When the United States’ U23 men’s national team entered the Olympic qualifying tournament, they realized that the only sensible way to measure success would be simple: to qualify. Anything other than a trip to the late games in Tokyo is considered a failure, especially after the collapse of the senior squad in 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the emergence of young Americans like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Sergino Dest playing at high Level in Europe.
With most of these high-profile, age-eligible stars unavailable for the U23 event – the clubs don’t have to approve players for either qualification or the Olympics – coach Jason Kreis relies on a group of mostly domestic players. After beating the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, the US will advance to the semi-finals against Mexico regardless of the result of their group stage final. The semi-final, in which the Americans face one of Honduras, Canada, El Salvador or Haiti, will determine which countries will reach the final and then the Olympic Games in Japan.
The low margin of error and squad rules help US men miss three of the last four Olympics, but it doesn’t change the fact that US football has missed three major events over the past two decades and has far-reaching benefits that would have gone with them. Before that disappointing period, however, the U.S. qualified for five consecutive Olympics, a stretch limited by a magical run in 2000 that saw the Americans take an unlikely journey into the medal rounds – by far the team’s best to date USA in an Olympic tournament.
The 2000 team consisted of several players who would later become, and in many cases remain, the most influential figures in American football. This is the story of this team’s pursuit of Olympic glory, in their own words.
Individuals are identified based on their position, age, and club team or role at the time of the 2000 Olympics, as well as their current or current professional role. Citations have been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.
In 1996, Clive Charles was named a US Under23 coach, with a view to the 2000 Sydney Games. At the time, he was a respected coach of the University of Portland’s men’s and women’s teams and served as assistant to Steve Sampson, then head coach of the US men’s national team. Charles, an Englishman who began his career at West Ham United in 1970, moved to the United States in 1978 to play for the Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League.
US men’s U-23 coach Jason Kreis examines the condition of his squad at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
Hired John Ellinger as his assistant coach and Peter Mellor as his goalkeeping coach, Charles spent the years leading up to the Olympics coaching various groups and competing around the world. When qualifying arrived in April 2000, the team’s core group had been playing together for years. The confidence was high.
CONCACAF Olympic qualification tournament
John Ellinger, assistant coach | Technical Director of the Football Association of Colombia: We qualified with what we thought was a great squad in Hershey, Pennsylvania of all places. We knew we had to get to the finals to get to the Olympics. Christian Pulisic’s father, Mark, was the coach at Lebanon Valley College nearby, and that’s where we did our training.
Ben Olsen, midfielder, 23, D. C. United | Former Head Coach, D. C. United (2010-20): I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. What do you mean by the Hershey Olympic qualifiers? That’s 10 minutes from my house. That makes no sense. That personally brought a lot of hoopla and many extra layers, which was already an intense event.
Chris Albright, Forward, 21, D. C. United | Technical Director, Philadelphia Union: The whole tournament was outrageous because my family drove an hour and a half from Philly to Hershey. I could have had 100 people there myself. We were in Ben’s backyard. The feeling of the whole hometown around an international event was a really wild dynamic.
Brian Dunseth, center-back, 23, New England Revolution | TV analyst Real Salt Lake: It was amazing for me because my family is Hershey and my grandmother is Hershey.
In the opening game, the USA beat Honduras 3-0, with goals from Albright (2) and John Thorrington. In the second game, Tim Howard stayed clean in a goalless draw with Canada to advance to the semi-finals against Guatemala, where victory would secure a place at the Olympics.
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Chad McCarty, center-back, 22, Tampa Bay Mutiny | Men’s Chief Football Coach, Clovis, Calif. Community College: We didn’t really have professional football when we were growing up. It wasn’t a goal of mine. I started playing soccer in ODP [Olympic Development Program] with the idea of representing our country at the Olympic Games. Personally, I remember being so excited and scared, but also confident and happy that we were here. We had to overcome this last hurdle and unbelievably qualify for the Olympic Games.
John O’Brien, midfielder, 23, Ajax | Clinical Psychologist: The other semi-final with Mexico took place before us, and that went into overtime. We’re just very nervous because I remember Mexico losing to Honduras and they were so close to the Olympics, but it’s just a game. You should go. So I remember we had to wait longer in the locker room. So we’re all pent up and just super energetic and nervous.
Albright: It was over in the first 12 minutes.
