CARSON, Calif. – The mood surrounding American soccer circles in the wake of Mexico’s 2-1 Olympic gold medal winning victory over Brazil on Saturday ranged from anguish to jubilation, frustration to anger, but for two members of the LA Galaxy, the match provided only motivation.
Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens was on the U.S. Under-23 squad that defeated the Mexican U-23s in March -- a team that contained many of the same players that went on to win the gold medal for Mexico -- as well as the roster for CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games. After a fast start to Olympic qualifying, a pair of disappointing results ultimately led to the Americans ouster from Olympic contention.
While the sting of missing out on the Olympics has long since passed for Stephens, the 23-year-old midfielder admits that watching Mexico win gold has provided motivation for himself and the rest of U.S. Soccer.
“Absolutely, if you watch those teams, those are really good teams. It’s true that the U.S. is always competing with and those [Olympic players] are the guys that are going to coming onto the full team so it’s a wake-up call to the U.S. for sure,” said Stephens after Galaxy training on Saturday. “I think that anyone that and see players that are in the same age bracket as that and see players that are the same age as them, they’re always going to want to get better and get to that level. I’m no different.”
Stephens’ dream of the Olympics may never come true, but for his teammate forward Jack McBean, the dream is just beginning.
Having spent considerable time in the U.S. youth set up at the Under-17 and Under-20 levels, the 17-year-old may play a role for the Americans as they look to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Qualification for that tournament is not for another four years—when McBean will be 21— but the young forward is already thinking about helping the U.S. qualify for the Olympics.
“I know that [players born in 1994; like McBean] are the next oldest cycle for the Olympics and to be on that team would be a big honor,” McBean said Saturday. “It is motivation to feel that atmosphere and see the stadium filled with fans. It’d be really cool to play in.”
Although Mexico is providing a stiff test for the Americans and the rest of CONCACAF, the young McBean is optimistic that the U.S. can catch up to their archrivals.
“[Mexico] is just getting better and better. They’re doing all the things right. And obviously, they won the U-17s and finished third in the U-20s so they’ve been at the top of all the recent youth tournaments,” admitted McBean. “But we’re not far off so we just have to keep working hard and we’ll be up there…It is slowly getting better, but it’s definitely coming up.”