Top Stories

Colombia 2, U.S. U-23s 1: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

Handed a chance at redemption and an opportunity to seal passage to the 2016 Olympic games, the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team was unable to get the job done.

After sealing a 1-1 draw in the away leg, the U.S. was rebuffed on home turf to the tune of a 2-1 loss to Colombia. The loss ended the program’s Olympic dreams for a second straight cycle as the U.S. once again misses out on the premier international youth tournament.

Truth be told, Tuesday’s loss wasn’t the one that doomed the U.S., as the loss to Honduras was arguably the true squandering of a chance at an Olympic berth. Yet, given a chance to right its wrongs, the U.S. was undone by a superior team that controlled the game in more ways than one.

With the Olympic cycle officially done for the U.S., it’s time to take a step back and look at where things went wrong and, more importantly, why things went wrong.

Here are some of SBI’s takeaways from the U.S. U-23s defeat:


It wasn’t a surprise to see the U.S. struggle for possession. What was a surprise was that the concept of possession hardly existed at any time whatsoever.

Facing off with a talented Colombia team, the U.S. was always going to have to defend. Like many South American sides, Colombia was quick and decisive on the ball, leaving the U.S. on the back foot throughout. The U.S. was left with nothing to do but hoof it out and reorganize the defense, as the idea of playing with the ball on their feet rapidly faded from memory.

Much of the team’s issues stemmed in the midfield, an area where the U.S. had little to no presence throughout the two games. Colombian players continuously bypassed their midfield markers, leaving defenders like Tim Parker and Matt Miazga to mop up the mess. On the attacking end, the U.S. had no sort of composure with defenders in its faces, leading to several bad turnovers and errant passes.

Would the presence of age-eligible players like Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Rubio Rubin have helped the U.S.? Absolutely. All four have proven to be quality players and would have added a bit of experience and flair to this U-23 team. However, Colombia was also playing without several eligible starlets, while the four U.S. players listed would have done little to help the U.S. keep the ball in the center of the field.

It was certainly an atypical showing from a solid group of players, but Tuesday’s efforts showed that the youth teams of the U.S. are still far from the possession-based juggernaut that has been touted as the ideal throughout the past several years.


In 2012, it was a lack of tactical discipline that ultimately kept the U.S. out of the Olympics. Tuesday’s efforts were not completely undone by another lack of composure, but the team’s inability to keep a level head reared its ugly head yet again.

Facing constant pressure from Colombia, the U.S. wilted in several stages before lashing out in pure frustration. Tim Parker’s stomp in the corner went unnoticed, but the U.S. was punished with a pair of red cards to Luis Gil and Matt Miazga in the game’s waning moments.

Was Gil’s red card dubious at best? Yes. Did Miazga’s come long after the game had been decided? Certainly. But the two dismissals served merely as figureheads for a match that saw Colombia dominate the mental game. Using both its superior possession and time-wasting tactics, Colombia took the U.S. out of its game from the get-go, and used that mental edge to dominate throughout.

For the U.S., it was another case of a lack of maturity in the face of adversity, even if it appeared in a much different fashion this time around.


Throughout the 180 minutes, few of the American prospects that took the field took a step forward. One of the players that did, though, was one of the least experienced players on the roster.

Centerback Tim Parker was the most consistent U.S. player on the field throughout the two-game series. Repeatedly tested time and time again by wave after wave of Colombian attacks, Parker was consistently making the plays necessary to prevent a goal and keep the U.S. alive despite every inclination that it shouldn’t be. Parker’s contributions were his first since 2011, and his return to the national team program was one that certainly boosted his stock even with his role on Colombia’s final goal.

One other player that certainly held his own was Ethan Horvath, who bounced back admirably from a scary collision in the opening game. The Molde goalkeeper was confident and quick on his feet in the second leg, making one finger-tip save early on to prevent what could have been an early Colombia onslaught.

Aside from Parker and Horvath, the rest of the team’s stocks, at best, stagnated or, at worst, dropped significantly. Few players put forth positive performances as the U.S. found themselves on their heels from the opening minutes of each contest. Overall, few on the U.S. roster did themselves many favors in a series of games that could have served as a major boost towards the senior team.


Some of the most highly-regarded players in U.S. Men’s National Team history have emerged from Olympic teams, with players like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard earning early experience in the Olympic games. The 2016 squad will have no such chance.

For four more years, the U.S. will be without Olympic soccer, as the team has now missed out on the summer games in three of the past four cycles. With it, the U.S. misses another chance to test itself in one of the world’s premier international competitions against some of soccer’s most renowned programs.

Tuesday’s loss instantly brings to mind the so-called “lost generation” of 2012, a unit that, to this point, has yet to truly reach its potential. From that roster, just one, Mix Diskerud, was called in for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s two-game set against Guatemala.