O’Brien: I scored the first goal [46 seconds into the game]. The ball was knocked out and bounced well around the 18 yard line for me. I just crushed it with my left foot. Destroyed it. And I remember [then-full U.S. men’s national team coach] Bruce Arena was right behind the gate and I spoke to Bruce about it afterwards. He says, “I saw this go up and down for you.”
Landon Donovan, striker, 18, Bayer Leverkusen | Head Coach, San Diego Loyal: That was a real challenge for me. It was a big step to play with real professionals who were professionals every day. I’ve had a number of great experiences with the team and probably the best – or the one that really cemented my chance – was qualifying at Hershey. I scored two goals against Guatemala in the game we qualified and I think that helped improve my standing not only with the coaches but also with the group. They could trust that I could help.
The United States beat Guatemala 4-0 to get their ticket to Australia. “We owe this victory to the MLS,” said Charles at the time. “I don’t coach this team, I manage this team. You already know how to play.” A 2-1 loss to Honduras followed in the championship, but with the berth already secured and nothing significant, Charles switched squads.
Four and a half months before the Olympics, the players returned to their respective clubs, knowing that their form would play a role in the final line-up of the 18-man squad. The core group did not want to change, but according to the Olympic rules, three over-aged players can be used in the tournament, which would change the composition of the team. Injuries to defenders Thorrington and Steve Cherundolo kept them out of the competition.
The roster was released on August 15, about a month before the team was due to open the Olympics. Charles used the obsolescence slots to pick defenders Frankie Hejduk (Bayer Leverkusen) and Jeff Agoos (D.C. United) and midfielder Chris Armas (Chicago Fire). At 18, Donovan was the youngest player on the squad while Conor Casey, who played for Charles at the University of Portland, was the only player to make a professional debut. DaMarcus Beasley, 18, was one of the last cuts and was labeled an alternative.
After the roster was announced, Armas and Colorado Rapids goalkeepers Adin Brown suffered injuries that put them out of the mix. Charles brought on Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Friedel and LA Galaxy rookie midfielder Sasha Victorine, who won the MAC Award of the Year for UCLA for National College Player in 1999.
Brad Friedel, goalkeeper, 29, Liverpool | Sports agent, PromoEsport USA: I came home from my boat in Bonita Bay, Florida one day and there was a message from [U.S. Soccer national team coordinator] Craig Blazer. I didn’t even reply to it at first. The next day, Clive calls and says, “Fried, are you ever going to pick up the phone?” I was in Liverpool at the time and just got through the season – I was on my break. He says, “Didn’t you get Blaze’s message?” I said, “Oh yeah. But he didn’t say much. He just said to call him.” And he says, “You have to play in the Olympics. Do you want to play in the Olympics?” I said I have to call Liverpool and see if they release me. And we called Liverpool and they released me and I flew to San Diego the next day or something like that.
Sasha Victorine, midfielder, 22, LA Galaxy | Chief Solution Officer, FanThreeSixty: Clive called me and it’s one of those things that you’re devastated about not trying the first time and then getting kind of a happy kind of break. Obviously, [others] got hurt which is unfortunate – but you get a call and it’s just, wow, pretty exciting.
Donovan: I remember a time when I was back home in the off season and literally running at 7:00 a.m. every morning and saying in my head, “You’re going to the Olympics, you’re going to the Olympics.” That was such a big deal for me. It was a source of pride to create an Olympic squad.
O’Brien: In my myth of sports culture and sports culture, the Olympic Games lived more than the World Cup. I grew up in LA and we had the 1984 Olympics, we went to some events. And that impressed me from a young age; The world championship came later.
Pete Vagenas, midfielder, 22, LA Galaxy | Assistant Trainer / Technical Director, Shijiazhuang Ever Bright (China): The subject that was brought to Australia by Hershey was some kind of behind the scenes man pulling the strings. And this is Clive Charles.
All 13 people interviewed for this story spoke at length about what Charles had done for them individually and collectively. In any case, he found an almost perfect balance between when to be serious and when to keep things light. A mentor and father figure, but also a friend, he is considered one of the most respected and influential figures in US football history. Before the tournament began, Charles received devastating news.
Dunseth: He found out he had terminal cancer before we went to the Olympics and didn’t tell anyone. Only his family knew. He was the best coach I’ve ever had. I named my second boy Micah Clive after him because he was so important.
