The US Under-23 national team's galling run of Olympic qualification nightmares continued on Sunday with a numbing 2-1 defeat to Honduras in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The favorites to reach Japan came out with a timid lineup and tiptoed gingerly into the game, allowing the junior Catrachos to gain some confidence. A poor team leak put the US behind just before intermission, and then a damning gaffe from netminder David Ochoa doubled their deficit. Lacking teeth in attack, the red, white and blue boys could not conjure a complete comeback, and will once again watch Olympic soccer from home.
As for coach Jason Kreis, this was undeniably a failure given the current talent level at U-23 level. The failure started with a "safe" selection, which led to "safe" game plans and no great reaction when those plans weren't working (e.g. expecting the twin No. 8 set-up to create chances).
Could the team have gotten across the finish line this time with a proper interior playmaker around? Or even just Jeremy Ebobisse? Yeah, probably. I could also gripe about some lineup and sub choices in this match, as well, but it already pains me enough to dig this far into all the plotting mistakes.
United States Under-23 Player Ratings
One could make a strong argument Ochoa had been the best US player coming into the game. He was the picture of solidity in goal for about 44 minutes, but failed to corral or block a ball across his doorstep on the edge of halftime. Nothing, however, prepared us for the horror show that would come after the break, when the Real Salt Lake youngster had a pass blocked into his own net to gift Honduras the winner.
The Real Salt Lake right back was excellent at getting himself down the flank into crossing position, even if the final ball wasn't always as good as his approach. Herrera's grade takes a big hit for neglecting to protect the back side on the first Honduras goal play.
Though he had his moments defending crosses, Glad also gets docked hard for not being alert to the long ball in that led to the Honduras opener.
It was not a good day for the Revs man, who seemed to have his angles wrong whether he had the ball or was defending against it. Kessler was also among the culpable on the first goal leak.
The Colorado Rapids left back was uncharacteristically quiet with getting forward. Vines is usually good for a few probing lead passes per game, but those went missing on this day. While he wasn't directly burned in defense, he was also unable to shut down his lane to Honduras' attack.
When the Orlando City midfielder stayed in his perch in front of the center backs, he was alright. Perea was the only US player able to steer the ship through the middle in the first half. Unfortunately, there always seemed to be some occasions where he leaves the gate unguarded.
After a vanilla opening half, Yueill tried his best to inspire the team after the break. He wanted the ball to direct traffic, he banged home a golazo to get the team back in and generally showed a fire that had been lacking.
It's a funny thing. Throughout this tournament, Dotson has looked good when the game finds him. Then there's long stretches when the game goes elsewhere and he can't seem to find it. This game was just like all that, except maybe it found him even less.
None of his attempts at a move amounted to anything, but Mihailovic still looked like the only US player capable of unlocking the Honduras defense from set possession.
Things have not gone well for the FC Dallas forward at this tournament, and this was his worst showing yet. Ferreira kept dropping very deep to aid the build, but instead ended up hampering it with weak hold-up work. He did execute an excellent flick-on from a restart, but that alone won't get you far in a big game.
The Colorado winger's wide approach play was middling, but the primary reason to hide this report card is a shocking flub with the equalizer on a silver platter. That has to be put away, no excuses. Just use the left peg, man.
Saucedo is another US player who underwhelmed at the qualifying tournament. He seemed like a fine choice to inject some life into the rally effort, but was largely invisible.
The Norwich City striker was plagued by leaden hold-up touches nearly every time the ball came his way.
The FC Dallas teen's inclusion meant that, finally, someone had come on to make a difference. One might imagine the US tying the game if Tessman had been given longer than 17 minutes to play rescue hero.
In reality, it was a mere cameo. However, in today's context, one simply has to do better when the chance at a free box header comes along with the clock dwindling down.