Goalkeeping. Of all things. The U.S. soccer team has been wanting at a number of positions over the last few years—a pure striker, a consistent left back—but a keeper hasn’t been one of them. Four Yanks are now on the books at Premier League clubs, including the current national team starter Tim Howard at Everton and the former No. 1 Brad Friedel at Tottenham. So how sad was it to see substitute keeper Sean Johnson flopping like a seal in allowing the game-tying goal deep into stoppage time in a 3-3 draw with El Salvador on Monday that eliminated the young Americans from the Olympic qualifying tournament. The American men will not be at the London Games while the American women, the defending gold medalists, will be contenders again.
The Olympic tournament isn’t that big a deal in the soccer world, but it is an indication of what you’ve got coming up because it features players under age 23. For instance, Argentina won the gold in Beijing with the help of a little fella named Lionel Messi. By that standard we don’t have that much to look forward to. The must-win match against El Sal was set up by a dismal performance against Canada, a team that hadn’t beaten the U.S. in Olympic qualifying in 20 years, and hasn’t made the World Cup since 1986. (The U.S. has qualified for every World Cup since 1990.) The Canadians apparently forgot that they’re not supposed to be as good as their southern neighbors in anything but ice hockey and dismissed the Yanks 2-0. Although the U.S. had to play the last two games without their injured teenage striking starlet Juan Agudelo — and one-time teen phenom Freddie Adu put himself back in the picture with some inspired passing — it’s the back line that looked shaky. That’s worrisome since it’s the only thing the Olympic squad has had in common with the senior U.S. National team. Then again, the Olympians have four years to fix it.