Best and worst of the U.S. U-23 squad
As the dust settles on the Nashville Annihilation, much of the discourse has sought to place in perspective the U.S. U-23 national team's shocking failure to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics. There's also been a fair bit of finger-pointing, as you'd expect, since everyone thought the Americans would cruise through the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
While we seek to avert our gaze from the wreckage and home in on the horizon, it's time to see which players have enhanced their prospect with the senior national team and which ones have seen their reputations dented.
Five who've improved their prospects
1. Terrence Boyd
One of several setbacks in the three qualifying games was striker Juan Agudelo's meniscus tear in the first game, because it took the U.S. another game to figure out who should replace him. That man, as it turned out, was the third-string Boyd, who plays for Borussia Dortmund. Where Teal Bunbury failed to step in, the big, strong and quick Boyd provided a good target, held the play up well and took a good ratio of his chances, scoring twice against El Salvador.
2. Freddy Adu
The 22-year-old prodigy has been a professional for eight years and it showed during the tournament. He provided leadership and experience to much-less-seasoned teammates, and his play was strong. His dead balls were spot on, his through balls incisive, and even though he was clearly played out of position on the right, Adu took men on with gusto. He could be anonymous for long spells as the play flowed through the opposite wing, but he set up several goals and scored a blinder himself.
3. Mix Diskerud
Mix and his curly manes were one of the few constants throughout three inconsistent games. He distributed well, covered almost the entire field, defended diligently, won balls and tried to establish a rhythm. While not quite a senior teamer yet, the 21-year-old showed off the size and technique to become a capable playmaker for the U.S. in the future.
4. Amobi Okugo
After a brief cameo against Cuba, Okugo didn't really get involved in the action until the U.S. was behind to Canada in its second game. In that spell and in a full game against El Salvador, Okugo showed off his potential as a holding midfielder. Blessed with good size, a motor and a lovely long ball as a bonus, he helped seal the defense. And he did it admirably given that he'd incurred a yellow card in the seventh minute in the fateful El Salvador game.
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Impressive in his absence, the U.S.'s failure underscored Morales' intrinsic value in front of the defense. He helped shut down Mexico entirely in the team's final friendly -- a 2-0 win, the most impressive game it ever had, as it turned out -- before qualifiers, but wasn't released for the tournament. Okugo, as stated above, and Jared Jeffrey did good work, but the U.S. was missing a physical presence who could play an opponent tough and still get forward and help out on the ball. Morales would have been that guy.
Five whose prospects took a hit
1. The defense -- all of it
None of the fivesome who manned the four spots in the back emerged from the tournament looking good. Zarek Valentin offered nothing offensively as a wing back. Kofi Sarkodie got burned several times and doesn't seem to read the game very well. Jorge Villafana is a capable defender but appears too slow. Ike Opara is good in the air but overall is a liability, giving away several big chances per game. Perry Kitchen isn't a clean marker and lacks speed, too.
2. Teal Bunbury
One of the U.S.'s most promising young strikers failed to impose after Agudelo went down. Time and again he missed fat chances by finishing poorly or taking clumsy touches. Although polished for Sporting Kansas City, Bunbury looked like he was forcing it.
3. Sean Johnson
In about an hour of work against El Salvador, the backup goalkeeper, having come on for the injured Bill Hamid, actually confirmed that he is a sound, young goalkeeper. But it's that one shot, that bouncy 94th-minute dink from Jaime Alas that he deflected over himself and into the net, that will linger. And it's that shot, the Olympic dream-ruining one, that he might not get over for some time.
4. Caleb Porter
The U.S.'s failure wasn't the coach's fault entirely. He prepared meticulously and forged a strong, versatile collective. But his players under-delivered and the responsibility is ultimately his. During games, he didn't adjust well to unexpected situations. It's an undeniable blight on Porter's CV.
5. Joe Corona
In a bizarre series of appearances, Corona scored four times and set up a few goals with nice through balls, too. Three of those goals, however, were unconvincing finishes that came against a dire Cuba side. The fourth was a gimme after he was left unmarked at the second post against El Salvador. And in the rest of his time with the U-23s, Corona was hardly heard from. The midfielder played far too high up the pitch -- although this might have been his mandate -- and was hardly ever involved against Canada and El Salvador. He exerted so little influence in those games that he was practically a wasted spot on the field.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderESPN.
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