Friedel: I was aware, but it was because we worked with the senior team. So it wasn’t anything that was ever said to any of the other players. Never. Maybe I was one of them, I don’t know. I can not remember. But I was asked not to say a word and I did not say a word.
Jeff Agoos, Defense Attorney, 32, D. C. United | Vice President of the Competition, MLS: I didn’t find out until long after the tournament. And when I found out, a lot of things started clicking to understand some of the things that Clive was doing.
Vagenas: It’s just as big, if not bigger, than anything that happened on the field … we were so young. It’s even more remarkable now to think back to what Clive and his family went through. I don’t know how we would have dealt with our trainer when we were kids.
O’Brien: Just a legend, man. For me as a young professional in Europe there was a way he approached me so that I could connect with him who had a professional career in England. So for me there was something that felt understood. And I wonder if more people just felt this from him. He could feel people and just understand them. That was just very, very nice and appreciated. I think he made me feel like I could somehow be me and do my thing.
Donovan: He was really special. Now, as the manager of a team, if I can have that kind of influence over a player, none of the others matters. The results don’t matter. The way he influenced people was really special.
Alexi Lalas, TV analyst at NBC Sports Olympics | Football analyst Fox Sports: This is perfect for you, and whatever he went through, he realized that this was the moment for these players. And he didn’t want to do anything that would take something away from it. And the man was humble until the end.
Charles studied prostate cancer until his death in 2003, and in his senior season coached the University of Portland women’s team to the NCAA title in 2002.
The format of a 16-team Olympic football tournament doesn’t fit the window between the opening and closing ceremonies and requires more large venues than Sydney, where the games were held. As a result, the men’s soccer tournament began on September 13, two days before the opening ceremony, and the US team began in Canberra, about 175 miles from Sydney.
Dunseth: So we landed in Sydney, took a three hour bus ride to Canberra, the capital, and went to the US embassy. Jackie Chan’s parents worked there, so the staff took us upstairs and Jackie Chan had his little karate training room. We saw that, it was unbelievable.
Olsen: I remember Canberra that there was a casino. We just couldn’t believe we were at the Olympics and that they would put us in a hotel with a casino on the first floor. I think it took us about 20 minutes to toss our first $ 100 on the roulette table. We put our bags in the rooms and went straight down and started playing. It was that type of occupation.
Josh Wolff, forward, 23, Chicago Fire | Head Coach, Austin FC: You enjoy yourself outside of the field and work in the field. And the casino is just a whole different level of entertainment because who doesn’t like a casino?
Agoos: Josh had this very interesting theory about how to play roulette. His theory was that when he loses, he only doubles until he wins. And then, over time, based on that theory, he would gain more than lose.
Albright: It was a significant crowd of us, half the Olympic team or more. I think we were getting a daily rate or something at the time, so we had cash. We are all professionals, right? We also went to the Olympics in Australia and said, “Yeah, whatever.” And we’d say, “OK, $ 25 on red.” If it hit black, we’d bet $ 50 on red. And if it went black, we’d bet $ 100 on red, and we just stuck to that theory.
Olsen: Many of us just followed Wolfie. He’s always been really brave with this stuff.
Donovan: It was epic. It opened my eyes because here I am, this 18 year old kid, and I think professionals go to bed early, they prepare or whatever. The boys were up so late to play roulette. And lastly, they made like five tables at a time. Go to this one and the next one was over and this one would hit so you subtract your money from this one and put it on the next one. The boys were cleaning up.
Olsen: We all started winning. We all just seemed to look at each other like, “What is this? Why are we winning?” You never win at casinos, let alone we all win. In fact, there were a lot of parents on the trip and everyone was supposed to go home right after the first lap, but then we made progress. So everyone rebooked their flights and tried to find hotels to stay on and follow this circus we were in. Anyway, many of us paid to keep our parents. I said, “Hey mom, I just made $ 1,000, stay a little, rebook your flight, I don’t care.” So the casino paid for many longer stays for our families.
Wolff: That’s 100% true, and it has been the case for many of us. Absolutely, the money we made helped keep the party going for the rest of the family, so to speak. There is no doubt about that.
Dunseth: I still have the watch I bought after turning $ 20 into $ 4,000.
Albright: We all made thousands of dollars while we were in Canberra. And we literally did that for 10 days. Every day the US Olympic team walks around here like degenerate players. It could have been very easy for Clive to say, “We shouldn’t do this. This looks bad,” even though it was legal. But he just let us be ourselves and have fun.
