One definitely has to feel bad for, well, pretty much any fan of USA soccer who slept in past 7:00 AM today. I, on the other hand, happened to be awake this morning and witnessed the men's soccer team get themselves eliminated.
That's right, folks, the very same men's soccer team that was three minutes of injury time away from clinching a berth in the quarterfinal and three points with a win over the Netherlands is now busy packing their bags to fly back home.
As has been reported already, the US was down against the Dutch for most of their previous game, then notched two goals in about ten minutes to take a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, the team then got sloppy, with midfielder Freddy Adu and defender Michael Bradley earning yellow cards that caused them to be unavailable for the remaining game against Nigeria.
It was passed off as no big deal, since they were so close to wrapping up a guaranteed berth. Then came the foul, the free kick, and the Dutch tying the score in the last minute of play, leaving the US in a bit of a pinch.
Still, the team looked okay. They would be without Adu and Bradley against Nigeria, a good but beatable team, and they are still talented and deep. Then another sloppy error shifted the momentum the wrong way.
In only the fourth minute of play, forward Michael Orozco elbowed his Nigerian defender in the chest. It was a small enough move that i had to watch the replay twice to see it, but flailing elbows are the one thing that FIFA absolutely will not tolerate, and Orozco was hit with a red card and was done for the day.
This left the US playing 11-on-10 soccer for a full 85 minutes plus injury time. I don't care what level you're at, the odds of you winning aren't massive when you play the whole game shorthanded. That was alright though, because the US didn't need to win, they just needed to not lose.
They were doing a great job, but eventually the weakness started to show. They couldn't adjust their personnel without using a substitution very early on, so they wound up having two forwards (Robbie Rogers and Jozy Altidore) covering defensively on the side Orozco was playing, and Nigeria took advantage of it for a goal in the 39th minute.
Nigeria scored late in the second half to seal it away. The US almost came back, notching a penalty kick goal in the 88th minute and then heading a would-be game-tying goal off the crossbar in the last minute of play, but a loss is a loss, and their Olympic trip is over.
However, this leaves me with a bone to pick. In the postgame, I had to sit there and listen to former US player and current commentator Marcelo Balboa ramble about how "the US wasn't expected to succeed" in a group with such heavy favorites as the Netherlands and Nigeria.
Yes, Marcelo, it is true that they were in probably the most difficult group in all of group play. Unfortunately, the difficulty of their opponents had absolutely nothing to do with their failing to advance. They simply proceeded to shoot off one foot against the Dutch, and then the other against Nigeria. Much like the gymnastics teams, they have nobody to blame but themselves.
He also talked about this showing earning them a little international respect, but much like any up and coming team, I really disagree, and feel they aren't going to get much respect until they learn how to close out games, not make stupid mental errors, and start upsetting some favorites. Maybe next time, boys.
As a side note to this morning's events, with all the fighting that recently took place between Russia and Georgia, imagine my surprise to switch over from that US soccer game to see Russia and Georgia facing each other in women's beach volleyball. It was a phenomenal match. The Russians dominated the first set, 21-10, but then started to slow down, possibly from the ridiculous heat and humidity, allowing the Georgian team to charge back for a 22-20 win in the second set. After that, I watched one of the Georgians as she struggled through the visible onset of heat exhaustion to polish off a third set 15-12 victory that sent them through to the round of 16 and sent the Russians home. It seemed like such poetic justice.
Then, as it turns out, the Georgian team really wasn't. The two members of the team were actually Brazilian women who applied for Georgian citizenship prior to the Olympics to skirt the rule that no country can have more than one team. What a momentum killer.