When the Dutch Under-23 team began their Olympic qualifying tournament, they did so knowing that the only meaningful way to measure success would be simple: qualification. Anything less than a postponed appearance at the Tokyo Games would be considered a failure, especially after the senior team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and while young Americans like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKenney, Tyler Adams and Sergino Dest are playing at a high level in Europe.
Because most of these top players are not available for U23 matches (clubs are not obliged to release players for qualification or the Olympics), coach Jason Kreis relies on a group of local players. With victories over the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, the United States is through to the semi-finals, regardless of the outcome of their group final against Mexico. The semi-finals, in which the Americans will face Honduras, Canada, El Salvador and Haiti, will decide which countries will qualify for the final and then Japan.
A small lack of mistakes and selection rules are factors in why Americans have missed three of the last four Olympics, but that doesn’t change the fact that American soccer has missed three major events in the last two decades, and the huge benefits they could have had. Before that disappointing period, however, the United States had qualified for five consecutive Olympics, culminating in a magical run in 2000 when the Americans made an improbable trip to the medal round – Team USA is currently the best team in Olympic tournament history.
The 2000 team featured several players who went on to become some of the most influential figures in American football – and in many cases still are. This is the story of this team’s quest for Olympic glory, in their own words.
Individuals are identified by their position, age and role in the team or club at the time of the 2000 Olympics, as well as their current or most recent professional role. The quotes have been slightly modified for clarity.
In 1996, Clive Charles was named U.S. U23 coach for the 2000 Sydney Games. At the time, he was a respected men’s and women’s coach at Portland State University and an assistant to then-American men’s national team head coach Steve Sampson. The Englishman, who began his career with West Ham United in 1970, moved to the United States in 1978 to play for the Portland Timbers in the North American Football League.
Janusz Michalik says U.S. football players have plenty of options as Olympic qualifying begins.
Charles hired John Ellinger as assistant coach and Peter Mellor as goalie, and spent the years leading up to the Olympics with various groups to train and play games around the world. At the time of the qualifying matches in April 2000, the core of the team had been playing together for years. The trust was great.
CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament
John Ellinger, Assistant Coach | Technical Director, Colombian Football Federation We qualified with a team we thought was great, including Hershey, PA. We knew we had to make the final to qualify for the Olympics. Christian Pulisic’s father, Mark, coached at nearby Lebanon Valley College, and that’s where we trained.
Ben Olsen, midfielder, 23, DC, United | Former head coach, DC, United (2010-20): I couldn’t believe it when I heard. What does Hershey’s Olympic qualification mean? It’s only 10 minutes from my house. It doesn’t make sense. For me personally, it added a lot of noise and a lot of extra layers to what was already an intense event.
Chris Albright, striker, 21, O.C. United | Technical Director, Philadelphia Union: So the whole tournament was a scandal, because my family drove an hour and a half from Philadelphia to Hershey. There must have been about 100 people there. We were in Ben’s garden. The whole city feels that this is an international event with a really wild dynamic.
Brian Dunseth, center, 23, New England Revolution | TV analyst, Real Salt Lake It was great for me because my family is Hershey, my grandmother is Hershey.
The US defeated Honduras 3-0 in the first game, with goals from Albright (2) and John Torrington. In the second game, Tim Howard defeated Canada to advance to the semifinals against Guatemala, where a win would guarantee him a spot at the Olympics.
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Chad McCarthy, center back, 22, Tampa Bay | Men’s soccer head coach, Clovis (Calif.) Community College: When I was growing up, we didn’t have professional football. That wasn’t my goal. I started playing competitive soccer through the ODP [Olympic Development Program] with the idea of representing our country at the Olympics. Personally, I remember being so excited and scared, but also confident and happy that we’re here, that we just have to get over the last hurdle and, incredibly, that we qualify for the Olympics.
John O’Brien, midfielder, age 23, Ajax | Clinical Psychologist: The other semifinal, with Mexico, took place before ours and went on and on. We are very nervous because I remember when Mexico lost to Honduras, who were so close to the Olympics, but that’s just one game. You have to leave. So I remember we had to wait longer in the locker room. So we’re all excited and super excited and nervous.