The United States entered Group C, with the Czech Republic runners-up at the 2000 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. Cameroon, one of four African teams; and Kuwait, one of three teams in the Asian Football Confederation. The start against the Czech Republic was delayed on tape by MSNBC.
Game 1: USA 2, Czech Republic 2
The Czech Republic did not bring any over-aged players, but had several players in the German Bundesliga and featured Marek Jankulovski, who would later win the Champions League with AC Milan. The USA took a 1-0 lead with a goal from Albright in the 21st minute and led 2-1 at halftime after Wolff had scored in the 44th minute. A penalty for the Czech Republic early in the second half equalized the result and the Americans settled on a point despite outperforming their European counterparts for most of the game.
Wolff: I remember breaking off the left side and pushing a ball in front of Albright and I scored one on the back post in a very similar fashion. The first few games of tournaments are critical. You can put a point on the board and not that it relieve the pressure on the next two games, but you put yourself in a position where you understand what is ahead of you and you can somehow control your fate. They were very good opponents and we could probably have won this game. We came up with points and felt good about it.
Albright: I remember getting excited on the front page of the Washington Post and running to the big blown corner flag. It was the Olympics, it showed the gravity of the event.
Donovan: What I remember most is that Conor Casey completely destroyed the Czech Republic in every way but he couldn’t score. He was in the form he was so good at, but he was struggling to get on the net and there was real competition on this team to get on the field when you Wolfie, Albright, me had. There was real competition in this team so this game caught my eye because I know that Conor was on the verge of going to Europe at the time and there is a lot of talk about him. And so I just remember thinking, “Holy s —, he dominates this game.”
Game 2: USA 1, Cameroon 1
Cameroon were undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in the tournament and would win the gold medal. 19-year-old striker Samuel Eto’o, who was a few years before his move to Barcelona, and Real Madrid defender Geremi, who was nominated for the Ballon d’Or earlier that year, were there. Average striker Patrick M’Boma scored the first goal in the 16th minute, and Vagenas responded with a penalty in the second half, one of four that he would convert in the tournament.
McCarty: They had a handful of players playing along [top European leagues] already. Notable players like guys who have already played in the biggest round in the biggest leagues in the world. But again we had a really good team that was organized defensively and we had some explosive players on the attack. I think we surprised them, I think they underestimated us, like most teams during that time.
Agoos: I remember the Cameroonian team being very noisy and wearing all kinds of bright colors when we sat across from them in the cafeteria. They loved being part of the experience and they were great to be with. We felt kind of related to Cameroon in terms of the approach to the tournament.
Albright: It should have been 4-1. We just couldn’t make the most of our chances.
O’Brien: I remember the referee coming up to us right next to Pete and saying, “You better score or you’ll lose this game.”
Vagenas: I don’t think Clive ever determined who would take punishment. I remember when the penalty kick was called I was close to John and we have a unique story. Because John and I had known each other since we were probably 15, 16 years old. … The only person I talked to was John and I think I asked him, “Do you want it?” And I think he said, “No, you got it.” And that was it. From then on, it was kind of an unspoken agreement within the team that I would be the one who needed it as long as I made it I think.
With two points from two games and Kuwait next, there was a clear path for the US men to advance in the Olympics for the first time since 1924 when the tournament was a knockout competition. By this point in the tournament, Donovan, already viewed as the future star of the national team, had not yet appeared.
Dunseth: His father went into big soccer [an online message board] and I just remember his dad filtering Clive and the coaching team for not playing Landon. It got like, “What the hell man? Why is your dad posting this s —?” It was a little subplot that happened. But we all knew he was special. He was young and physically it was a big jump.
Ellinger: I’ve known Landon since he was 15 years old. He was really worried [not playing] because we had just played our World Cup in New Zealand [with the U17s]. And then he’s still trying to earn playing time at Bayer Leverkusen. Then it happens to him at the Olympics. And so he was definitely a little embarrassed and a little upset about it. We had numerous conversations about it.
Donovan: Personally, I remember getting very frustrated because not only did I see Conor – I saw our team play well – but also felt that I could make a contribution. So I tried really hard to get on the field. In retrospect, I was just that 18 year old punk who was just – my ego took over. But I wanted to help out on the field and the team because it is also my dream to play in the Olympic Games. For some soccer players across the country, the Olympics are an afterthought. But for me it was absolutely a dream to come out on the field and play.
