Photo by ISIphotos.com
It’s okay to admit it. The U.S. Olympic team’s 2-2 tie vs. the Netherlands feels like a loss, doesn’t it? Just seconds from the biggest win in U.S. men’s Olympic history and a sequence of poor decisions leads to a late Dutch equalizer and the painful feeling you would normally associate with a defeat.
Yes, it felt like a loss, but it certainly was not a loss.
That final play can’t be forgotten and ignored, but it also shouldn’t overshadow what was still one of the best performances an American team has put together in an international tournament. After being dominated for the first 20 minutes and trailing by a goal, the U.S. team responded with quality soccer and fearlessness.
No, the U.S. team’s comeback and 2-1 lead were no fluke, the Americans outplayed the Dutch for 65 of minutes. There was no bunkering, no hitting and hoping. The U.S. team moved the ball around, created quality chances and defended well for a majority of the game. It was a quality performance made more impressive by the fact that it came a Dutch team regarded as a medal favorite, and a Dutch team that came into the match needing a result.
Yes, Gerald Sibon’s goal spoiled the day and leaves the U.S. team needing a tie against Nigeria to progress to the quarterfinals, but a challenge like that shouldn’t be seen as a curse. An event like the Olympic soccer tournament isn’t just about the medals on the line. It is also about young players earning unforgettable experiences and facing difficult challenges. It is about showing the world what your country’s soccer is about, about proving that you can play the game well.
The Americans proved that against the Dutch. From Freddy Adu’s tricky dribbles to Sacha Kljestan’s dangerous runs to Jozy Altidore’s burgeoning promise as a big-game striker, to Michael Bradley’s composure and presence in the middle of the field, the U.S. team provided ample evidence that this country is producing skilled soccer players and progressing beyond the disappointment of the 2006 World Cup.
From a team standpoint, watching the U.S. defense come together after a slow start and watching the U.S. midfield create and control against a team as good as the Netherlands were what made Sunday’s game a memorable one and important one in the evolution of the men’s national team.
Yes, there were mistakes, but to expect no mistakes in what is essentially an Under-23 tournament is a bit much. Almost every team in the Olympic Tournament has had to deal with errors, from the Dutch to Argentina. It is easy to forget how young these players are when you have such a good competition (and yes, I have been guilty of that as well).
What the Americans were guilty of on Sunday was not being used to a situation like that, beating a high-level opponent and knowing how to finish them off. The Dutch were a beaten team and ripe to be finished off, but the U.S. team didn’t have the experience to do it. You only develop that killer instinct by putting yourself in those situations regularly, something we just might see if this young and strong generation of American talent continues to develop.
The Netherlands match is history though, and what matters now is that the Americans control their own fate on Wednesday. Beat or tie Nigeria and the U.S. team advances out of what is, without question, the toughest group in the Olympics. Beat Nigeria and the U.S. team wins the toughest group in the Olympics. Yes, playing Nigeria without standouts Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley will be tough, but the situation also creates an opportunity for players such as Altidore, Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber and Danny Szetela to step up and show what this team is made of.
What did you think of Sunday’s match? Have you changed your view of the result after having a night to digest it? Do you think the U.S. team has what it takes to accomplish the task at hand?
Share your thoughts below.