- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

BEIJING | The worst part for Freddy Adu was that the U.S. men’s soccer team was eliminated from the Olympics. A close second is he couldn’t do anything about it.

Two yellow cards assessed against Japan and the Netherlands meant Adu was suspended for the Americans’ final game of Group D play, a 2-1 loss to Nigeria.

“It’s the worst feeling I’ve had so far in my professional career when a loss ends a tournament,” he said.

From the Workers Stadium stands, Adu saw his team, also playing without starting midfielder Michael Bradley because of yellow cards, go a man down in the fourth minute because of an iffy red card to Michael Orozco, be swarmed by a forward-moving Nigeria attack and be sent home because the Netherlands defeated Japan.

“I couldn’t be out there with the guys. I couldn’t be out there helping out,”Adu said. “It was not a great feeling. It’s a player’s nightmare.”

The Americans could have used Adu’s offense late in the game after Nigeria took a 2-0 lead in the 79th minute. Sacha Kljestan’s penalty kick nine minutes later cut the lead, and the United States almost tied it in extra time when Charlie Davies’ header hit the cross bar.

“A disappointing tournament for all of us and an unlucky tournament at that,” Adu said.

Things looked great for the United States late in Sunday’s game against the Netherlands. With a win over Japan in its favor, the Americans led the Dutch until a goal in the 93rd minute forced the tie.

While Adu wondered what he could have done to help the U.S. attack (18-4 disadvantage in shots on goal), coach Peter Nowak fumed over the red card on Orozco.

Orozco shoved/elbowed Solomon Okoronkwo, who collapsed to the ground as if hit by a sniper from a nearby skyscraper.

Without three starters, Nowak switched to a 4-4-1 alignment and told his players to pick and choose when to attack. They rarely did in the first half as Nigeria controlled play and scored in the 39th minute when Promise Isaac punched home a delicate pass into the box.

“That was a big scene by the Nigerian player,” Nowak said of Okoronkwo’s theatrics. “I told them in the locker room before the game that I know German referees and how they act in different situations and to watch out. I didn’t expect this kind of reaction would come in the fourth minute. It was unacceptable to me. The whole lineup needed to be reshaped, and the game plan went into the trash.”

Said U.S. goalie Brad Guzan: “When you have to play down a man for 90 minutes, it’s going to be tough. You have to find a way to battle back, and I think we did create some chances.”

But the chances weren’t nearly enough to test Nigerian goalie Ambruse Vanzekin. The crowd of 48,096 who convened in east central Beijing wanted offense, rooting for rushes by both teams. They also acquiesced with the scoreboard’s request to do the “Mexican Wave,” and a pocket of Nigerian fans opposite the benches pounded drums and played the same song from the 10th minute on.

While the Olympic tournament continues, including a potential dream Brazil-Argentina semifinal Tuesday, many of the U.S. players will return to their MLS clubs, and others like Adu will begin their seasons in Europe.

Adu will play his second season for Benfica in Portugal, which opens Aug. 24.

“Freddy had a good tournament,” Nowak said. “He fit in very good with the team. Now is the time to see what the future will bring for him. He needs to establish himself and climb.”

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