After last week's US U23 calamity, the us soccer blogosphere reacted in a variety of ways. Most were disappointed, of course. The first waves that came in tried to discount the importance of the event: Olympic soccer is a throwaway tournament, we were told. No one takes it seriously, so it's no big deal that the US did not make it. Apparently it was a big deal to US Soccer, because the team had been training for months.
Others, on the other hand, interpreted it as a colossal failure, considering the tournament was held on home soil, and the supposed weakness of the group, coupled with the supposed strength of the US squad. It's one thing to crash out in Guatemala, but in Nashville? Ay ay ay!
Even Jurgen Klinsmann got into the act, and was quite forthcoming with his comments about what had taken place. Then, the conversation turned to Mexico (doesn't it always?). The US coach was very complementary, but his little white lie about how long Mexico's team played together was a bit much...
Mexico’s U-23 has been together for years. They played over 60 games to prepare for that moment, and you can see that flow in their game.
Mexico's U23 team was formed out of necessity last year because of Concacaf's insistence that Mexico not play a senior side. Aside from a few warm-ups, the tournament itself, and the Panam games, the number doesn't even reach 20, much less the period of time in which they came together -- less than a year. We also can't forget that a half dozen players were also suspended from national team duty for six months.
That's some good spinnin' Klinsy. Who knows how many times the NBC Sports guys reiterated that Saturday night.
If y'all haven't figured it out already, CONCACAF tournaments should never, ever be taken lightly. Mexico and the US may be a step above the rest in the region as far as quality, but they both are just not consistent enough to think they can coast through a tournament unscathed, especially at the U levels. Over the past few years, both have seen teams come up short in U-level qualifying tournaments.
So why did Mexico earn an Olympic ticket while the US did not? In the simplest terms, Mexico's entire team, from the goal keeper to the striker, all stepped up and had good tournaments. Unfortunately for the US, several of their players picked the wrong week to lay eggs.
Chivas forward, Marco Fabian, who had not been having his best tournament back home, but was a completely different player in the pre-olímpico than the one who had been struggling with his club back home. He culminated his tournament with a gorgeous 30 yard strike that equalized the (irrelevant) Final against Honduras. With 5 goals, he tied Tigres' Alan Pulido as top goal scorer. They each had a hat-trick and combined to outscore more goals than every other team. In total, Mexico scored 16 goals, while allowing 3.
Mexico's mid-field received a sudden and surprising jolt of energy with the emergence of Hector Herrera. The Pachuca man came seemingly out of nowhere to be the tournament's revelation. The last player to have made such an impact after appearing from thin air was Andres Guardado. Herrera's emergence is good news not just for the U23 team that will be taking the field in England this summer, but also for the senior side, where Chepo de la Torre is looking for new blood now that the sun is setting on both Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro.
Despite the rousing success in the tournament, a bit of bad news did temper the excitement somewhat: David Cabrera, the promising young Pumas midfielder was having as good a tournament as his partner in the middle. Unfortunately, Cabrera sustained a gruesome looking knee injury that tore his ACL tendon (went down untouched, which is shocking for CONCACAF). He will be out six months and will not be going to the Olympics.
That leaves the door open for Jonathan Dos Santos, who along with his brother, Giovani, and Carlos Vela can be on the roster come July, not as the three reinforcements, but as age-eligible players. And with FIFA ruling last week that clubs will be required to release players for Olympic play, their inclusion seems more than certain.
What about those 3 overage reinforcements? We commented here last week that the rumor mill kept churning out 3 names - Memo Ochoa, Hector Moreno, and Javier Hernandez. If that is the case, then Mexico's medal possibilities should merit strong consideration. How much consideration, of course, will depend on the draw, which will be held in a few weeks.
Apparently, the next Olympic qualifying tournament will also be held in the US, just like the next Gold Cup, I'm sure. Wouldn't it be nice for CONCACAF, in the spirit of fairness and competition, to move it around a bit instead?