U.S. Olympic failure postmortem


The face of failure: Brek Shea appears to wish the turf could swallow him whole at the end of Monday’s crushing defeat to El Salvador in Olympic qualifying (AP Photos).

Associated Press Sports Writer Ronald Blum has the analysis, which includes points I’ve often written about in my weekly column or in blog posts: the lack of a soccer culture in the U.S. that means kids don’t play pick up games daily as most children do elsewhere, the fact most elite young foreign players receive better coaching than their American counterparts and thus are better equipped for the professional game at a younger age and the like. That makes the piece slightly familiar reading to some, but the points remain salient and are worth repeating. And change is slowly coming, as points at the end of the article make clear:

NEW YORK — For all the talk about the strides football has made in the United States, results of late have been stark and disappointing.

The Americans were eliminated by Ghana in the last two World Cups. The under-20 team’s streak of seven trips to the world championship ended last year. And now the under-23s have failed to make two of the last three Olympics after their elimination Monday night.

Yes, the U.S. plays the world’s game better than it did 25 years ago. The national team even notched its first win ever over powerhouse Italy last month. But the sputtering nature of the American program has even its most loyal supporters scratching their heads.

“Is it a disappointment? Yes. Is it a failure? Yes,” former national team defender Alexi Lalas said after Monday’s under-23 loss. “Is the sky falling? Absolutely not.”

It was a crushing loss, however. The under-23 team was eliminated from Olympic qualifying when it conceded a goal in the final seconds of stoppage time during a 3-3 tie against El Salvador in Nashville, Tenn.


Joyless Joe: Joe Gyau may well hide his head after the sorry display last night by the U.S. Under-23 team in that soccer hotbed of, um, Tennessee.

Despite having home advantage, the Americans didn’t even make it to the qualification round — the semifinals this weekend. It was only the second time since 1976 they failed to qualify. They also fell short in 2004.

“We need to have new leadership, a fresh way of doing things,” former national team and Olympic coach Bruce Arena said. “Usually it’s a new coach. But maybe it’s time for new leadership and new concepts as well. Who knows? But I think we’re making progress, regardless of this result.”

Still, at a time this summer when the football focus in the U.S. could have been on the
up-and-coming American players, it will now be on preseason tours of English teams Chelsea and Tottenham and the new managers likely to be in place at both clubs.

“Obviously last night is a huge disappointment on many levels and for everyone involved,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. “We’ve been very successful over the last 36 years in being at most of the Olympic games on the men’s side, so it’s a big setback.”

Gulati has been a driving force in U.S. football growth for more than a quarter of a century. The Americans had not qualified for the World Cup for 40 years before making it to the 1990 tournament, and they’ve now been to the last six.

Gulati became USSF president in 2006 and replaced Arena after the Americans crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage — embittering the coach who guided the U.S. to the quarterfinals in 2002 and now leads the Galaxy.

In men’s football, the Olympics are limited to players under 23 — with three overage players eligible for inclusion at the Summer Games. But clubs that pay the players’ wages are often reluctant to release their best players.

Still, even with Jozy Altidore, Timmy Chandler and Danny Williams unavailable, the U.S. filled its squad with professionals from Major League Soccer and players from European and Mexico clubs it was able to secure. The Americans figured they would have a relatively easy time claiming one of the two Olympic berths from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

But after an opening 6-0 rout of Cuba last week, they were upset 2-0 by Canada and forced themselves into a must-win game against El Salvador, a country whose population of about 6 million is smaller than New York City’s.

“Having the Olympic experience would certainly be beneficial to these players. In a different way to look at it, this tournament helped weed out some of the quote-unquote talent that maybe isn’t what we thought,” said Lalas, now an ESPN analyst.

More troubling than the failure to qualify for the London Olympics may be the lack of players on the Under-23 squad who appear to be pushing for spots on the national team, a group whose regulars include Landon Donovan (30), Carlos Bocanegra (33 in May), Steve Cherundolo (33) and Oguchi Onyewu (30 in May).

Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil starts this June, and among the group in Nashville only Dallas midfielder Brek Shea has become a frequent national team contributor. The major influx of new players has been several German-Americans who play regularly in the Bundesliga.

And the goalkeeper position, long a strength of the Americans, is now a potential problem area. The 41-year-old Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel might be brought out of national team retirement in the event of an injury to U.S. starter Tim Howard.

But while focusing on the present, Gulati and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann also are putting more emphasis on the future.

MLS has expanded to 19 teams, creating more jobs for American players, and it relaunched its reserve league to create more competition. The USSF Development Academy for elite players 15-18 expanded its schedule from six to 10 months in an effort to establish better and lengthened training.

More Americans are with European clubs than ever before, but for every Clint Dempsey starring in the Premier League, there is a Ricardo Clark who can’t even make a game-day substitutes’ bench.

“We’ll do everything we can to make sure we’re on track, but a lot of things that have been put in place over a period of time are long-term projects,” Gulati said. “Those things take time, and it’s very hard to judge those on short-term results.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker and Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.

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Monday Kicks: Galaxy injury list grows & more

*Add Chris Birchall (left hamstring strain) to the growing Galaxy injury list released today. The midfielder, who has made 21 appearances for the Galaxy this season, is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against Morelia, along with the same players who remain in that category from Friday’s update: David Beckham (back spasms), Robbie Keane (right gluteus tightness) and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (right quad tightness).

All the latter three skipped the Galaxy’s 1-0 last-gasp win in Columbus last weekend; Beckham is suspended for Wednesday’s must-win CONCACAF Champions league game against Morelia.

Sean Franklin remains out with an inflamed knee.

The strain of this stretch of the season, with a game every three or four days – the Galaxy have played nine games in the last month – is showing.

The end is in sight, but it’s another busy and crucial week for the Galaxy with three games in the next eight days inluding next Tuesday’s weather-rearranged game in New York, which Keane will miss to play for Ireland; the Galaxy could clinch their second consecutive Supporters’ Shield with a win over Salt Lake in Utah Carson and a Seattle loss to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.

*Things that make you go hmmm: Juan Pablo Angel now has nine MLS goals so far this season, the Galaxy’s second highest scorers, Mike Magee and Chad Barrett, have five apiece (and six apiece total in all competitions). Landon Donovan is the Galaxy’s top scorer with 12.

I’ll have more on Chivas USA in Tuesday’s column.

*The U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team will host a “unique” camp in Carson at Home Depot Center beginning Sunday. Notable locals participating include WPS Rookie of the year Christen Press of Palos Verdes Estates (she can see The Hill, as the Palos Verdes Peninsula is known locally, from the HDC) and Sidney Leroux (UCLA).

Perhaps dangling in front of some players: an opportunity to play for the full USWNT against Sweden Nov. 19 in Arizona in an Olympic qualifying tune-up.

*But that’s not the only national team camp in the South Bay; the U.S. Futsal team have begun a week-long camp at Torrance’s Soccer City.

No fewer than four players who play at Soccer City are on the U.S. Roster: goalkeeper Ryan Oster (North Torrance High); midfielder Alex Robles (Lynwood); and strikers Caio Gesualdi (North Torrance High) and Irvine resident Casey Macias (Pateadores).

You didn’t read this here, but the team trains most days at 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. While down there, you can sign up to play yourself, BTW. If you have’t checked the facility out, it’s worth a look.

I plan on writing a story later this week about this first-ever camp in Torrance.

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Monday kicks, licks & tix

*The unbeaten in five Galaxy list Miguel Lopez (left knee contusion) as questionable for Sunday’s clash with a David Ferreira-less FC Dallas Saturday in Texas.

*To get your cheap LA Riot Squad tix click here. Easy.

*With a chronic problem looming (why am I depressingly reminded of Playa del Rey’s John O’Brien?) Chivas USA’s Blair Gavin went to Europe to consult with an expert on hamstring issues.

