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3 things we learned: USMNT fails to qualify for Olympics (again)

As friendlies against Jamaica and Northern Ireland loom, the PST crew discusses which Americans have the most to prove, from Christian Pulisic finding his form to the emergence of a non-John Brooks center back.

The USMNT under-23 team failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics with a 2-1 defeat to Honduras in the win-and-you’re-in semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament on Sunday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Northern Ireland 0-2 USMNT ]

Sunday’s defeat represents the program’s latest failure — a third straight Olympic Games missed, and the second in a row by way of defeat to Honduras — as the culmination of a series of wholly uninspiring performances over the last two weeks.

Back to the drawing board for the U.S. Soccer Federation. Again.

Three things we learned: USMNT - Honduras

1. Inability to adjust hamstrings team of American soccer players, unexpectedly: Having every men’s coach working for U.S. Soccer on the same page and striving to play the game in the same way is, in a sense, a laudable endeavor. In theory, players advancing through the ranks will have a fuller grasp of how the senior team plays once they reach that level — if the various youth sides are able to execute said playing style in a semi-coherent way that showcases the non-elite talents in the player pool. That’s the best-case scenario; what played out over 360 minutes of Olympic qualifying was… not that.

The age-old adage Mike Tyson quote “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” comes to mind, because yes, the USMNT (and various sides at youth levels) have improved to the point where it’s no longer a big deal to see them with a larger share of possession at full-time. But, two questions remain unanswered: 1) what are they doing with that possession to make it meaningful and dangerous; 2) what if, like, the other team has their own plan to counter-act your plan — you’re totally prepared for the possibility you might have to make an adjustment, right?

Blank stares. Crickets.

2. As player development goes, the Olympics aren’t that important: Would it be great for the USMNT U-23s to simply qualify for the Olympics and give USMNT fans reason to be excited and hopeful? 100 percent, no doubt about it. Will the individuals who would have made up the squad miss out on individual development that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere? Not exactly. The thought of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, Chris Richards and Yunus Musah — all of whom are eligible for the Olympics this time around and would have been part of the qualifying effort if not for their senior-team status — parachuting in and taking the Stars and Stripes to the semifinals in Tokyo was too enticing to ignore, but it’s hardly a crippling setback for players whose USMNT futures are long since secured. Instead, they’ll spend a full preseason with their respective club teams and perhaps find themselves in better standing within the group as a result.

The alternative, of course, would be to send a team without the aforementioned stars so as to allow for maximum preparation ahead of the European season, but no one who watched a single second of qualifying needs to put themselves through that again.

[ MORE: 5 things we learned from USMNT’s March friendlies ]

3. USMNT did well to limit to Honduras to long-range shots: 45 (non-stoppage-time) minutes into the game, Honduras had out-shot the USMNT U-23s by a margin of 4-2. On the surface, you might say the Americans were creating virtually nothing at one end of the field (true) while giving up entirely too much at the the other end, but all four of those shots came from beyond 30 yards out, giving goalkeeper David Ochoa plenty of time to catch sight of the ball and read its movement for a stress-free save. So, that was mostly a good job of denying dangerous possession in and around the penalty area. (Of course, at the same time, the USMNT U-23s had attempted its two shots from a combined 45 yards from goal, so well done to Honduras for that.) Then came shot no. 5 for Honduras, from near the penalty spot, and the ensuing goal-mouth scramble. They didn’t even have to attempt a shot for goal no. 2, which turned out to be the winning goal — Ochoa arranged that one on Honduras’ behalf.

Juan Carlos Obregon opened the scoring in first-half stoppage time, and though it was a fortuitous bounce that put the Hondurans ahead, it was no less than they deserved following a dominant first 45 minutes.

Ochoa got “playing out of the back” as wrong as a goalkeeper can possibly do just seven minutes into the second half, and the deficit was doubled just like that.

[ MORE: Berhalter explains new formation; Pulisic wants to be USMNT leader ]

Five minutes later, captain Jackson Yueill, one of a handful of bright spots for the USMNT U-23s throughout this tournament, decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.

The Yanks showed an admirable fighting spirit after pulling the goal back, and nearly pulled level in the 63rd minute. Jonathan Lewis got on the end of a free kick and looked like finding the back of the net, only to see the ball headed off the line.

Follow @AndyEdMLS