Continued from page 1

“Having the Olympic experience would certainly be beneficial to these players. In a different way to look at it, this tournament helped weed out some of the quote-unquote talent that maybe isn’t what we thought,” said Lalas, now an ESPN analyst. “And for those players who do graduate to the national team, those few select players, it gives them a harsh but maybe vital lesson in terms of not only recognizing moments and opportunities but not wasting them.”

Caleb Porter, who coached Akron to the 2010 NCAA title, was hired last October to run the under-23 team as part of an overhaul that followed Gulati installing former German star Jurgen Klinsmann as U.S. national team coach. Former star midfielder Tab Ramos was picked to coach the u20s, and the u17 coach also was replaced.

“The game can be really brutal sometimes. And really I just feel bad for the guys and for Caleb, who really did a good job,” Klinsmann said. “They didn’t lose the qualification today. They let it slip out if their grasp in the Canada game when they weren’t alert enough. And they paid the price today with a goal in the last second. And of course that hurts.”

When the U.S. failed to make it to the 2004 Athens Games, it was knocked out with a 4-0 loss to rival Mexico in Guadalajara, when boos nearly drowned out “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a few dozen fans chanted “Osama! Osama!”

This time elimination occurred at home.

“It’s at a point now where shooting ourselves in the face and foot every five years is no longer acceptable,” said Fox Soccer broadcaster Eric Wynalda, second on the American national team career-scoring list.

Wynalda delivered a blistering critique of American soccer administrators in January at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention in Kansas City, Mo., and has been an outspoken critic of Gulati and MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

“The truth of the matter is that Sunil has to take the responsibility for this,” Wynalda said. “You can blame the players, you can blame the muck, you can blame Caleb Porter if you like, but I would argue that he had no business being in that position in the first place. Ultimately, the blame falls on the people who do the hiring.”

More troubling than the failure to qualify for the London Olympics may be the lack of players on the u23s who appear to be pushing for spots on the national team, a group whose regulars include Landon Donovan (30), Carlos Bocanegra (33 in May), Steve Cherundolo (33) and Oguchi Onyewu (30 in May).

The 16-game process of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil starts this June, and among the group in Nashville only Dallas midfielder Brek Shea has become a frequent national team contributor. The major influx of new players has been several German-Americans who play regularly in the Bundesliga.

And goalkeeper, long a strength of the Americans, is now a potential problem area. Given the struggles of Hamid and Johnson, 41-year-old Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel might be brought out of national team retirement in the event of an injury to U.S. starter Tim Howard.

“The future of American goalkeeping leaves something to be desired,” Lalas said.

But while focusing on the present, Gulati and Klinsmann also are putting more emphasis on the future.

MLS has expanded to 19 teams, creating more jobs for American players, and it relaunched its reserve league to create more competition. The USSF Development Academy for elite players 15-18 expanded its schedule from six to 10 months in an effort to establish better and lengthened training.

More Americans are with European clubs than ever before, but for every Clint Dempsey starring in the Premier League, there is a Ricardo Clark who can’t even make a game-day substitutes’ bench.

Story Continues →