By J.R. Eskilson, ESNN
When the tears finally stopped, the reality set in for the players of the U.S. U23 Men’s National Team . . . it was another performance that simply was not good enough.
The one point accumulated in two games put the U.S. in third place in Group A of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying, and Canada and El Salvador advanced in spite of being the host nation of the tournament.
After devoting considerable amount of resources to this group, head coach Caleb Porter had the pressure of the nation on his shoulders in attempting to qualify for the 2012 Olympic games in London.
“Were we perfect? Were they perfect? No. We all made mistakes. But they also played some pretty darn good football. In my opinion they deserved better.”
– Caleb Porter on his U23 team
That cold reality really fell hard on the tactician from Akron as he choked back tears in his press conference after the draw.
Porter has enjoyed success and aplomb for his artistic style in college soccer, but received the harsh whiplash from critics when his style failed to translate to the international game during this tournament.
Those criticisms are partially misguided.
Porter made mistakes during qualifying – his squad rotation, his roster selection, and the inability to find an outside back – but U.S. Soccer also attempted to be excessively ambitious when Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna declared all teams would play the same style.
When U.S. Soccer bought into one style of play through all youth national teams last year, it neglected to consider how difficult the transition would be to a 4-3-3 for the older teams in the program.
Considering the tight time frame, Porter did seem like the perfect leader for that formation with his history of success during the course of a college season, which is only four months.
He has not always been successful, though.
It is nice to remember Akron of 2010 when it stormed through the playoffs and captured a national title, but the Zips did not immediately find success.
When Porter took the job in 2006, the Zips went 14-6-1, which included a 5-0 loss to UCSB in Porter’s first game as a head coach.
If implementing a 4-3-3 to perfection were easy, every team would do it. But that’s not reality. It is a meticulous, time-consuming practice, which requires more than just throwing a ball on the field.
Porter brought some former Zips with him to Olympic Qualifying, perhaps as a way to overcome the difficulty of establishing a new system, but he did not bring the most important piece: Anthony Ampaipitakwong.
The brilliant mastermind of all of Akron’s success was six months too old for this team, and Porter did not find a player who could pull the strings like Ampaipitakwong at the international level.
All of the things that made Porter’s style so effective against college teams – slick passing, clever movements, and a resolve to quickly win the ball back – went out of the window.
The long searching balls, the lackluster defense, and the lack of discipline all reared their ugly heads again. It was not the patented ‘death by 1,000 passes’ that Porter made common vernacular in Ohio.
Any excuse for the early exit lives on thin ice, as this was a very comfortable situation for the U.S. to qualify from the weaker of two groups, but this failure was about more than one coach’s shortcomings.
TopDrawerSoccer.com Managing Editor Robert Ziegler thinks differently, read his thoughts.