Albright: It all came down to the first 12 minutes.
O’Brien: I scored the first goal [46 seconds into the game]. The ball bounced and jumped well over the 18 yard line for me. I just crushed it with my left foot. Broken. And I remember Bruce Arena, then the U.S. national team coach, was on it, and I talked to Bruce about it. I’ve seen it jumping around for you.
Landon Donovan, striker, 18, Bayer Leverkusen | Head Coach, San Diego Loyal: It was a real challenge for me. Playing with real pros who were pros every day was a big step forward. I had a lot of good experiences with the team, and the best one – or the one that really confirmed my chances of being on the team – was probably qualifying in Hershey. I scored two goals against Guatemala in the qualifying match and I think that helped to strengthen my position, not only with the coaches but also in the group. You may think I have something to contribute.
The US beat Guatemala 4-0 to book their ticket to Australia. We owe this win to MLS, Charles said at the time. I’m not the coach of this team, I’m the manager of this team. You already know how to play. A 2-1 defeat against Honduras followed in the league, but with a place already secured and nothing at stake, Charles turned the team around.
The U.S. lost to Honduras to qualify for the CONCACAF championship, but Landon Donovan and his teammates had already qualified for the 2000 Olympics. Tony Quinn.
Four and a half months before the Olympics, the players returned to their clubs, knowing their jerseys would play a part in the final 18-man squad. The main group did not plan to change teams, but Olympic rules allow three older players to participate in the tournament, which would change the composition of the team. Injuries to defenders Torrington and Steve Cherendolo kept them out of the game.
The 15th. In August, about a month before the opening of the Olympics, the team was released. Charles selected defenders Frankie Hayduk (Bayer Leverkusen) and Jeff Agus (D.C. United) and midfielder Chris Armas (Chicago Fire) in the overage. Donovan was the youngest player on the team at 18, while Conor Casey, who played for Charles at Portland State University, was the only player who had yet to make his pro debut. DaMarcus Beasley, 18, was part of the final squad and was named a substitute.
After the team was announced, Armas and Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Adin Brown were injured, leaving them out of action. So Charles brought in Brad Friedel, the Liverpool goalkeeper, and Sasha Victorin, the new Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder who won the MAC National College Player of the Year Award for UCLA in 1999.
Deadline for men’s football
|Olympic qualification||March 18-30|
|Friendly v. N. Ireland||28. March.|
|Friendly match against Switzerland||30. May|
|League of Nations||June 3-6|
|Gold Cup||July (dates to be determined)|
|Olympic Games||21. July – 7. August|
|World Cup Qualifying Round||September to March 22nd.|
|2022 Football World Cup||21. November – 18. December 22|
Brad Friedel, goalie, 29, Liverpool | Sports Agent, PromoEsport USA : One day I came back to my boat in Bonita Bay, Florida, and there was a message from [U.S. national football team coordinator] Craig Blazer. I didn’t answer at first. The next day, Clive calls and says: Fried, you ever answer the phone? I was at Liverpool at the time and had just finished the season – I had a break. He’s leaving. Didn’t you get Blaze’s message? I said: Oh, yeah. But he didn’t say much. He told me to call him. And he says, I need you for the Olympics. Do you want to compete in the Olympics? I said I’d have to call Liverpool to see if they’d let me go. We called Liverpool, and they let me go, and I flew to San Diego the next day, or something.
Sasha Victorin, midfielder, 22, Los Angeles Galaxy | Director of Solutions, FanThreeSixty: Clive called me, and it’s one of those things where you’re devastated because you don’t make it to the first round, and then you get a little lucky. Of course, [others] got hurt, which is unfortunate…. but you get a phone call and it’s just, wow, pretty exciting.
Donovan: I remember a time when I came home in the off-season and literally went running at 7am every morning, thinking in my head: You’re going to the Olympics, you’re going to the Olympics. It was so important to me. It was such a source of pride to be part of the Olympic team.
O’Brien: In the myth of sports culture and sport, the Olympics have lived longer than the World Cup. I grew up in Los Angeles, we had the Olympics in 1984, we went to a few games. And that impressed me at a young age; the World Cup came later.
