'Momentum is building'
No Olympic medal, but young Americans climbingPosted: Saturday September 30, 2000 3:28 PM
Updated: Tuesday November 14, 2000 9:53 AM
SYDNEY, Australia (CNNSI.com) -- The Americans were a long shot coming in. And although they didn't win a medal, Clive Charles' young squad finished fourth, the Americans' best performance ever.
The team won its first-round group and a quarterfinal penalty shootout against favored Japan before back-to-back losses in the medal round.
"A couple of months ago, if someone had said we were going to be in Sydney playing for a bronze medal, we'd have been excited," Charles said. "We weren't expected to get out of our group. We won our group, then we celebrated for 24 hours, congratulating each other. We did the same again after winning the quarterfinal."
But hoping for a medal was hoping too much. Charles' team was beaten handily 3-1 by Spain in the semifinals and 2-0 by Chile in the bronze medal game.
Yet Charles will be the first to point out the surprising first-round results: a 2-2 tie with the European Under-21 runner-up team from the Czech Republic and a 1-1 tie with eventual gold medalist Cameroon. The Americans scored eight goals in their six games, with Pete Vagenas getting three goals and Chris Albright and Josh Wolff two apiece.
Those results and statistics didn't surprise Charles, and he feels it's time the people back home take notice, too.
"People look at the U.S. and think we're a basketball nation or a football nation," he said. "Our national men's team has beaten Germany twice and beaten Brazil. I've been saying all along that North America is loaded with good quality soccer players, now other people are going to be able to see it."
With the exception of three overage players allowed by the competition rules -- goalkeeper Brad Friedel (29), defender Jeff Agoos (32) and midfielder Frankie Hejduk (26) -- the players were age 23 or under and will form the basis of a future World Cup team.
"For this team in particular, it's the last time they're going to play," Charles said. "Hopefully some of the players that have been here for the last month will get the opportunity to move up and play with our World Cup team at some point.
"The momentum is building underneath this team. This team is no more, and it's these individuals from this team that now have to go on."
The tournament, which drew 98,212 to the Olympic Stadium for the Cameroon-Spain final, had some strange twists and turns.
The host Australians were hoping to reach the quarterfinals, but lost all three matches and went out early. Brazil and Italy were the pre-tournament favorites, but didn't make the final four -- the Brazilians lost to Cameroon and Italy was ousted by Spain.
Saturday's final went to a penalty shootout for the first time in Olympic history, with Cameroon prevailing 5-3 after the teams were tied 2-2 after overtime.
It was Cameroon's first Olympic gold medal ever, and the Indomitable Lions' triumph kept the Olympic soccer title in Africa following Nigeria's gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.
"To win the Olympic gold medal is absolutely wonderful," Cameroon coach Jean-Paul Akono said. "I think this a motivational development not just for Cameroon but for African soccer. I don't think we are very far from [winning] a World Cup in a few years from now.'
The Associated Press contributed to this report.