There’s no way to sugar coat it. The United States’ 2020 Olympic qualifying campaign was an abject failure. Sunday night’s 2-1 loss to Honduras in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship semifinals means that the US men will miss out on the Olympics for the third consecutive cycle, while Honduras will qualify for their fourth straight time.
As had been the case for all but 30 minutes against the Dominican Republic, the Yanks were timid, uncreative, and lacked cohesion. Head coach Jason Kreis’s midfield again struggled to create chances or even put their forwards in decent positions.
Honduras opened the scoring just before the break. A well-taken set piece from just inside midfield was headed back across the box by Denil Maldonado, where Juan Carlos Obregan was there to bundle it across the line.
If that wasn’t enough of a momentum killer, Los Catrachos added a second just after the break. US goalie David Ochoa, otherwise their standout player of the tournament, received a routine backpass before calamitously playing it off of forward Luis Palma and into his own net.
Within the span of two minutes, Honduras had a two goal lead, and the writing was on the wall for the United States. Captain Jackson Yueill pulled one back, striking an absolute rocket into the top corner to cap off a strong individual tournament.
Jonathan Lewis had a golden opportunity late in the match, with an open goal gaping just a couple yards in front of him. Somehow the winger managed to flub his shot so badly that he redirected the ball backwards, effectively clearing the ball.
The miss seemed to both sum up the Yanks’ performance and signify the end of their Olympic dreams. Head coach Jason Kreis compounded the already glaring lack of attacking threat by taking off a winger for defensive midfielder Johnny Cardoso with just minutes left to play, and was rewarded by a decent opportunity headed well over the goal. The final whistle blew, dooming the US men to watch the Olympics as spectators for the third straight edition, while the women will travel to Tokyo in search of their fifth gold medal.
Questions will rightly be asked about the roster selection and tactics deployed throughout the tournament, with some glaring omissions coming back to haunt Jason Kreis. And yes, while there are plenty of age-eligible players who weren’t released by their clubs, the United States should have more than enough talent to qualify.
Honduras was the better team. Better on the night, better in the tournament, and better for the last four qualifying cycles. Whatever the state of their senior team, Los Catrachos have now qualified for the last four Olympics, coming in fourth in 2016. They were more organized and more ruthless, they eliminated mistakes, and they showed a mentality that the United States too often lacks.
In the grand scheme of things, missing out on the Olympics is not necessarily a damnation of the entire program like it has been in years past. The US have more talent available than at any point in their history, and their player development doesn’t look like slowing down. The senior team is full of promising young players. In fact, 10 of the 17 players who appeared against Northern Ireland this morning were age-eligible for the Olympics, and unable to play because of FIFA regulations.
It’s not time to blow the whole thing up. In fact, quite the opposite. But with the pain of October 10, 2017 still fresh, tonight’s loss brings back memories and raises old fears. With the Olympic dream gone, focus shifts to the Nations League and the Gold Cup in the summer before the real task of World Cup qualification begins in the fall.
If 2022 ever appears to be in doubt, alarm bells will ring.