Pete Vagenas, midfielder, 22, Los Angeles Galaxy | Assistant Coach/Technical Director, Shijiazhuang Ever Bright (China): The problem that somehow arises from Hershey to Australia is the man pulling the strings behind the scenes. And this is Clive Charles.
The 13 people interviewed for this article spoke enthusiastically and in detail about what Charles has done for them, individually and collectively. It is clear that he has struck an almost perfect balance between seriousness and moderation. He was not only a mentor and father, but also a friend and will be remembered as one of the most respected and influential figures in American football history. Before the tournament began, Charles received devastating news.
Dunset: He found out he had terminal cancer before we left for the Olympics and didn’t tell anyone. Only his family knew. He was the best coach I ever had. I even named my second son Micah Clive after him because he was so important.
Clive Charles led the United States to the medal round of the 2000 Olympics shortly after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Tony Quinn.
Friedel: I knew that, but it was because we were working with the senior team. So it’s not something that’s been said to other players before. Never. Maybe I was one of them, I don’t know. I don’t remember. But I was asked not to say a word, and I did not say a word.
Jeff Agoos, defender, 32, DC, VP of League, MLS: I only found out when the tournament was already over. And when I discovered that, many things fell into place to understand Clive’s work.
Vagens: It’s as much, if not more, than what happened on the field…. we were so young. It is even more remarkable now to think of what Clive and his family went through. I don’t know how we would have handled our coach as kids.
O’Brien: He’s a legend, man. For me, as a young professional in Europe, he approached me in a way that allowed me to connect with him because he had a professional career in England. So there was something that made sense to me. And I wonder if other people thought the same about him. He could sense and understand people. So it was very, very nice and appreciated. I think it made me feel like I could be myself and do my own thing.
Donovan: It was really something. Now, as a team manager, if I can exert that kind of influence on one player, none of the others will ….. It doesn’t matter. The results don’t matter. The way he touched people was really special.
Alexi Lalas, television analyst, NBC Sports Olympics | football analyst, Fox Sports That’s the perfect Clive for you, and whatever he went through, he understood that it was the right time for these players. And he didn’t want to do anything that would take anything away from her. And the man remained humble until the end.
Charles battled prostate cancer until his death in 2003. In his final season, he coached Portland State University’s women’s team to the 2002 NCAA title.
The format of the Olympic football tournament with 16 teams does not fit between the opening and closing ceremonies and requires larger venues than those in Sydney, where the Games were held. Consequently, the men’s soccer tournament began on September 13, two days before the opening ceremony, with the U.S. team starting in Canberra, about 175 miles from Sydney.
Dunset: So we landed in Sydney, took a three-hour bus ride to Canberra, the capital, and drove to the American Embassy. Jackie Chan’s parents worked there, so the staff took us upstairs and Jackie Chan had his little karate training room. So we got to see it, it was great.
Olsen: The only thing I remember about Canberra is that there was a casino. We couldn’t believe we were at the Olympics and they were putting us up in a hotel with a casino on the ground floor. I think it took us 20 minutes to cash in our first $100 at the roulette table. We got our bags out of the rooms, went downstairs and started playing. It was that kind of team.
Josh Wolfe, 23, Chicago Fire | Head Coach, Austin FC They like to go outside and work in the field. And casinos are a whole other level of entertainment, because who doesn’t love casinos?
Agoos: Josh had a very interesting theory on how to play roulette. His theory was that if he lost, he would double up until he won. And over time, based on this theory, he will gain more than he will lose.
Albright: There were a lot of us, about half of an Olympic team or more. I think we had a per diem or something at the time, so we had money. We’re all professionals, right? Plus, we were in Australia for the Olympics and we were kind of, yeah, whatever. And we’re $25 in the red. If he had gone black, we would have put $50 on red. And if it went black, we put $100 on red, and stuck to that theory.
Olsen: Many of us have followed Wolfie. He’s always been very bold with this thing.
