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BEIJING 2008 : MEN'S SOCCER

U.S. falls to Netherlands, misses chance to advance

August 11, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

If the U.S. men's Olympic soccer team ties or defeats Nigeria in Beijing on Wednesday, what happened in Tianjin on Sunday will be forgotten.

But if the U.S. loses and is knocked out of the Olympics after having come literally within seconds of clinching a quarterfinal place, there will be some fingers pointed.

They shouldn't be aimed at Stuart Holden. Yes, it was his late-tackle foul in injury time that gave the Netherlands a free kick from which the Dutch scored the goal to salvage a 2-2 tie. But it was also Holden who scored the goal in a 1-0 win over Japan that put the U.S. in a position to advance.

Don't blame the defensive wall. Players are taught to either stand their ground or to try to block free kicks that normally are fired around or over the wall. Dutch forward Gerald Sibon smartly chose to shoot "where they weren't," sending the ball beneath the wall.

Don't blame U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan: He was covering that half of the net that the wall could not protect. There was no way he could have gotten to Sibon's score-tying shot.

"As a goalkeeper, you've got to trust the wall," Guzan said, "and unfortunately tonight the wall decided they were going to go up and over and [the Dutch] went under. We just picked the wrong option."

Don't blame U.S. Coach Peter Nowak, who has infused confidence into a team that was expected to go nowhere.

If any blame is to be handed out, try U.S. Soccer, which gave Nowak little time to knock the rough edges off the group, who had never played together except for two warmup games.

Even that might be harsh. As Nowak said, "It's just how the game goes sometimes."

Jones reported from Los Angeles.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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