O’Brien: I felt like in practice [Landon] would come after me, come after players and try to make a difference, to make a mark. I felt like sometimes he tried to put pressure on me just because I was one of the better players on the team. And so it felt like there was an element like, well, keep your place, stay in your place. There is a pecking order here. He would blow that out of the water later.
Agoos: I give [Donovan] a lot of recognition in the sense that he wanted to stand up for it, because as a young player you just sit and do what you tell him. So you could see that he was very motivated to move to another room, but you have to do that. I think Clive and the tech staff handled it absolutely perfectly. You could get him to do things that came off the bench and become an important part of the team at the end of the tournament.
Game 3: USA 3, Kuwait 1
Danny Califf headed an Agoos corner in the first half and Albright scored in a second to put the Americans 2-0 ahead in the 63rd minute, but Kuwait scored their own goal in the 83rd minute. In the final minutes of the game, Donovan, coming off the bench, played Wolff on the right into space to score a 2-on-1 before Wolff rolled it back so Donovan could bury it in an open net. The goal not only sealed passage to the next round, but the US would also finish ahead of Cameroon in terms of goal difference and lead the group. “In this game, Landon Donovan wrote everything,” said Charles afterwards.
Wolff: It turned out to be an important goal as we wouldn’t play Brazil in the next game. We have Japan instead.
Ellinger: After the game, [the Kuwaiti] Guys hug all of our players [because of the United States’ role defending Kuwait during the Gulf War]. It was quite a sight, actually. You thanked them, these guys. It was crazy. I mean, they just lost, but they were just overwhelmed with emotion with what the US had done. I hate bringing politics into it, but it happened. I was there. I saw it.
Albright: Then we went back to the hotel and shared the hotel with the Spanish team. I remember going back to the lobby and we partied with our parents on one side of the lobby. I remember looking the other side and all the Spanish guys are in murderous long Gucci trench coats. Xavi (at the beginning of his legendary Barcelona career) wears a long trench coat with a bomb on his arm. … To us, [advancing in the Olympics] was the most amazing performance and they probably said, “We’ll have the Champions League when we get home.”
I just remember watching – it was like the Karate Kid. The first time Daniel-san stops by and looks like the real karate boys. You say: “Oh s —.” It was like we were just a bunch of ragged college kids trying to put down like Xavi and Xavi [Carles] Puyol. I will never forget that.
Vagenas: That would explain [Albright’s] versatile fashion choice. I think at some point he rocked a mink coat. Maybe he got it there.
Quarter-finals: USA 2 (5), Japan 2 (4)
Japan were led by Hidetoshi Nakata, who had just secured a transfer to AS Roma in Italy’s Serie A. It was an even game, with Japan taking the lead in the 30th minute before Wolff drew it in the 68th minute. Japan responded quickly and the game went into overtime after Vagenas scored from the penalty spot in the 90th minute.
O’Brien: I remember talking to Tim Howard about it. Vor dem Spiel sahen wir uns das Finale des 100-Meter-Rennens an – in unserer Umkleidekabine gibt es einen Fernseher. Das ist wie: “Geh nach Amerika, geh.” Es gab also definitiv eine Stolzsache.
Wolff: [On my goal], es fiel mir zu und ich nahm es gut – es könnte leicht abgelenkt worden sein – aber wackelte seinen Weg und wir gaben ihm einen kleinen Würfelwurf in der Ecke und weil wir alle in den Casinos spielten. Eine ziemlich logische Feier nach diesem Ziel.
Vagenas: Brad Friedel war Superman im Tor. Ich war ein Profi im ersten Jahr bei der LA Galaxy. Ich hatte gerade die UCLA verlassen, ein übermütiges junges Kind. Ich wusste nicht, was Weltklasse wirklich bedeutete, bis ich Brad Tag für Tag und seine Leistungen in diesen Spielen sah. Er hat während dieses Spiels einige unglaubliche Paraden gemacht, die uns am Leben gehalten haben.
Albright: Wenn Sie all diese Leute fragen, ist die Tatsache, dass Pete – und Pete ist einer meiner guten Freunde – unser ausgewiesener Elfmeterschütze in diesem Team war, komisch. Wenn Sie all diese Namen auflisten würden, würden Sie sagen: “Okay, Donovan wird es treffen oder Wolff wird es treffen oder O’Brien wird es treffen.” Oh, Pete wird es treffen? Dieser winzige defensive Mittelfeldspieler ist Ihr Elfmeter? Aber er war Eis, Mann. Er war Eis.