Donovan: It was epic. It was very educational for me, because I was there, an 18-year-old, and I think the pros go to bed early, they prepare or something. The boys stayed up so late playing roulette. And to top it off, they made five tables at once. You go to one of them and the next one was ready and this one was going to strike, so you take your money from one and put it on the next one. The boys were cleaning up.
Olsen: We all started winning. We all seemed to be looking at each other like ….. What is it? Why are we winning? You never win at the casino, let alone all of us. In fact, many parents had to go straight home after the first round, but it continued. So everyone has been rebooking and trying to find hotels to stay in and keep up with this circus we’re in. One way or another, many of us paid for our parents to stay. I said: Hey mom, I just won a thousand dollars, stay a little longer, change your flight, I don’t care. So the casino paid for many long trips for our families.
Wolf: This is 100% true and has been the case for many of us. The money we made certainly helped keep the party going for the rest of the family, so to speak. I have no doubt.
Dunset: I still have the watch I bought after I changed $20 to $4000.
Albright: We all made a few thousand dollars by staying in Canberra. And we did that for literally 10 days. Every day the US Olympic team runs around here like degenerate gamblers. It would have been very easy for Clive, we shouldn’t have done it. It doesn’t look good, even if it was legal. But he just let us be ourselves and have fun.
The United States was placed in Group C, while the Czech Republic finished second in Europe at the 2000 European Under-21 Championship. Cameroon was one of four African teams and Kuwait one of three teams in the Asian Football Confederation. The start of the game against the Czech Republic was delayed on MSNBC.
Game 1: United States 2, Czech Republic 2
In the first game of the Olympic tournament, the United States drew with the Czech Republic (2-2). Mark Deadswell/ALLSPORT/Getty Images
There were no overweight players in the Czech Republic, but there were plenty in the German Bundesliga, and Marek Jankulovski, who later won the Champions League with Milan, played there. The US took the lead after an Albright goal in the 21st minute. They took a 1-0 lead in the 44th minute and led 2-1 at halftime after a goal by Wolff in the 44th minute. Minutes scored. A Czech Republic penalty kick early in the second half resulted in the equalizer, and the Americans had to settle for a point despite playing better than their European counterparts for much of the match.
Wolf: I remember breaking through on the left and sliding the ball to Albright, who scored at the back line the same way. The first games of the tournament are crucial. You can put a point on the board and it doesn’t take the pressure off the next two games, but you put yourself in a position where you know what’s going to happen, and you can control your destiny to some extent. They were a very good opponent and we probably could have won the game. We made glasses, and we loved it.
Albright: I remember being on the front page of the Washington Post in Washington, D.C., as an elite running for the big, puffy corner flag. It was the Olympics, it showed the seriousness of the event.
Donovan: What stuck with me the most is that Conor Casey destroyed the Czech Republic in every area, but he couldn’t score. He was in a phase where he was so good, but he was struggling to hit the net and there was real competition on that team to get on the field when you had Wolfie, Albright and me. There was real competition on that team, so that match was especially important for me because I know Conor was also about to go to Europe at that time and there was a lot of talk about him. And I remember thinking, God…. He’s dominating this game.
Game 2: United States 1, Cameroon 1
Cameroon was without a doubt one of the most talented teams in the tournament and will win the gold medal. Among them are 19-year-old striker Samuel Eto’o, who has been flirting with Barcelona for several years, and Real Madrid defender Geremi, who was nominated for the Ballon d’Or this year. Overseas striker Patrick M’Boma opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Wagenas responded in the second half with a penalty kick, one of four he would convert in the tournament.
Josh Wolf scored the second goal for the U.S. in the tie with the Czech Republic. Mark Deadswell/ALLSPORT/Getty Images
McCarthy: They already had a handful of players who played in [the top European leagues]. Players marked as guys who have played in the biggest leagues in the world. But on the other hand we had a very good team, well organized in defense, and offensively we had some explosive players. I think we surprised them, I think they underestimated us, as most teams do at that point.
Agoos: I remember the Cameroonian team being very loud, dressed in all sorts of bright colours, when we sat opposite them in the canteen. They enjoyed being a part of the experience and were happy to be there. With Cameroon we felt a kind of kinship in the way they approached the tournament.
