The task was already going to be tough, but when U.S. Olympic defender Michael Orozco drew a red card just four minutes into the U.S. team’s crucial Olympic match against Nigeria, the job turned into trying to swim in a shark tank with your foot cut off.
The Nigerians picked and prodded at a gutsy U.S. team, eventually finding openings and punishing the Americans with a pair of clinical goals on their way to a 2-1 victory on Tuesday. The win helped Nigeria win the group, and also helped eliminated the United States from the tournament just three days after the Americans looked well on their way to the quarterfinals.
So what went wrong exactly? Where do you begin? Losing Orozco and having to play a man down threw the U.S. team’s gameplan out the window and also crippled an already left flank. The lack of left-sided options on the U.S. roster was exposed for all to see as U.S. coach Peter Nowak was left with nowhere to turn.
Then there was star forward Jozy Altidore, who sources say went into the tournament nursing an ankle injury that limited him. Insted of a coming out party, Altidore left Tuesday’s match at halftime, failing to play a combined 90 minutes in a tournament he was supposed to be a star of.
As for the red card, there is no denying two things. Orozco can’t throw an elbow of any kind, but the referee did not have to give a red card that early in the match. The elbow wasn’t at the face or a full-swing strike. It was an innocuous swing that led to an award-winning acting job by Solomon Okoronkwo. That didn’t matter as much as the fact that Orozco lost his cool, leaving it up to the judgment of a referee to determine his fate.
Even with all the adversity, and having to chase around a dangerous Nigeria squad a man down for 86 minute, the U.S. team had life late in the game. Second-half substitute Charlie Davies left us wondering why he hadn’t played more in this tournament when he came on and instantly provided a dangerous threat. His header off the crossbar late in the match nearly gave the Americans a stunning equalizer, but luck wasn’t on the U.S. team’s side this day.
Not when the Netherlands are being gifted a weak penalty call to help give the Dutch a penalty kick goal and 1-0 victory in a game they were outplayed by the Japanese. It will be tough for American fans to accept, but it was the U.S. team’s own mistakes in the 2-2 tie vs. the Netherlands that helped the Dutch team reach the quarterfinals despite playing poorly for most of the group stage.
Perhaps that is the most frustrating part about the U.S. team’s exit from the Olympic tournament. The squad showed signs of being good enough to advance, being skilled enough to play with anybody in the tournament. Players such as Sacha Kljestan, Freddy Adu, Marvell Wynne and Charlie Davies gave us moments that led us to believe that something special might happen in these Olympics.
Now it’s over and the promising signs do little to erase the feeling that this tournament was a wasted opportunity.
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