*Chivas USA celebrates the traditional Mexican holiday of “Dia Del Nino” against the New England Revolution Saturday when kids get in free with the purchase of two adult tickets for $30.

*Factoid: fans have scooped up more than 40,000 tickets for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s game against World Cup winners Spain June 4, making this one of the fastest-selling games in U.S. soccer history.

*The Home Depot Center training fields will be busy the next few days with three week-long U.S. women’s camps – U-17, U-20 and U-23 – opening Saturday; 72 of the top young players in the country are attending in all.

Locals involved include U-17 forwards Kayla Mills (Slammers FC; West Covina) and Amber Munerlyn (So Cal Blues; Corona) and U-20 defender Megan Erskine (San Diego State; Ventura).

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Weekend video rewind: A look at the Galaxy’s next opponent, USWNT lose to England & more

*D.C. United, the Galaxy’s next opponent on Saturday, plays the Colorado Rapids in a game aired at 4 p.m. today on Galavision. D.C. United Assistant Coach Pat Onstad previews the game here:

*The U.S. women lost to England Saturday for the first time since 1988 just a few months before the World Cup begins. Torrance’s Shannon Boxx began the move that led to the U.S. goal. But the Abby Wambach goal drought continues. The result, though, was no fluke despite the U.S. domination of the second 45 minutes:

Next for the U.S.: Against Japan May 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

*UCLA’s Kelyn Rowe scored two goals as the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team swept by Panama Saturday into the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship Wednesday against Guatemala. The prize for the winner of that game: a spot in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia.

UCLA’s Eder Arreola, a Southern California native, also went the full 90 in this one, as did Chivas USA’s Zarek Valentin.

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Thursday Kicks: Chivas USA’s Valentin named to U.S. U-20 for CONCACAF Championship & more

*Defender Zarek Valentin, Chivas USA’s top draft pick this year, was one of several players with Southern California connections named to the 24-player roster ahead of the tournament scheduled for next month in Colombia.

Also on the roster: midfielders Moises Orozco (UANL Tigres; Oxnard), Kelyn Rowe (UCLA; Newport Beach) and UCLA product Amobi Okugo, the PAC-10 Freshman of the Year in 2009 who is now with the Philadelphia Union; and forwards Eder Arreola (UCLA; Chino Hills) and Bobby Wood (TSV 1860 Mnchen; Irvine).

Full details here.

*Van Nuys’ Tristan Bowen of Chivas USA will have a different role on the team this year.

*Upland resident Davis Paul, a midfielder out of Cal who was the Chicago Fire’s third round pick in this year’s MLS draft, has signed with the club, officials announced today.

“We’ve been pleased with Davis’ skill, effort and attitude on-and-off the field,” said Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas. “Davis is a creative player and a strong competitor with the ability to play up top and on the wing. We are excited about his future with the club.”

*The U.S. Women’s National Team will play games against Japan May 14 in Columbus, Ohio and May 18 in Cary, N.C.

“Our entire team and staff have great sympathy for the people of Japan following the tragedies that struck their country and we are looking forward to hosting the team here in the United States,” said U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage. “We have tremendous respect for the Japanese players, for the way they play the game and for the heart they show on the field, and we will be expecting two excellent matches.”

The games were in the works before the recent earthquake in Japan.

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Tuesday Kicks: Galaxy beat ‘Caps (again) & more

*Largely fielding a reserve team, the Galaxy beat the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 today for the second time in two days in Arizona, the victory coming from second half goals by Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman 16 minutes apart.

The Galaxy will now return to Southern California after spending 10 days in Arizona. David Beckham, who trained with the EPL’s Tottenham Hotspur during the offseason, will join the club Thursday for the final three weeks of preseason.