Albright: It should be four to one. We just couldn’t finish our chances.
O’Brien: I remember the referee coming up to Pete and saying: You better score or you’ll lose the game.
Vagens: I don’t think Clive ever decided who should be punished. I remember being good friends with John and we have a unique history together when the penalty box was called. Because John and I have known each other since we were 15 or 16. … The only person I spoke to was John, and I think I asked him: Is that what you want? And I think he said: No, you got it. And that’s it. From then on, it was kind of an unspoken agreement within the team that I would be the one to take them, as long as I did them, I guess.
Despite their dominance, the US played out a 1-1 draw against a very talented Cameroonian team. Duchamp Vranjic/AP Photo
With two points from two games and Kuwait as their next opponent, the way was clear for the Americans to compete in the Olympics for the first time since 1924, when the tournament was still a knockout competition. Donovan, who was already being touted as a future star of the national team, had not yet participated in the tournament.
Dunset: His dad used to play Big Football [online forum] and I remember his dad complaining to Clive and the coaching staff about Landon not playing. It’s become a bit like… What the…, man? Why did your father post this… ? It was a small subgroup. But we all knew he was special. He was young and physically it was a big jump.
Ellinger: I’ve known Landon since I was 15. He was very concerned [about not playing] because we had just played in the World Cup in New Zealand [with the U17s]. And he’s still trying to earn playing time at Bayer Leverkusen. Then it will happen to him at the Olympics. And so he was definitely a little confused and a little bewildered by that. We’ve talked about this several times.
Donovan: Personally, I remember being very frustrated because I wasn’t just watching Conor – I was watching our team play well – but I felt like I could contribute something. So I really made an effort to get there. Looking back, I was just an 18-year-old punk who only ….. was. My ego took over. But I wanted to be on the field and help the team because it is also my dream to play in the Olympics. For some players in the country, the Olympics are just an afterthought. But for me, it was an absolute dream to be on the field and play.
O’Brien: I felt like [Landon] was bullying me in practice, on the players, trying to make changes, trying to make evaluations. I sometimes felt like he was trying to pressure me, because I was one of the best players on the team. And so we felt that there was an element of, stay in place, stay in place. There’s a pecking order here. He would blow it up later.
Landon Donovan, 18, considered himself a super-sub during the U.S. Olympics. Darrin Braybrook/ALLSPORT/Getty Images
Agoos: I give [Donovan] credit for wanting to go all the way, because as a young player you just sit back and do what you’re told. So you could tell he was very motivated to change rooms, but you have to be able to make it work. I think Clive and the technical team handled the situation perfectly. They were able to get him to do things from the bench and become an important part of the team by the end of the tournament.
Game 3: United States 3, Kuwait 1
Danny Califf scored off a corner kick from Agoos in the first half and Albright in the second to give the Americans a 2-0 lead in the 63rd. However, Kuwait scored in the 83rd minute. Minute of an own goal. In the final minutes of the game, Donovan, who came off the bench, played in space on the right side with Wolf to set up a 2-on-1, before Wolf sent the ball to the other side, where Donovan placed the ball into the open goal. Not only did the US qualify for the next round, but they also finished first in the group with a goal difference to Cameroon. This match was recorded by Landon Donovan, Charles said afterwards.
Wolf: It was an important goal because we weren’t playing Brazil in the next game. Instead, we have Japan.
Ellinger: After the game, [the Kuwaitis] hugged all our players [because of the US role in defending Kuwait during the Gulf War]. In fact, it was a beautiful sight. They thanked them, they thanked those guys. It was great. I mean, they just lost, but they were just overwhelmed by the emotion of what the United States did. I hate to bring politics into this, but it happened. I’ve been there. I saw it.
Albright: Then we went back to the hotel and shared the hotel with the Spanish team. I remember partying with my parents in the lobby, and all the Spaniards were wearing long Gucci trench coats. Xavi (at the beginning of his legendary Barcelona career) in a long coat with a bomb on his arm. … For us, [participating in the Olympics] was the biggest achievement, and it was probably comparable to what we achieved when we won the Champions League.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest developments and discuss key storylines. Streaming on ESPN+ (US only).
