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Aug 13, 2008

Orozco's red costs U.S. dearly

BEIJING -- As U.S. defender Michael Orozco navigated past the assembled media, he looked like he wanted to break into a sprint, even as his headphones enveloped his ears. Given what had transpired roughly two hours earlier, he had every reason to want to make a quick getaway, as his red card in the third minute of a 2-1 loss to Nigeria helped scuttle his team's chances of progressing to the Olympic quarterfinals.

Orozco didn't stop long as he wended his way through the mixed zone, but pause he did, making it clear he plans to put Wednesday's nightmare out of his mind as quickly as possible.

"I'm really not going to think about that [red card] anymore," Orozco said."Life goes on, and I've just got to think about what's coming up next, and that's my club team. I can't turn back. I gotta keep going forward."

Alas, Wednesday's incident -- one that saw Orozco ejected for elbowing Nigeria's Solomon Okoronkwo in the chest -- likely will remain in his transom for a while. The United States did what it could playing a man down, clawing back a goal after falling behind 2-0, then nearly equalizing in stoppage time when Charlie Davies' header caromed off the bar. But ultimately, the Americans fell short, leaving many to ponder just what would have happened had the U.S. had 11 players on the field the entire game.

But it's also important to remember that Orozco alone isn't responsible for his team's first-round exit. His rash act merely put an exclamation point on a tournament-long streak of indiscipline that did plenty to undermine the Americans' chances of reaching the quarterfinals.

What's troubling, however, is that some players appear to be assuming the role of victims -- or at best passive participants -- with regard to their disciplinary records. When asked whether his team had shot itself in the foot with the number of cards the players received during the Olympics, midfielder Michael Bradley insisted the players shouldn't have changed anything.

Said Bradley: "What are you going to tell Freddy Adu, not go for that ball [against Holland]? Are you going to tell Stuart Holden not to try and win that tackle? Are you going to tell Michael Orozco that three minutes into the game, when he's trying to use his body, that he shouldn't do that?

"What people don't understand is that when you step on the field, you give everything you have for your team. For people afterward to look back and ask, 'Do you think you shot yourself in the foot?' No, that's soccer. We didn't get a break here or there when we needed it."

But good teams make their own breaks, and staying disciplined is one way of doing that. The U.S. accumulated eight yellow cards and one red card in their three games, a mark outdone only by China's total of seven yellows and two reds. And as the cautions piled up, they cut deep into the muscle of the U.S. side, with both Bradley and Adu forced to sit out the crucial match against Nigeria.

No one is questioning the effort or heart the Americans showed during the Olympics. Indeed, the grit they displayed was one of the highlights of the tournament. But as Houston Dynamo defender Wade Barrett once told me, "It's always important to play with discipline." And the U.S. did not show nearly enough of this during its three games.

Will the lesson sink in? With World Cup qualifying resuming next week, it has to.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

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