Galaxy lineup: Josh Saunders; Dustin McCarty, Sean Franklin, Leonardo, Todd Dunivant (Ryan Thomas 56′); Michael Stephens, Hector Jimenez, Miguel Lopez, Bryan Jordan (Adam Cristman 56′); Mike Magee, Chad Barrett.

*Incidentally, single game Galaxy tickets go on sale to the general public Wednesday.

*The U.S. qualified for the U-17 World Cup today with a 3-2 overtime win over El Salvador in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF qualifying competition, in a game that saw 13 cards issued including two U.S. red and another for El Salvador.

Chula Vista’s Alejandro Guido got the fourth minute U.S. opener, while North Hollywood’s Mario Rodriguez snatched the the 95th minute second goal. The Galaxy’s Jack McBean did not see action off the bench.

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Monday Kicks: More Galaxy-Ronaldinho rumors (& more)

*Steven Goff of the Soccer Insider blog hit the Ronaldinho-Galaxy rumor mill again. It has been several weeks without one so it was about time for an agent somewhere to drop a hint and keep the pot simmering.

All I’ve got to say – shit or get off the pot, Ronaldinho. Frankly, I’d rather pick up Juan Pablo Angel in the Re-Entry Draft anyway.

*While rumor-mongering, let us not forget that former Galaxy striker Herculez Gomez is keeping his MLS options open.

*U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Pia Sundhage was named a finalist for the FIFA Women’s World Coach of the Year for Women’s Soccer, joining German Under-20 Women’s National Team head coach Maren Meinert and (the likely eventual winner) full German Women’s National Team head coach Silvia Neid. It’s the first time the award will be given to both men’s and women’s soccer coaches. The winners will be announced in January.

*Now this should be an interesting camp.

The U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team convenes at Home Depot Center Sunday for a one week camp.

The 23-player roster includes Palos Verdes Estates’ Christen Press of Stanford, which was shut out by Notre Dame for the national championship Sunday; her opposite striking number Melissa Henderson (who had a much better game for the Irish); and her former free-scoring striking partner Kelley O’Hara, last year’s top scorer for Stanford and winner of the Hermann Trophy as college soccer’s best player and who won the WPS championship with the Gold Pride last season before the club went belly up.

Also at the camp: Kylie Wright (UCLA; Rancho Santa Margarita).

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Thursday Kicks: UEFA CL draw & more

*The day after we saw a wild finish in a CONCACAF Champions League game (I can’t recall ever seeing four goals in the last six minutes of a game), the UEFA Champions League draw for the group stage was made today.

Fontana’s Maurice Edu and Glasgow Rangers will face Manchester United, while AC Milan, Real Madrid and Ajax were all drawn in one group. Full details here.

*Bell’s Bryan De La Fuente and Sylmar’s Cesar Zamora both of Chivas USA, cousins Emilio Orozco and Moises Orozco of Oxnard (who both play for Mexico’s Tigres) as well as Fontana’s Adrian Ruelas, who also plays with Santos Laguna in Mexico, were named to the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team squad for a tournament in Peru next month.

*Twitter trade/loan rumor of the day via MLS Rumors: Paulo Araujo Jr to LA Galaxy and Tristan Bowen to Miami FC?

*Finally, if you’re single and looking to meet soccer-mad members of the opposite sex, this opportunity may well be for you this weekend at Home Depot Center.

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Friday Kicks: Sounders misfit Ljungberg traded to Fire, could make Chicago debut Sunday in Carson & more

i-c5cddc8568ba9206b6561b9144bc4117-Freddiesounders.jpgFreddie Ljungberg and the Sounders in happier times, Oct. 2008, when he signed with Seattle (AP Photo).

The Seattle Sounders today dumped their biggest star – and biggest headache – trading estranged designated player Freddie Ljungberg to the Chicago Fire, who play the Galaxy Sunday in Carson.

Ljungberg is “available for selection by Fire Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos this Sunday,” Chicago officials said, so it sounds like the alleged injury (ahem) that was the supposed reason for his absence in the Sounders lineup of late has cleared up.