All I remember is that I… It was like the Karate Kid. This is the first time Daniel has seen real karatekas. They’re like… О… Like we’re just a bunch of school kids trying to destroy like Xavi and Pujol (Karl). I’ll never forget it.
Vagens: This would explain [Albright’s] eclectic fashion choices. I think he used to wear a mink coat. Maybe that’s where he got it.
Quarterfinals: United States 2 (5), Japan 2 (4)
The Japanese team is led by Hidetoshi Nakata, who has just signed for Italian Serie A club Roma. The match was balanced and Japan took the lead in the 30th minute. Wolf took the lead in the 68th minute for the equalizer. Japan responded quickly and the game went to extra time after Wagenas scored in the 90th minute. He scored from the penalty spot in the second minute.
O’Brien: I remember talking to Tim Howard about this. Before the race we watched the 100m final – we have a TV in the locker room. It’s like go to America, go. So there was a certain pride.
Wolf: [on the head], it fell on me and I put it away well – it was maybe deflected a little bit – but it wobbled, and we rolled the dice a little bit in the corner because we were all playing casino. A rather logical celebration after that goal.
Sasha Victorin scored the decisive penalty in the USA’s quarterfinal against Japan. David J. Phillip/AP Photo
Vagens: Brad Friedel was Superman in goal. I was a first-year pro at LA Galaxy. I had just left UCLA, I was an arrogant young man, I didn’t really understand what world class meant until I saw Brad day in and day out and his performance in those games. He made some incredible saves in that match that kept us alive.
Albright: If you ask all these guys, the fact that Pete – and Pete is a good friend of mine – was our designated penalty taker on this team is hilarious. If you were to list all these names, you would say: Okay, well, Donovan is going to hit, or Wolfe is going to hit, or O’Brien is going to hit. Oh, Pete’s getting involved? Is the little defensive midfielder your penalty taker? But he was stone cold, man. He was as cold as ice.
The game went to penalty kicks, and both teams took their first three shots. Wagenas, Agoos and Donovan scored for the U.S., Nakata missed for Japan, Wolff put the U.S. ahead 4-3 and Quizrin made it 4-4 in the fifth.
Quiz: Clive got everyone together and did a great job. I trust each of you, and you tell me which of the five will get the punishment? The boys raise their hands. Pete goes first and gives me his hand: Hey, Sash, you gotta do this. And I say: Okay. So I raised my hand, and they put me as the fifth shooter.
I think I played about 30 minutes in the Olympics, and then that moment comes, and I think to this day I remember every second of that moment, that moment when I have a chance to come in and win the game.
McCarthy: I was supposed to be the sixth shooter, I was next, and no one in the stadium was happier than I was when Sasha snuck the ball in to win. I just thought I’d sit here and talk to you, man. The nerves in my body, the excitement, the wave. We all ran [to him at the party]. I ran 50 yards as fast as I could, I think we caught Sasha on the side of the six yard box and it was chaos. It was a dog turd. Probably the best football experience of my life.
Quiz: My wife – she was my friend at the time – went to Australia. And she attended all the games: She competed in Canberra and then Melbourne. And we were going to go to Adelaide for this quarterfinal match. She asks: Shall we go? I say, no, I haven’t played yet. If you go to Sydney, enjoy the Olympics. So they go to Sydney, we go to Adelaide and the game is on. I literally called my wife after the game and told her she was upset because I told her not to go.
Donovan: I remember people starting to realize we were making progress in the tournament, and when Sasha scored, it was a huge event. So I remember it being like a real trek home.
The victory also meant that for the first time in the tournament, the U.S. team went to Sydney, where the rest of the Olympics were held. The team has stayed in luxury hotels before, but in Sydney they stayed in the Olympic Village. There was general agreement that it was nice to get to know the village, but that the hostel accommodation was not ideal.
Donovan: For me it was great because I am amazed at the athletes and what they do. So when you go there, you literally see the best athletes in the world in every sport. It was just a sensory overload because you couldn’t believe you were in the presence of these people: Nobody knew who they were, but in rowing, badminton and other sports they were the best in the world.
