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Still in the clouds before semifinal

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Latest: Monday September 25, 2000 05:50 PM


Midfielder John O'Brien is a key member of the U.S. men's Olympic soccer team, which headed Down Under hoping and did what it had ever done: make it out of the first round alive. Then it went a step further, and advanced to the semifinals with a dramatic win over Japan.

O'Brien, 23, left California at age 17 to develop in Ajax Amsterdam's famed youth program. He is now a member of the first team at Ajax and has earned a spot in the full U.S. national team side during World Cup qualifying.

Check in with O'Brien on throughout the Olympics.

September 25, 2000
Sydney, Australia

Will there be a letdown in the semifinal, after such hard-fought match against Japan and such a jubilant post-game celebration?

With two nights separating us from our last victory, the feeling still lingers. We have now done our normal pre-game analysis of our semifinal opponent, Spain, and we are all settling down into our rooms. It's been a hectic two days since our game. First, we left Adelaide to arrive about an hour after sundown in the Olympic Village.

We found our way to our mobile sleeping homes for the night, which gave the feeling of a cheap dormitory, ate at the cafeteria, eyes wandering in curiosity and admiration at all the athletes -- fork to mouth, fork to mouth -- not even a glance down at our plates until the sound of silverware metal on styrofoam plates let us know we were finished.

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Since then, we have settled into a hotel. The village life is a good one, but it takes some getting used to, and with Spain around the corner we need peace.

We trained at a local high school and afterwards the unlucky few had press obligations -- standing, walking, answering questions, meeting officials -- a little different than pressing a few keys in the comfort of a hotel room, tall dark at my side (coffee).

Describe the Japan game itself. What went right? Wrong?

"What a game" kept going through my head after the mayhem settled -- to come back from down twice, and so late in the game. With the momentum swinging our way, then theirs, then ours, then... Chances each way, big saves by the goalies.

The Japanese were too distraught to talk on the field but once back at the hotel, having partially dealt with the game, the mutual respect started to show. Olympics are about competition -- competing against the best in your discipline. Trying to outwit or outplay them, each opponent developing their skills differently in the way most fit for them to succeed. Seems trivial, but with the hype fog flowing in, I'd forgotten the blue sky behind it.

Listen to me -- my head is still in the clouds. Well, one night to clear it. Four teams, 3 medals on the line.


--jjjjjohn O'Brien

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