Olympic failures show structural issues for US Soccer, MLS

Olympic failures show structural issues for US Soccer, MLS

Olympic failures show structural issues for US Soccer, MLS

NEW YORK — The Catch-22 for U.S. men’s soccer in the Olympics is this: The better a player gets, the less likely he is to play.

And compounding the difficulty is a structural issue, according to American under-24 coach Jason Kreis: Major League Soccer does not adhere to the international calendar of a season that runs from August to May, leaving most of his players trying to regain fitness while facing opponents in midseason form.

The Americans failed to qualify for their third straight Olympics when they lost 2-1 to Honduras on Sunday. For the second time in three Olympic cycles, a goalkeeping blunder helped sink the U.S. when David Ochoa gifted the second goal, similar to goalkeeper Sean Johnson fumbling a shot against El Salvador that cost the Americans a trip to the 2012 London Games.

In addition, the U.S. streak of seven World Cup appearances ended in 2018.

Former American defender Alexi Lalas, now a commentator for Fox, and ex-goalkeeper Tim Howard, now an NBC broadcaster, say the onus is on the U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS to get better players from teams.

Lalas maintains the burden to improve the Olympic effort lies with Kreis, senior national team coach Gregg Berhalter and U.S. men’s national team general manager Brian McBride. FIFA regulations say clubs don’t have to release players for Olympic qualifying or the Olympics. European clubs regularly deny their players, and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta team blocked Kreis from using defenders George Bello and Miles Robinson, and forward Brooks Lennon.

“Some clubs are going to decide they don’t want to release players. There’s nothing you can do about that if that’s the ultimate decision,” Lalas said. “But you better leave every stone unturned in trying to convince them and call in every favour and be part of that negotiation in order to do that. And then when it comes to the Major League Soccer teams that decided not to release players, I think that in and of itself is inexcusable and it’s ridiculous and it’s a joke given the co-operation and the partnership and the historic connection that the United States Soccer Federation and MLS has.”

While the U.S. started 11 MLS players against Honduras, age-eligible Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Josh Sargent, Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson and Yunas Musah were with the senior national team in Belfast for a 2-1 friendly win over Northern Ireland.

FIFA restricts Olympic qualifying to players 23 and under. Qualifying was postponed by a year because of the pandemic, and FIFA kept Jan. 1, 1997, as the earliest birth date for those competing.

Five of the 20 players on the qualifying roster last year were not made available by their clubs this year: Reggie Cannon, Chris Gloster, Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown and Brenden Aaronson.

Mexico, which beat the U.S. 1-0 in the group stage and defeated Canada 2-0 on Sunday for an Olympic berth, had five Olympic qualifying-eligible players with its national team for the past 10 days instead of at the tournament in Guadalajara: Edson Álvarez, César Montes, Jorge Sánchez, Gerardo Arteaga and Efraín Álvarez, who is eligible to play for El Tri and the U.S.

None of Honduras’ players on the roster for last week’s national team exhibition against Greece were Olympic age eligible.

Kreis cited rust: MLS teams don’t open the pandemic-delayed season until April 16. None of Sunday’s starters for Mexico on Sunday were from MLS.

“I don’t know that if I’ve ever seen a game where we’ve had players mis-control the ball so much by going under people’s feet, passing out of bounds,” Kreis said. “These are things that are just really — you just really kind of scratch your head, you think of, what’s going on here? But I also have been around the game enough in our country at a pro level to tell you this is what you see in preseasons and at the beginning of MLS seasons it’s typical.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber was not available Monday to respond to Kreis’ remarks, spokesman Dan Courtemanche said. USSF spokesman Neil Buethe said federation sporting director Earnie Stewart was travelling from Guadalajara and was not available. Atlanta technical director Carlos Bocanegra declined comment, spokesman Chris Winkler said.

Former U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who spent a decade with Everton, said U.S. weather made timing of the MLS season unchangeable but access to players needed to improve.

“The U.S. player at this level is not accustomed to big moments in big games,” he said. “Our players — and I say this as a product of that, my daughter is a part of this now — the American player is not put in difficult situations, where they have to be able to claw themselves out. And so when you look across the board at these big tournaments and big moments when things are on the line, we have oftentimes stumbled. And so that is a massive criticism of the system.”

Howard thinks a catalyst is needed in the manner of Jerry Colangelo, who sparked changes that led to a U.S. gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.

“If you needed Romelu Lukaku for your under-23 team and Inter Milan said, ‘Absolutely not. He’s banging in 20 goals for us and we’re going to win Serie A,’ you say, OK, you’ve got a point. We’re not asking for that,” Howard said of the 27-year-old Belgian striker who was his former Everton teammate. “So what needs to happen is there needs to be relationships made and fostered with sporting directors and clubs throughout Europe. There needs to be a massive onus to say the Olympics is of the utmost importance.”


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Ronald Blum, The Associated Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read