Ever since the US Soccer Team failed to qualify for the Olympics this past week, some of my fellow soccer fans have gone into a depression. They were looking forward to watching the red, white, and blue play in London and continue to enjoy soccer's positive momentum in this country. Now they are asking what this disappointment will do to this surge in soccer spirit. I'm here to tell you it will hurt very little.
For those of you whom do not know how the Olympic soccer tournament is structured, the most important part to understand is this is more of a youth tournament than a national tournament. Most of the players have to have been born after January 1, 1989. Countries are allowed no more than three exceptions to this rule, and even then most squads either pick players who are slightly above that age, or players who are on the back end of their career in order to have one more shot at Olympic glory.
So what does this mean to US Soccer? It means that the driving forces behind its recent success - players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard whom have all starred internationally in recent years - did not participate in the qualifying tournament and likely would not have participated in the Olympics this summer anyways.
The one red flag of the qualifying failure is that the next generation of US players is that it highlighted the need for more development and better players at that age level. University of Akron head coach Caleb Porter had some decent talent on this squad, evident in its 2-0 win over Mexico right before the qualifying tournament. However, the team lost focus in its match against Canada and then allowed a late tying goal to El Salvador that knocked them out.
It will be interesting to watch how the lower-level squads progress over the next two to three years and which youth stars rise up the ranks to make the 2016 U-23 team. My hope is that Porter remains in an important US Soccer role because I see him as a possible USMNT coach down the line.
So, my friends, walk away from the ledge! US Soccer defeated Italy in one of the most important international wins in our history just last month. The focus of the national team is on World Cup qualifying this summer for the 2014 World Cup, with matches beginning in June. That process will do nothing but raise the already elevated profile of soccer in our country...and the likes of Dempsey, Donovan, and Howard will be on center stage to continue the charge.