Das Spiel ging ins Elfmeterschießen, und beide Mannschaften verwandelten ihre ersten drei Schüsse, wobei Vagenas, Agoos und Donovan für die USA ein Tor erzielten. Nakata verfehlte für Japan. Wolff gab den USA eine 4-3 Führung; und Victorine wurde Fünfter mit einem 4: 4-Unentschieden.
Victorine: Clive bringt alle zusammen und sagt: “Leute, großartige Leistung. Ich vertraue jedem einzelnen von euch und ihr sagt mir, wer die fünf sind, die die Strafen nehmen wollen?” Jungs heben die Hände. Pete geht zuerst, um uns zum Laufen zu bringen, und er streckte die Hand nach mir aus, um zu sagen: “Hey, Sash, du solltest es tun.” Und ich sage: “In Ordnung.” Also hob ich meine Hand und sie setzten mich als fünften Kicker ein.
Ich glaube, ich habe bisher 30 Minuten bei den Olympischen Spielen gespielt, und Sie haben diesen Moment und bis heute denke ich, dass ich mich an jede Sekunde dieses Augenblicks erinnere, von dem Punkt an, an dem ich die Chance habe, zu Fuß zu gehen, um das Spiel zu gewinnen.
Janusz Michallik sagt, dass der US-Fußball eine Fülle von Optionen zur Verfügung hat, wenn die U23-Mannschaft mit der olympischen Qualifikation beginnt.
McCarty: Ich würde tatsächlich der sechste Kicker sein [if it had gone to sudden death]Ich war der nächste und niemand war im Stadion glücklicher als ich, als Sasha es für den Sieg weglegte. Selbst wenn ich jetzt darüber nachdenke, wie ich hier sitze und mit dir rede, Mann. Die Nerven in meinem Körper, die Aufregung, es gibt einen Aufwärtstrend. Wir sprinteten alle [to join him in the celebration]. Ich sprintete 50 Meter so schnell ich konnte. Ich glaube, wir haben Sasha an der Seite der Sechs-Yard-Box erwischt, und es war Chaos. Es war ein Hundehaufen. Wahrscheinlich das beste Fußballerlebnis, das ich je in meinem Leben hatte.
Victorine: Meine Frau – damals war sie meine Freundin – war nach Australien gereist. Und sie war bei allen Spielen dabei gewesen: Sie war bei den Spielen in Canberra und dann bei den Spielen in Melbourne. Und wir wollten für dieses Viertelfinalspiel nach Adelaide. Sie sagt: “Sollen wir gehen?” Ich sage: “Nein, ich habe noch nicht wirklich gespielt. Du gehst nach Sydney und genießt die Olympischen Spiele.” Also gehen sie nach Sydney, wir gehen nach Adelaide und dieses Spiel passiert. Ich rief meine Frau nach dem Spiel buchstäblich an und sie war so verärgert, weil ich ihr gesagt hatte, sie solle nicht gehen.
Donovan: Ich erinnere mich nur, dass die Leute langsam merkten, dass wir uns ein wenig durch das Turnier bewegten, und als Sasha dann traf, war es eine große Sache. Ich erinnere mich nur daran, dass ich zu Hause gehört habe, dass eine echte Traktion erzielt wurde.
Der Sieg bedeutete auch zum ersten Mal in diesem Turnier, dass das US-Team nach Sydney ging, wo der Rest der Olympischen Spiele stattfand. Das Team hatte bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt in Luxushotels übernachtet, war aber im olympischen Dorf in Sydney geblieben. Der Konsens war, dass es Spaß machte, das Dorf zu erleben, aber dass die Unterkünfte im Wohnheimstil nicht ideal waren.
Donovan: Das war cool für mich, weil ich von Sportlern und dem, was sie tun, so beeindruckt bin. And so when you’re walking through there, you are literally looking at the best athletes in the world in every sport walking through there. It was just sensory overload because you just couldn’t believe that you’re in the presence of these people: nobody knew who they were, but in rowing or badminton or whatever they did, they were the best in the world.
McCarty: It was chaotic. The village is wild. And for the majority of the athletes, getting to the Olympics is the goal. When they get there, they’re enjoying themselves.
