The missed Olympic opportunity  

July, 25, 2012

Perhaps this is beating a dead horse, but given the Olympic hoopla that will deprive much of the sports world of oxygen for the next two weeks, this particular deceased equine probably deserves another flogging or two: The U.S. Soccer team did not make the 2012 Games.

And that's a huge blow to American Soccer.

Yes, we went over this in the immediate aftermath of the Yanks' devastating, embarrassing washout in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tourney, and yes, there's always a contingent of coaches, athletes, media and fans who believe Olympic soccer isn't that big a deal. Move on, they'll say.

We differ. We think the Olympic tournament still matters -- a lot -- to this country's development. So as the Games begin, and as the U.S. women open their defense of their gold medal in Glasgow against France, it's worth taking stock of the missed opportunities that piled up when the U-23s failed to qualify.

•They could have medaled

That's not a misprint. The full American U-23 squad would have been a formidable in this tournament. They demonstrated that by taking apart their Mexican counterpart -- the eventual CONCACAF champ -- in a friendly in February (without a full-strength team). In fact, with a starting XI that could have boasted up to eight senior team regulars, it would be hard to find a more talented squad on paper in this tournament, other than Brazil and Spain.

Draws and bounces matter in these tournaments, of course. And the Yanks had big problems on the back line and in goal. But those holes could have been plugged with strategic additions of veterans; Carlos Bocanegra and Tim Howard both professed an interest in playing for in the Olympics, for example.

True, Olympic gold medalists don't always go on to win World Cups, but a podium finish for the men would have been a big story in the U.S. media at these Games.

•Experience and cohesion

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.
Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.