There’s no saying how much an appearance in the Olympic games would help a player still just several years into their professional career. However, it’s easy to say that it wouldn’t have hurt, and the U.S. will have to wait another four years for a chance to find out.


Aside from last year’s Under-20 World Cup team, the youth programs of U.S. Soccer just haven’t lived up to expectations.

Last year, the U.S. Under-17s floundered out with just one point in the Under-17 World Cup. For two straight cycles, the Olympic team has failed in its mission, while the 2013 U-20 team bombed out of the group stages of that World Cup with a -6 goal differential.

When looking at the USMNT’s starting lineup against Guatemala, just four players on the field were under the age of 25. One, Steve Birnbaum, had not represented a youth national team since 2009, while another, Gyasi Zardes, had never suited up for a youth team at all.

The current U.S. youth programs just haven’t done a good enough job to churn out real senior team talent. Players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley still carry the load, while the players that comprised the U-23 team looked far from ready to crack a USMNT roster, let alone lineup, any time soon.

As things progress, players will continue to be identified as the next big thing. Hype surrounding players like Pulisic and Gedion Zelalem will continue to swirl as everyone looks for the next savior. The thing is, until those prospects start to actually contribute on the international level, the U.S. will be lagging sorely behind the rest of its competitors in the pursuit of developing legitimate talent.


  1. It’s a matter of patience. We’re looking at an absolute minimum of 20 years before the U.S. even begins to produce youth teams capable of competing with top nations without having to bunker and rely on set pieces. Seriously, it’s going to take a few more decades of steady growth to get close to the way Colombia played. We have to quit thinking in terms of finding that one superstar savior. One player like that won’t get us to the next level. We need to be producing dozens of players who are on the same level as Donovan and Dempsey. Those two are revered because they are by far the best players the U.S. has ever produced, and yet, by world standards, they’re not all that special.

  2. MLS clubs are just getting to the point where they have cohesive youth development programs. Obviously it can’t create talent out of nowhere right away, but I think we see a huge change in US youth teams in the next 10 years as MLS youth programs create more MLS talent as well as talent they send/sell/sign abroad.

    The youth system in the US has been such a mess with all the common gripes about pay to play, relying on colleges, etc. But having clubs themselves finally developing talent from younger ages all the way up the system will pay off eventually. These U-23’s had no such system to come up through until the last couple years.

  3. I think we need to look into blaming the pay-to-play academy system and the effect it is having on player development.

    • Pay to play at the academy level is already being phased out. FC Dallas and LA galaxy academies are the model. FC Dallas runs their Academy to provide depth to the main squad, and LA Galaxy run theirs as an asset farm. Both have large enough geographic foot print with sizable populations that it is just a matter of time before they produce a big time player. Acosta has a very decent chance of being a USMNT player as a deep lying midfielder some day.

  4. That possession didn’t seem a priority wasn’t such a surprise considering this was vs a superior S. American team and….. it seemed even worse vs supposedly inferior CONCACAF teams earlier in the year. That said, in both matches v Colombia, the gap didn’t seem to be so much in skill as it did in speed and physicality as we were beat to the ball or muscled off of it more often than not.

  5. The USSF should face the music too. Why play the game in comfortable Frisco and not make the Colombians play on turf in rainy Portland or Seattle infront of a real home crowd? At least make them play in a colder climate. The longer travel would also be advantageous to the MLS based players.

  6. The author mentioned the -6 goal differential in 2013 U20s. Guess what those guys were the core of this group so why should we be all that surprised.

    • US tried to play high pressure attacking soccer in this tournament and got exposed (2013). Although the rest of the group finished 1st, 3rd, and T-5th, that’s a group of death.

    • no they weren’t.

      arriola, hyndman, acosta, miazga, payne, and horvath were from the last u-20s.

      morris, parker, and polster weren’t really involved in the us set up at the youth level.

      trapp and rodriguez were the ones that were part of that 2013 team.

      • Wow the blame on the players abilities is very disappointing so many years into the revolution, and I do not agree. No progress

      • Cropper, O’Neil, Gil, Acosta, also were on that team. But what I meant to say is that group should have been the core for this group. They didn’t develop or just weren’t good enough and had to be replaced by the younger guys. Yedlin was also a part of that group.

  7. Reposting from the earlier thread:

    1. Trapp was absolutely terrible last night. Turned the ball over in our own end multiple times. He could not seem to connect a forward pass. I’m still yet to see what makes him one of the top prospects for the US. He continually tried to play long balls over the top and when he did try to pass on the ground they went right to Colombia. I have not been impressed with a single game he has played for our youth teams.

