U.S. U-23s not good enough again as they fall to Colombia, miss Olympics
FRISCO, Texas -- The United States men's Under-23 team won't be going to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. The squad fell 2-1 to Colombia, losing the two-game playoff 3-2 on aggregate. It's the second-straight failure to reach the quadrennial tournament for the Stars and Stripes. Here are three thoughts from the match at Toyota Stadium.
1. U.S. not good enough -- again
For the second time in the 2016 Olympic qualifying cycle, the U.S. team went into a match knowing a result would get them to Rio de Janeiro. For the second time, it failed to achieve that goal.
The Americans started well, holding possession in the opening minutes as head coach Andi Herzog wanted, but Colombia soon began dominating. The visitors took a deserved lead in the 30th minute when Roger Martinez found the back of the net after suspect defending by Kellyn Acosta, Matt Miazga and Desevio Payne. While the U.S. put on a bit of pressure before the end of the first half, they found no serious chances.
An own goal from Colombia's Deiver Machado just before the hour mark gave Herzog's team a few moments of hope, but it was extinguished minutes later by Martinez's second tally of the night. Quite simply, the home team wasn't good enough, significantly out-shot and out-possessed by the Cafeteros.
"If we bring out the quality from the players on the field, offensively, defensively, then we win this game," Herzog said on Monday afternoon. The U.S. didn't. As a result, they will watch the Olympics on television rather than from the field.
2. How important is qualifying for the Olympics?
U.S. senior team manager Jurgen Klinsmann lamented the missed opportunity that was failing to reach the 2012 Olympic Games. He repeatedly talked about the need to right that wrong in 2016. It was one of his main priorities, and he installed his top deputy as head coach.
Rather than give Herzog the best Under-23 players, though, Klinsmann called DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks to the senior team for the World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala. While he sees the pair as first-choice starters for the full national team, both could have helped the Americans reach Rio. (Brooks returned to Germany with an injury, although that news came after the roster announcements.) It's even possible that the creativity of 17-year-old Christian Pulisic, who played nine minutes with the senior team on Tuesday, could have helped break down Colombia's backline.
On one hand, the decision to keep Yedlin and Brooks on the senior side is understandable, and the cap-tying of Pulisic -- who could have drawn interest from Croatia -- could benefit the Americans for the next decade or more. On the other, if the Olympics were such a priority, shouldn't everything be done to give the team the best chance to qualify?
3. Senior-team talent in U-23 squad
If there's a bright spot to Tuesday's disappointment, it's that a number of players on Herzog's roster showed that they can make a sizable impact on Klinsmann's team, likely sooner rather than later.
Jordan Morris, who already has nine full national team caps and one goal against Mexico, is the most familiar face to American fans. Captain Wil Trapp looks to be the heir apparent to Kyle Beckerman in the defensive midfielder role and should earn more calls in the near future. While recent Chelsea signing Miazga struggled across 180 minutes and picked up a late red card on Tuesday, he's just 20 and showed flashes of the skills that saw him earn a cap as a substitute in World Cup qualifying against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Twenty-year-old goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, a starter at Molde in Norway's Tippeligaen, could contend for a third-string spot now and a higher place in a couple years. Acosta debuted for the senior side in January, and Klinsmann believes he's a full-back of the future (despite the fact he plays central midfield for FC Dallas and was one of the U-23 squad's worst players). Others such as Jerome Kiesewetter, Tim Parker and Emerson Hyndman -- only 19 -- could reasonably push for a roster spot at the World Cup in Russia despite their failure to get to Brazil.
Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC and deputy editor at American Soccer Now. Twitter: @Noahedavis.