The US Olympic Soccer team was less than a minute away from pulling off the upset of the tournament this morning. The team took a 2-1 lead over the Netherlands into second half stoppage time, but had their dream of victory cut short when Gerald Sibon scored less than a minute before the final whistle was blown.
The Dutch, two-time defending European U-21 champions and early medal favorites, jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Liverpool winger Ryan Babel scored in the 16th minute.
After the goal, the Americans continued to press forward and had the better of the chances heading into the locker room at halftime. The scoreline, still at 1-0, did not reflect the change in momentum.
The US team came out very aggressively in the second half, with midfielder Freddy Adu controlling the flow of the games. In the 64th minute, Adu set up Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan with a pass that slipped between the legs of a Dutch defender. Kljestan cut towards the goal, evading two more defenders, and put the ball past keeper Kenneth Vermeer to equalize.
Amidst the goal celebrations, Villareal striker Jozy Altidore came on for MLS player Robbie Rogers. Altidore soon made coach Peter Nowak look like a genius, scoring in the 72nd minute, a mere seven minutes after his introduction.
The ball was knocking around the Dutch penalty area when it fell to Michael Orozco. Orozco, who plays for San Luis FC in the Mexican First Division, fired a cross that glanced off of Altidore and found the back of the net.
Dutch fans, many of whom were probably still in shock from their surprising exit from Euro 2008, went silent. Their team was heavily favored to win the group, and was in danger of being left with only a single point from their first two games.
The US, on the other hand, was tipped to finish third and completely miss the quarterfinals. A victory would have ensured that they advance. Not only that, but it probably would have put the Dutch out of the tournament. The Netherlands would have needed to beat Japan, hope the US would be able to beat Nigeria, AND the Dutch would still need to find a better goal differential than the Nigerians to advance.
Realizing their predicament, the Netherlands made a quick substitution. Roy Makaay and Gerald Sibon, each one of the three overage players each team is allowed, came on in the 75th minute. Makaay was not even expected to play, but his offensive prowess was needed.
Despite the subs, it looked like the US would hang on for the win. They nearly increased their lead through Altidore again, when he was played through into the box. Only a great save from Vermeer kept the game close.
The missed opportunities came back to haunt the United States when midfielder Stuart Holden, the hero against Japan, earned a yellow card with a foul 20 yards from the US goal. Gerald Sibon stepped up to take the free kick in the final minute of stoppage time, and blasted it underneath a jumping wall, past Brad Guzan, and into the back of the net.
Shortly after, the final whistle blew with the score standing at 2-2.
Still, a draw helps the Americans more than it helps the Dutch. The Netherlands are still left needing to win their final game, and hope that the US can beat Nigeria to advance. All the US must do to advance is beat or tie Nigeria.
A victory may be a tall order, as Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley will miss the next match because of an accumulation of yellow cards. But with the confidence gained from their performance against the Dutch, the US team is hopeful of advancing out of what may be one of the toughest groups in the tournament.
The US team, composed of mostly current and former MLS players, has represented itself well in Beijing. After shutting out Japan in their opening game, they outplayed the Netherlands for the majority of game number two. They take on Nigeria on Wednesday, August 13th live at 5AM eastern time.