For the third cycle in a row, the United States U-23 National Team failed to qualify for the Olympics, losing to Honduras 2-1. Honduras jumped out to a lead late in the first half, thanks to a brilliant header across the box that was scrambled home by Juan Carlos Obregon Jr. They doubled their lead two minutes into the second half thanks to a David Ochoa howler, who passed it right into the foot of the Honduran winger, Luis Palma, deflecting into the keeper's goal. Jackson Yueill was able to pull one back in the 52nd minute with a great strike 30 odd yards out but it was too little, too late.
Before we really dive deep into why this happened, let's just started by saying that any narratives about it being unimportant that the United States qualify for the Olympics, or that this player pool isn't really indicative of the talent that we have in the U23 pool, does not excuse the abysmal performances that took place in Guadalajara. The fact of the matter is that the United States needs to be playing in marquee tournaments and they need to be doing well in those tournaments if we want to inspire the next generation of soccer players and continue to develop soccer in the United States. Missing out on the Olympics which in the eyes of the public is only second to the World Cup, only stagnates the development of American soccer both in the youth and grassroots levels and when it comes to the senior national team as it is another opportunity to test and measure our player pool against the best in the world. It is a massive setback for a player pool that has made massive strides since we last missed out on the Olympics.
But how did we get here in the first place? In order to truly understand how the United States got to the point, you have to look back to March 19th, 2019 when Kries was hired in the first place by GM Earnie Stewart. Kries was by no means a revolutionary hire but instead a continuation of a trend when it came to hiring coaches in US Soccer. Similar to Berhalter, Kries's biggest success as a manager came in MLS when he lead RSL to an MLS Cup win in 2009 and an MLS Cup final in 2013. Under Kries, RSL were consistently competitive until he left after the 2013 season. Beyond his RSL days, however, Kries resume is severely underwhelming. Perhaps an indication of his lack of ability to adapt his coaching and tactics to a rapidly evolving and changing MLS, Kries found little success at NYCFC and later Orlando City. His latest U23 failures are only a continuation of his time as a manager and USSF's decision to make him in charge of such a crucial group to the senior team has to be deeply questioned.
To many fans, Kries's failures to cultivate a savvy, creative midfield that would be at the focal point of possession-based soccer the USMNT is trying to head to, came as no surprise. His inability to get production out of Jesus Fereira, who has all the tools a 9 needs in the modern game and his puzzling substitutions such as subbing on Jonny Cardoso for Johnathan Lewis down a goal in the 88th minute, also came as no surprise. There was more than enough talent and quality in the U23 player pool at Jason Kries, Gregg Berhalter, and Earnie Stewart disposal, to play attractive and high-quality soccer as well as comfortably qualify for the Olympics. Instead, all three completely got the tactics wrong, seemingly completely misjudging the quality in the pool and players they selected. The midfield, which was supposed to dominate and dictate games, instead became an ill-fated jigsaw puzzle, Kries seemingly playing Perea, Yueill, or Cardoso out of position each game. Only Dotson seemingly provided anything going forward in the midfield block of three as the 8, however, it was oftentimes with little support from his compatriot midfielders.
What was even more puzzling was how Kries seemed to play Perea, Yueill, and Cardoso, all who are naturally CDMs and 6s, at the 8 and CM spot, while natural 8s in Keaton Parks and Cole Bassett sat home and watched a horror show of a midfield three. The roster was stacked with three CDMs/6s (Yueill, Perea, Cardoso) and two CMs/8s (Dotson and Tessmann), which they tried to fit into a formation that consisted of having one 6 and two 8s sitting in front of him. Conventional wisdom would be to play Yueill as the 6, and Tessman and Dotson as the 8s, but we barely saw that. And the few minutes Tessman was on the field for the US late versus Honduras, he provided the one piece of creativity and transitional soccer that this stagnant midfield was yearning for, splitting two defenders and getting to the end line for a perfectly measured cross to the back post that Lewis eventually made an absolute hash of. The roster was horridly unbalanced and lacked natural two-way, transitional-type midfielders. Instead, Jason Kries and US Soccer tried fitting round pegs in square holes and paid the price for it deeply.
While Kries will deservedly shoulder most of the blame for this disgraceful result, make no mistake this is a top to bottom failure by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). It started when they hired Jason Kries on March 19th, 2019, continued when they picked a horridly unbalanced roster and failed to conjure up any sort of inspiring, quality, and consistent soccer throughout the tournament, and ended when the final whistle was blown on March 28th at the Estadio Jalisco, confirming that the United States would not be participating in the 2022 Tokyo Olympics. Let it be known, that this result is nothing short of a failure, and a disgrace for Jason Kries, USSF, and US Soccer.