The 33-year-old former Arsenal player had reportedly alienated teammates and management alike in Seattle this season with his attitude and his trade comes as no surprise. Ljungberg has been a notable absentee for Sigi Schmid’s Sounders in practice sessions and games in recent weeks as the Sounders sought a way out of the mess.

Naturally, both parties were playing nice today.

“I want to start off by saying how proud I am to have been part of the most successful new franchise in MLS history, the Seattle Sounders FC,” Ljungberg is quoted as saying in a Sounders press release. “I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I first came to Seattle, but I have to say that how the city and the fans have embraced me has gone beyond my wildest dreams and for that I am forever grateful. I also want to thank my teammates who are absolutely great on and off the pitch. I have made some very close friends who I know I will be in contact with forever.”

But not too many apparently and, of course, if things were as peachy as the Swede claims, he wouldn’t be going anywhere. This is the first trade of a desingated player in MLS history, proving no one is expendable. Let’s hope David Beckham is listening.

Back to the gushing.

“Freddie is a tremendous individual and an exceptional player who contributed greatly to the huge success of Sounders FC, both on and off the field, in the past year and a half,” said Adrian Hanauer, Sounders general manager. “Freddie, along with Kasey Keller, gave this club immediate stature in the world’s game, and we are grateful for his service. We wish him all the best in Chicago.”

That’s nice, isn’t it?

By the way, Ljungberg leaves in exchange for a “conditional selection in the 2011 or 2012 SuperDraft” so it doesn’t sound like the Fire is taking any any big leap of faith in their newest aquisition either.

Also, in a nice piece of serendipity guess who Ljungberg is likely to face in his first home game Aug. 8 for the Fire? Yup, former Arsenal teammate Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls.

Also today:

* Tthe U.S. Under-20 men’s national Team beat Nigeria 3-0 in Northern ireland to lift the Milk Cup, the trophy awarded in one of the world’s most prestigious youth tournaments.

Locals on the team were Bell resident Bryan De La Fuente, who plays in the Chivas USA youth system, and Fontana’s Adrian Ruelas, who plays for Santos Laguna.

*Southern California fans can expect a glimpse of Real Madrid’s latest signing next month at their Rose Bowl game against the Galaxy after his transfer was finalized today.

*Red Bull New York announced today that former Galaxy striker John Wolyniec was waived. Wolyniec, 33, scored one goal in 10 games for the Galaxy in 2006.

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Tuesday Kicks: Trade rumors, retirements & more

Well, it is that time of year:

*Steven Goff of the Washington Post’s Soccer Insider blog has put a price tag on the contract the Galaxy are supposedly dangling in front of Brazilian star Ronaldinho: $24 million for four seasons. Of course, he’s still under contract for now at AC Milan. Maybe the Galaxy could swap him for – Landon Donovan. I’m sure Mr. Beckham would put in a good word for him there.

*Also, Goff tells us Galaxy veteran Clint Mathis could retire soon because of his bum knees.

*Chivas USA confirmed today what everyone knew anyway: veteran forward Eduardo Lillingston, 32, will not be returning to the club after his Mexican loan spell. He’s joined recently-relegated Indios on loan, played most recently for Tijuana and contributed eight goals for Chivas USA in 25 games last year.

*Former UCLA standout Sal Zizzo has signed with MLS and will be assigned a club after a weighted lottery is conducted Wednesday afternoon. Zizzo, 23, played for Hannover 96 in Germany’s Bundesliga before being loaned to Fortuna Dusseldorf last year. He suffered a knee injury and underwent surgery seven months ago. Chivas USA is reportedly weighted third highest in the draw.

*The U.S. Under-20 Women’s Team plays its final World Cup group game at 9 a.m. Wednesday against Korea on ESPN2. The U.S. advances with a win or tie and could even lose and go through depending on goal difference. After scoring six and conceding just one goal in its first two games, it’s hard to imagine the team won’t play in the quarterfinals.

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