potatoes compared to the World Cup.  The teams also highlight the stark difference in quality of play between MLS and the European leagues, where Americans play regularly alongside Ronaldo, Messi, Haaland and against a whole galaxy of international stars.

  17. John Bonini replied, March 29, 2021 at 9:28 p.m.

    This recent U.S. men's Olympic qualifying roster was not, in my opinion, the second-best team. It is, overall, the fifth or sixth best team, and that's being overly polite on my end.

    Excluding every American player abroad, there were so many potential versatile U.S. U-23/4 players who could've been released from their respective MLS clubs, even not including the ones who will be competing in CONCACAF Champions League next week such as Atlanta United.

    Caden Clark, Gianluca Busio, Cole Bassett, James Sands, Keaton Parks, Paxton Pomykal, Eryk Williamson, Paxten Aaronson, Chris Gloster, Jeremy Ebobisse, Frankie Amaya, Anthony Fontana

    Cross-check who Berhalter called up for the January friendly against Trinidad & Tobago against Jason Kreis's final Olympic roster, and you'll see a lot of familiar faces.

    Neither Kreis nor Berhalter is a good coach. The latter is just blessed that his top-tier talent has had chemistry for years in the youth system and needs little instruction.

    But coaching is needed when the U.S. plays Brazil or France or Germany or Portugal, and few CONCACAF qualifying games will surface that reality.

    After Berhalter gets eliminated in the '22 World Cup quarterfinal, the national team will happily accept Jesse Marsch as its new coach for '26.

    For now, an overly optimistic U.S. fan base will need to tolerate seeing Berhalter trying to make "fetch" happen with questionable all-around call-ups and starting rosters.

    P.S. David Ochoa will be playing in Europe in the next 2-3 years.

    P.S.S. Yes, Robinson and Dest at left and right-wing backs is fine.

  18. Kent James, March 29, 2021 at 11:04 a.m.

    Many good comments.  Keeping things in perspective is important.  We should do better, but the loss is not an indictment of this generation of young players.

  19. Nick Gabris, March 29, 2021 at 11:30 a.m.

    Lets see, I have the ball, dribbling down field, there is three defenders coming at me, common sense tells me to pass the ball, but OH NO my ego tells me to try and dribble through all three, thereby loosing the ball. Gee, what did I learn anything?

  20. R2 Dad, March 29, 2021 at 11:31 a.m.

    “We have players that aren’t moving," he said afterwards. "We have people on the ball that aren’t committing defenders to make decisions to open up spaces, we have guys that look like they just don’t really want the ball."


    This tournament failure really sounds like it's more a Kreis issue. How is it possible to not know this about the players you have been in charge of leading? Maybe your training sessions are....inadequate? Maybe you don't know how to read the puzzle and know which pieces you need to make the whole work together? His record was 1-2 when he was hired. Would Hugo have done better? 

    USSF has fostered a wild west environment in youth soccer, with the upper eschelons of the sport dictated by MLS (directly or indirectly). If "the system", and by that I mean whatever it is that we describe in this country as youth soccer-to-professional player, is really working why don't we have more/better players and more/better coaches to choose from? In a wealthy country this large, with this many teams, I can't fathom why not.

  21. Peter Bechtold replied, March 29, 2021 at 2:36 p.m.

    R2Dad, I agree. Kreis was a good striker in the first season(s) of MLS, but has failed as a coach. Remember that he was handed a "golden goose" by Man.City when they put together NYCFC and gave him a full year to prepare a plan; he was sacked soon after the season began. The selection of coaches by USSF has been troubling for decades.
    I also agree that the US players seemed scared to make mistakes: this comes straight from the head coach. I feel bad for the players.

  22. humble 1, March 29, 2021 at 1:17 p.m.

    Out coached by the Uruguays that are coaching Honduran U23, Felaro and MNT, Coito.  They probably colaborated on the game plan for the US.  Out played by the Honduran players, who looked sharper and better on the ball.  Out set-up by the Honduran profressional leagues, which actually play Honduran players, as the articles auther correctly writes.  The record is clear for the past 3 Olympic quals, Honduras took us out twice.  For the last World Cup qualifications, Honduras make it to the playoff, we did not.  This is an indightment of USSF, where there appears to be zero accoutability.   

  23. Philip Carragher, March 29, 2021 at 1:43 p.m.

    We keep asking players to perform in situations that they're not able to succeed in and these are the players the coaches are given to work with. I feel for these players and the coaches and all the others who found or find themselves confused and asking what went wrong. It's simple. Their soccer education is sorely lacking; also, the disrespect for US Soccer keeps many great athletes from sticking with youth soccer and continues to present an inferior soccer product that keeps families from learning the essence of the Beautiful Game.

  24. humble 1 replied, April 1, 2021 at 11:55 a.m.

