The Olympics don't matter unless you win. As "The Simpsons" said - beautiful gold, so-so silver, and shameful bronze. Anything less than gold, and you might as well have stayed home. We can argue whether this was true historically, but Evander Holyfield and Nancy Kerrigan were the last Americans allowed to return home without winning their events. Failing to win a gold medal makes the Statue of Liberty cry, like in those Onion cartoons.
Bad enough if you're trying to get a gold medal for the women's team. Even going into the tournament, most people realized that the US needed a lot of things to go very, very right in order to even get as far as the medal round. That's a lot of time and effort for an achievement that would have gotten NBC, Nike, and the USSF a big block of Monterrey jack squat. Only gold would have, if I may use the cliche, moved the needle.
There was pretty much no chance of that happening - I think we can accept that now.
It sure seemed like Nike and the USSF knew that in advance. The upside of beating Guatemala is much greater than the upside of another semifinal run, even losing the gold medal game. Guatemala is an easier task, and the downside of blowing the round-robin portion of World Cup qualifying is incalculably greater than the downside of, well, what we saw this week. And if you think MLS clubs aren't thrilled that their players are back, without injury and with very little fatigue, you and I know very different MLS clubs.
So why make uniforms that actually complied with Olympic regulations? Why call in our best players? Why send commentators to the games? Why, in short, bother?
Is there even a downside to crashing out? Freddy Adu finally found a peer group he couldn't dominate. Now he gets to learn to pass more often. Benny Feilhaber is no longer the flavor of the week - nope, that's not a downside either, Benny had a bad case of wearing the skin before killing the bear. Sacha Kljestan is forced to refine his free kick wall technique (hint: "That was close, the ball almost hit me!" = wrong). Michael Orozco gets to play in San Luis in peace and quiet, without all those annoying phone calls from Bob Bradley. Brian McBride gets some badly needed experience for World Cup qualifying. Everybody wins!
Now, if the women just would be so kind as to job out to Canada, we can pretend we boycotted for humanitarian reasons, and hope by 2012 Olympic soccer is abolished. (Although, yeah, I am a LITTLE interested in what the United Kingdon does for a team.)