    2. The forwards were set up to fail. They were way too spread out and when one of them got the ball, there was no one there for them to play an outlet pass to. Also, the midfield was so bunkered in our own half that they couldn’t get up field fast enough to help the forwards move the ball. This I blame on the coaches and the formation. Seemed like they expected our forwards to be able to beat 1-2 guys on the dribble and then find an outlet. It just wasn’t happening.

    3. I thought the ref was really poor. Not saying it would have drastically changed the outcome, but the calls were very lopsided. That being said, our players were often muscled off the ball fairly and then looked for the foul. Their expectation of foul calls cost us in many moments and led to the team losing their cool by the end.

    4. Hyndman and Polster were invisible. Not surprising when you try to play Hydnman as a left winger. Terrible decision by the coaches.

    5. When did it become ok for our guys to give those cheap shot foot stamps. I’ve never seen a US team play with such poor sportsmanship. We should have finished that game with 7 men. Acosta and Parker should have been off. Why did they even think that was ok? I’m almost more embarrassed about this than the end result.

    6. Did I miss something with Julian Green? I was really surprised he did not see the field in either game. Why you play Hyndman as a left winger when you have Green available is beside me. Polster should have never started, Trapp and Hyndman should have been the CMs, and Green should have played LM. Still pretty baffled by this. (I guess Green was out sick)

    7. We continue to have real problems at outside back. Both Payne and Acosta were poor on defense. You can see their potential going forward, but defensively they got outclassed.

    8. We are a long ways away from producing top talent. As other posters have said, I don’t think any of our players would have started for the Colombia team. Really disheartening.

  8. I don’t know what people expected. Columbia is a much, much better team. Coaching and tactics would not have changed this. What I saw was not a relative lack of individual skill amongst our players- we are actually favoring more skillful,possession oriented players than we did in the past. But the bigger problem is movement off the ball and playing together in sync. It is hard to teach is this in a couple camps, but more about overall player development at the youth to senior level. So to me there is progress in terms of the type of play that the team is aspiring too and the baseline individual skill level, but not progress in the results, which ultimately count the most in the long term.

    • I agree with you that this has been a recent problem with our national team programs. I think the problem is that we’re asking too much of our players who do have ball skills instead of having all our players rise to the standard that other international teams have set. There’s always gonna be players that have different strengths them each other but the reality is there are fundamental skills that every player should have. I stillbelieve the sum of our parts is better then our individual peices but the way we play needs to be more thoroughly developed.

  9. Emerson Hyndman really impressed as well.

    Will Trapp really disappointed. I expected a lot from him and he was pretty horrendous.

    • Agreed. He was forced deeper to help maintain possession in part because trapp and polster struggled so badly to hold on to the ball. He seemed the only midfield player capable of maintaining possession and drawing fouls when coming under pressure.

    • Federations don’t scout and develop talent. Clubs do. And we don’t have the structure to scout and develop young talent on a level even close to most countries where soccer is the top sport. If pro clubs in the US prioritize this then in the long run results will come.

      • Scott, A federation like ours needs to take player development into their own hands. Leaving it to clubs is not working. Even MLS clubs do not pay well enough to get the best coaches.
        When our best players are working with the best coaches, only then will we develop players. Our federation executives have no idea how to get this done

      • Nope, well outside of like Bradenton, they just hire coaches who select them and deploy them.

        As far as the other part its come a long way on that in recent years, academies at all clubs in the top division/mls, hopefully NASL can get stable enough to have academies to that extent but it looks like this is still pretty far away.

    • Size of the US hurts it more than people want to admit as well. With the exception of Brazil most soccer powers are pretty compact size wise and its not like a lot of soccer stars are coming from the Amazon interior either. Russia, Canada, China, United States, Brazil, Australia are the 6 largest countries by area, and really the US is the only one of these without major empty sections. The scouting and then getting kids together to train is a bigger problem than in most other countries.

  10. You forgot to add Acosta and his deliberate stomp on the foot of Martinez that went unnoticed in the first half. Should have been a card, probably a red. Acosta and his constant arguing with the ref irritated me. Just a sad display by the U23’s.

    • The talent level argument simply is not true, and is indicative of why the US loses these games.

      Both teams did not look good but one team played to win the other didn’t. Very similar to the national team, the tactics, organization and will to win just weren’t there in a must win situation. Players put in bad positions play bad, players that are not given the confidence to win the game themselves will play with little or no confidence. Acosta shouldn’t have been played at left back and probably shouldn’t have played at all after how uncomfortable he looked in the first leg. The US again as we’ve seen at many levels plays this absorb pressure hit on the break game with no adjustment if that is clearly not working. Especially at home to play with a scared line up and scared tactics is shameful.

      • Not really fair to Judge acosta being played out of position. He did fine at Left backat the U-20 WC in the 2nd leg but he is a deep lying box to box midfielder. He is so much better at that position that Trapp it’s ridiculous he was not playing there.

Leave a Comment