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The Sad Story Of Why The USMNT Isn’t Competing In The 2020 Olympics

The USWNT will be going for gold. The USMNT will be playing in the Gold Cup.

When it comes to Olympic soccer, Americans generally know the women’s team is going to compete for gold. The USWNT has won four golds and one silver in six prior tournaments. The U.S. men are a totally different story, resulting in American soccer fans asking themselves every four years: Is USMNT in Olympics?

The sad truth is that the U.S. men’s Olympic team has struggled to qualify in recent years. The squad, which is made up of U-23 players (the women’s tournament has no age restrictions), failed to qualify for the 2004, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Hopes were high with a strong group of players for Concacaf Olympic qualifying in March 2021.

Those hopes were once again dashed, this time in the cruelest of fashions.

Is USMNT In Olympics 2020? No — Here’s Why

Concacaf received two berths to the men’s Olympic soccer tournament in Tokyo. To decide those two spots, an eight-team tournament was held in Mexico in March, featuring two groups of four. The top two teams in each group advanced to a four-team knockout round, with the two squads reaching the final earning a trip to Japan. Essentially, the semifinals of the tournament were win-and-you’re-in matches. 

The U.S. was placed in a group with tournament-favorite Mexico, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world knowing there couldn’t be a USA-Mexico semifinal. The USMNT finished second in the group behind Mexico, setting a date with Honduras in the must-win semifinal. Honduras won its group by barely edging Canada on goal difference. It had played well enough, but was aided by some Concacaf nonsense in a 3-0 win over Haiti, a game in which Haiti started the match with 10 men and no true goalkeeper.

The U.S. was the favorite to beat Honduras, meet Mexico in the final and qualify for the Olympics. Things didn’t quite go as planned.

In the vital semifinal, the USMNT and Honduras were fairly evenly matched. A bad foul by Henry Kessler set up Los Catrachos with a great opportunity late in first-half stoppage time, and Honduras capitalized to take a 1-0 lead.

Moments into the second half, David Ochoa committed the howler of a lifetime to allow Honduras to double its advantage. The Real Salt Lake keeper held onto the ball for too long then played a pass right to Luis Palma — a Honduran player — who allowed the ball to ricochet off him and into the back of the net.

Heartbreak for the U.S.

Jackson Yueill pulled one back for the USMNT but the Americans couldn’t complete the comeback after the devastating keeper mistake.

At the time, it was impossible not to feel bad for Ochoa, who was heroic in the opening match of the qualifying tournament. With time, however, we realized he could be a bit of an asshole

Still, the howler cost the USMNT a spot in the Olympics. 

Now, U.S. soccer fans will only have one team to root for in Tokyo this summer. The USWNT is always a favorite in any tournament it plays in, but it would’ve been nice to see the men and women compete side by side for the first time since 2008. 

USMNT fans in particular have to wonder what could have been. The U.S. has so much U-23 talent right now (Pulisic, McKennie, Adams, Musah, Dest, etc.), they could have made some noise in Japan. Unfortunately, most of that Europe-based talent wasn’t available for the lengthy qualifying tournament, and it’s unknown how many would have actually played in the Olympics had they qualified. 

Missing the 2018 World Cup was bad, but there had been a sense of turning things around with so many youngsters playing abroad. This was yet another missed opportunity for the USMNT. 

Now, instead of going for gold in the 2020 Olympics, the USMNT will be sending its B team to the Gold Cup — and watching the USWNT continue to show why it’s so much better. Maybe in three years we can answer "is USMNT in Olympics" with the affirmative, but we can already report the U.S. has qualified for the 2028 Olympic soccer tournament by virtue of it being held in Los Angeles. 

(Quick historical side note before you go: Despite recent failures, the U.S. has actually medaled in men’s Olympic soccer. Back in 1904, three teams competed for men’s soccer gold — one from Canada and two from the U.S., the host nation. Canada took home gold while America earned silver and bronze despite finishing with minus-5 and minus-6 goal differences, respectively.)

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