Wolff: It’s a pretty wild scene to begin with. Then it’s rooms of six, seven, eight people and it’s not really one room, but it’s a small area. We were only there one night. When Clive saw that he was like, “This isn’t for us.” We had to find new lodging because again, we kept progressing [through the tournament] and didn’t really have plans yet. So we stayed there a night and then we moved into a hotel and got back to work.
Semifinal: Spain 3, United States 1
Reaching the semifinals assured the U.S. of two chances at securing a medal, but the Americans were heavy underdogs against a Spanish team that featured players primarily playing first-team soccer in La Liga. Three members of the squad, Barcelona midfielder Xavi, Barca defender Carles Puyol and Deportivo La Coruna defender Joan Capdevila would later start for Spain in its win against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final. Vagenas scored a second-half penalty, but the U.S. team didn’t register a shot on goal from open play.
McCarty: I think we went into the game thinking that over 90 minutes, anything can happen. And then the whistle blew.
Agoos: Years later, everybody would understand “tiki-taka” and the possession piece, but nobody really knew that about Spain at that time in 2000. It was just absolutely one of the most frustrating 90 minutes that I will remember, and as I look back, I do look back on that with a little bit of fondness because knowing now who was in that game and what they were doing, this was really the beginning of the surge of Spanish soccer for the next two decades.
Albright: I remember playing against Puyol because I think he was playing left-back and it was like playing against your dad when you were 11. I had never been around something like that. He was just manhandling me.
Donovan: They were just at a different level. It wasn’t even close. We were pros, we weren’t a college team anymore [like previous U.S. teams at the Olympics] and so we felt like we could compete, but they had guys playing at some of the best clubs in the world, and starting and playing all the time for their teams.
Bronze-medal match: Chile 2, United States 0
For most of the team, losing to Spain was easy to move past because the team still had an opportunity to win an Olympic medal against Chile, which was led by striker Ivan Zamorano. Zamorano was arguably the most accomplished player in the tournament, having completed a prolific goal-scoring stretch for Real Madrid (1992-96) and was then at Internazionale. The U.S. outplayed Chile for long stretches and had two good chances in the second half — Casey had a shot saved, and Dunseth hit the crossbar — before a needless challenge from Califf sent Zamorano to the penalty spot in the 70th minute. He buried it and added a second to keep the U.S. off the medal stand. “The second half, we played the best soccer we played in this tournament,” Charles said. “And all of a sudden, we’re giving away a penalty and the whole game changed.”
Donovan: That was disappointing because I accomplished a lot in my career. I was very fortunate to be a part of some really great teams, but that is one regret. I wish I could have walked away with an Olympic medal, that would have been so special.
Wolff: To this day, it’s one of the most frustrating things to not come up with a medal. The whole experience was phenomenal, but to come away with — I have that sheet of paper they sent. Congratulations on being part of the Olympics and your fourth-place finish.
Olsen: It was an incredible feat, but one that comes with a little bitterness that we weren’t able to hold the medal because you get that close. It hurts a little bit, at least personally. But the Olympics, from an enjoyment standpoint, it was the best soccer trip I’ve ever been involved in. The best tournament and the best experience I ever had as a soccer player.
Agoos: It’s one of the most important events I’ve played in with the federation. It’s different from a World Cup. It’s different from anything in CONCACAF. You’re around other athletes; you represent your country. When I tell my neighbors today that I play in the Olympics, they can’t believe it. But if I tell them I played in the World Cup, they’re like, “Oh, that’s nice.”
Vagenas: It’s funny, because I have a 12-year-old son, who was not alive then, but does know that his dad played in the Olympics and was an Olympian. But whenever it’s brought up or mentioned to him, that’s definitely the bomb. That’s the measuring stick for him. “You didn’t win a medal so it doesn’t really count,” is what I hear from him.
Ellinger: To this day, most of those guys feel that’s the best soccer experience of their life. I feel the same way and I’ve been to the World Championships with the U17s three times.
The performance stands as one of best ever by American men at any level and helped propel several members of the team forward with the national team. In the first game of the 2002 World Cup against Portugal, six members of the group — Agoos, Friedel, Hejduk, Donovan, O’Brien and Beasley, an alternate who participated in Olympic qualifying — started. Of the 18 players who went to Australia, 16 earned at least one cap for the full national team in their careers and nine made final World Cup rosters.