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Aug. 13, 2008
U.S. men eliminated from Olympics after early red card puts team in hole

By Michael Lewis Editor

Sacha Kljestanís penalty kick goal was not enough to save the US from elimination at the Beijing Olympics.
Sacha Kljestanís penalty kick goal was not enough to save the US from elimination at the Beijing Olympics.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Beijing, China -- Let's face it. There is only so much adversity that a team can overcome.

Playing without your two best midfielders was one hell of a challenge against a Nigerian team that likes to attack.

Losing a defender to a red card four minutes into the match proved to be too much for the U.S. to bear Wednesday night.

Playing virtually the entire match with one foot tied behind their backs after defender Michael Orozco was ejected, the Americans were faced with an uphill battle the entire way en route to a bitterly disappointing 2-1 defeat that quashed all hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Some critics will say that the Americans lost their chance of advancing not Wednesday, but on Sunday, when they allowed the Netherlands to score deep into added time to turn a 2-1 U.S. lead into a 2-2 tie. It will be difficult to argue with that.

Already down two key players entering the match, the U.S. received a stunning blow with the match barely four minutes old when Orozco elbowed Nigerian Solomon Okoronkwo in the chest at midfield. Referee Wolfgang Stark (Germany) did not hesitate to take out his red card and give the 22-year-old his marching orders.

The Americans started the game with their two best midfielders, Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley, in street clothes due to yellow-card suspensions. Adu is the U.S.'s best offensive weapon, while Bradley is the team's defensive midfielder. Clifton, N.J.'s Danny Szetela started in Bradley's place and former Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore, who came off the bench in the first two matches, started alongside Brian McBride.

It looked like an American Olympic soccer team would need some help from Japan for the second time within 24 hours. On Tuesday, the Japanese women stunned favored Norway, 5-1, to boost the Americans into a weak bracket in the knockout round. The U.S. did its part by securing a 4-0 victory.

The U.S. men were not so fortunate. Despite playing a man down in the early going, the U.S. held its own before Nigeria began to get its act together and find some holes in the American defense.

The Americans were forced to alter their style. They held the ball more. In one sequence, they passed the ball around the back line and eventually back to goalkeeper Brad Guzan, much to the displeasure of the crowd, which booed and whistled.

The Nigerians first put the ball on net in the 18th minute, when Victor Obinna sent in a corner kick from the right side that Chinedu Obuke Obasi headed from point-blank range. Guzan, however, went to his left to snare the ball.

The television feed showed a concerned and grim U.S. coach Peter Nowak propped against the left post of the U.S. bench, obviously not liking what he was witnessing as the Africans continued to attack. Solomon Okoronkwo found himself open on the left side of the penalty area, but he sent his shot high and wide right of its intended target in the 24th minute.

Three minutes later, Okoronkwo tried a shot that traveled way wide right of the net from 22 yards out.

Guzan saved the U.S. again in the 32nd minute, leaping left to knock Obasiís 15-yard shot away with both hands.

Toronto FC defender Marvell Wynne gave the U.S. a ray of hope with a marvelous run down the right side the 35th minute. He intercepted a Nigerian pass in the American defensive zone and raced down the right wing through two Nigerian players into the penalty area. His cross, however, was broken up and cleared out of harm's way.

The Nigerians finally solved the Americans in the 39th minute. Obasi beat Michael Parkhurst on the left side of the penalty area. He turned the corner at the goal line, faked out Wynne and pulled Guzan just enough out of the net. He then sent a short pass to Promise Isaac, who slotted it home from three yards as Robbie Rogers slid in vain to stop the ball from going into the net.

At halftime, Nowak pulled Altidore, a forward forced into a midfield role after the ejection, for midfielder Benny Feilhaber in an attempt to hold off the Nigerians in the middle of the park.

McBride managed a soft header on net that goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin easily caught in the 49th minute.

Four minutes later, Stuart Holden botched a great opportunity from point-blank range. Rogers fed him the ball from the left side, but the Houston Dynamo midfielder shanked wide left what looked like an easy shot on goal.

The U.S. continued earn some opportunities. In the 55th minute Sacha Kljestan fired a shot over the net. Szetela raced down the left wing and placed a weak shot with Vanzekin out of the net, but Dele Adeleye had little trouble stopping the ball from rolling over the line.

The Nigerians almost found themselves with a two-goal advantage in the 66th minute when Feilhaber, trying to clear a cross, accidentally put the ball on net, but an alert Guzan pounced on the ball.

Szetela was replaced by midfielder Dax McCarty in the 68th minute.

In his last substitution of the night in an attempt to find the equalizing goal, Nowak took out Holden for forward Charlie Davies in the 77th minute.

It didn't help. Two minutes later, Victor Obinna gave the Nigerians a two-goal cushion. Obinna took a pass on the left side of the area as Parkhurst fell down. Given that extra room while Wynne tried to close in on him, Obinna had little trouble beating Guzan.

The Americans finally found the back of the net in the 88th minute after Maurice Edu was taken down by Vanzekin in the penalty area. Stark awarded the Americans a penalty kick that Kljestan put away into the lower right corner.
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