    I think we've gone beyond player development issues.  Proof is that Europe comes here and pinches players, many players.  Sure they have to go somewhat through re-development, but still they are the real deal.  For that part, youth coaching, is much improved.  The real bottle neck here now is coaching/managing at the pro level.  U23 players are essential pros.  The obsession with having domestic coach/managers does not help.  We simply are not producing world class pro level coach/managers. Until you start to see American coach/managers abroad like we have players abroad, or, our U23 and MNT actually quality for Olympics and World Cup, without fail; this is a fact.  Our Franchise system here with no relegation is not as harsh as abroad.  Coach a team to relegation, you will feel the wrath.  When you go up against Honduras U23 and MNT you face battle tested Uruguayan trained coach/managers.  They know how to ID and develop talent.  It is very likely there is an agency presence in Honduras and they are harvesting players, but thats another topic, the main thing is our football association is not produce enough world class pro level coach/managers, when you step outside the U.S. into regional and world level tournaments, that is competitive landscape our coach/managers need to be preparted for.  In this space we have a long way to go.  C'mon boys!   

  25. Richard Groff, March 29, 2021 at 1:48 p.m.

    In 1992 the Olympic Men's Competition and qualification were very important to the leadership of US Soccer and they implemented a program that saw qualification as a must.  Failure was deemed unacceptable.  In 1996, US Soccer qualified because USA was the host. In 2002, again it was a high priority and US Soccer hosted the qualifying tournament in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
    Today, that priority and the emphasis on it's importance appears lost. This is a four year project that needs to be properly funded, with an experienced coaching staff, its own dedicated GM, and at least 10 matches a year. MLS needs to be a leader in the 4 year qualifying plan.
    Today, this four year project needs an oversite committtee that includes the US Soccer NBOD, passionate volunteers with Olympic experience, and additional charitable funding sources.
    12 years of pain needs to stop. Qualification is a must. Soccer House failed in their management responsibilties in 2021.

  26. Seth Vieux replied, March 29, 2021 at 2:49 p.m.

    Amen

  27. humble 1 replied, March 30, 2021 at 10:42 a.m.

    Spot on.

  28. Francisco Cleaves, March 29, 2021 at 3:29 p.m.

    Wow dismissing this specially when there is limited tournament competition due to Covid is actually nearsighted. The article clearly points out the key difference most of the other Concacaf Olympic teams have players that are either starters or play regularly for their teams, we don't. 

  29. Alvaro Bettucchi, March 29, 2021 at 6:34 p.m.

    In mourning, a black mark, blame the pandamic an institutioal failure! Is there anything else that can be added by our "experts"? Finally, in the end of the article, the exerts gave some positive reasons. David Ocho is a very good player, with lots of ability. He and others on the team, will go on to be good and some, great players! Coaches? They need time to work with a team and many of them do the impssible with what they have.  Look at England, they have brought in numerous coaches from Italy and other countries  and their game has completely changed! Let's begin to bring in some foreign coaches that have international successful experience. Let's not look down on someone, unless your helping them up. The Olympics are more important, in the USA, because the media is focused on economics. Try finding our local or our national teams in our media, It's almost impossible. Soccer has always had a difficult road ahead of it, but our goal will be achieved. Let's not give up!

  30. David Ruder, March 29, 2021 at 7:29 p.m.

    I think that if the Olympic committee would change the rules where only amateurs can participate, the way the Olympics were originally intended, the US could combine a very competitive College, High School, and Club teams. The current Olympic system is very unfair to countries like the US where soccer is still in its early development.

  31. Frans Vischer, March 29, 2021 at 7:43 p.m.

    Kreis deserves his share of criticism, but there is no denying how the players failed. Big blunders by numerous players aside, there is no forgiving the consistant poor passing- overhit, underhit, behind advancing players, poor trapping, balls slipping under feet or bouncing away. They spent as much time chasing their own poor passes as they did opposing players. 
    Playing far from home, in 90 plus degrees and altitude, you got to play with brains and make the ball do your work. I root for the USA every chance I get, but this was very disappointing, even more than the final score.  

  32. Kent James replied, March 30, 2021 at 1 a.m.

    I don't know enough about the qualities of Kreis as a coach (or his player selection process) to comment, but the players on the field were good enough to get it done, they just didn't.  Ochoa is a perfect example; he's clearly an excellent player, but a bad blunder gave Honduras the winning goal (and he almost did it again later in the match).  Should he have not been on the field?  Was it Kreis' fault he decided to take two touches and beat the defender instead of playing it more quickly (and safely)?  Ochoa seemed to casual (even confident) rather than afraid to make a mistake.  Lewis, who was shredding Honduran defenders pretty regularly missed a relatively easy goal because he tried to use the outside of his right foot instead of the inside of his left. Those two changes and we're having a different conversation.  


     

  33. Vince Leone, March 29, 2021 at 11:06 p.m.

    I'm not saying this excuses the U.S. or that it would have definitely changed the result, but the nonexistent foul called on Lewis in the Honduras box after he was probably fouled (in the box) but was still advancing in a dangerous position was a terrible call and COULD have changed the outcome. I immediately thought "CONCACAF referreeing strikes again. Does anyone know if VAR will be used for WC qualifiying?

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