The Spanish team consisted of players who were at the beginning of the country’s golden generation. Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images
McCarthy: It was messy. The village is wild. And for most athletes, the goal is to go to the Olympics. When they are there, they enjoy it.
Wolf: It’s a pretty wild scene to begin with. Then there are rooms for six, seven, eight people, and it’s not really a room, it’s a small space. We only stayed one night. When Clive saw what he looked like, it wasn’t for us. We had to find a new house because we kept moving and we didn’t have any plans yet. So we spent the night there, then went back to the hotel and got back to work.
Semi-final: Spain 3, USA 1
By reaching the semifinals, the Americans had two chances at a medal, but they were big underdogs against a Spanish team whose players usually play on the La Liga first team. Three members of the team, Barcelona midfielder Xavi, Barcelona defender Carles Puyol and Deportivo La Coruna defender Yoan Capdevila, would later start for Spain in their victory over the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final. Vagenas converted a penalty kick in the second half, but the American team failed to get even one shot on goal from the field.
McCarthy: I think we went into the game thinking that anything can happen in 90 minutes. And then he whistled.
Agoos: Years later, everyone would have understood tiki-taka and ball possession, but in 2000, no one in Spain knew. It was simply one of the most frustrating 90 minutes I can remember, and looking back I look back on it with some bias, because now that I know who played that match and what they did, it was really the beginning of the rise of Spanish football in the next two decades.
Years before he became a fixture in the soccer world, the United States got a lesson in tiki in a 3-1 loss in the semifinals against Spain. Sean Botterill/Getty Images
Albright: I remember playing against Puyol, I think he played on the left, and it was like the game against your dad when you were 11. I’ve never been anywhere near anything like this. He just wanted to make sure I was okay.
Donovan: They were just on a different level. It was close. We were professionals, we weren’t a college team anymore [like previous US Olympic teams], so we felt like we could compete, but they had guys who played for some of the best clubs in the world and started for their teams and played all the time.
Gamewith a bronze medal: Chile 2, USA 0
For much of the team, losing to Spain was a foregone conclusion, as the team, led by striker Ivan Zamorano, still had a chance to win an Olympic medal against Chile. Zamorano was perhaps the most productive player of the tournament. He was a goalkeeper at Real Madrid (1992-96) and then at Internazionale. The US dominated Chile for a long time and had two good chances in the second half – Casey saved a shot and Dunseth hit the crossbar – before an unnecessary foul by Kalif in the 70th. Zamorano was sent to the penalty spot in the 29th minute. He dropped the ball and added a second goal to prevent the U.S. from getting a medal. In the second half, we played the best football we’ve played in this tournament, Charles said. Suddenly we’re awarding penalties and the whole game has changed.
Donovan: It was disappointing, because I’ve accomplished a lot in my career. I was lucky enough to be part of a really great team, but that’s unfortunate. I wish I could walk away with one of those special Olympic medals.
Wolf: Even today, not going home with a medal is one of the most frustrating things. The whole experience was phenomenal, but I got the piece of paper they sent. Congratulations on your participation in the Olympics and your fourth place finish.
The Cinderella story at the Olympics collapsed after Spain lost 2-0 to Chile in the semifinals for the bronze medal. Clive Brunskill/Alsport/Getty Images
Olsen: It was an incredible achievement, but with a bit of bitterness, we couldn’t keep the medal because we were so close. It’s a little complicated, at least in person. But the Olympics, in terms of fun, was the best football trip I’ve ever taken. Best tournament and best game experience.
Agoos: It is one of the most important events I have played with the Federation. It’s different than the World Cup. It’s different from CONCACAF. You’re with other athletes, you’re representing your country. When I tell my neighbors today that I’m participating in the Olympics, they can’t believe it. But when I tell them I played in the World Cup, they say: ….. Oh, that’s good.
Vagens: It’s funny because I have a 12-year-old son who wasn’t alive then, but he knows his dad was an Olympian. But every time we talk about it, it’s a bomb. It’s a measuring stick for him. You didn’t win a medal, so it doesn’t count, that’s what he told me.
Ellinger: To this day, most of these guys think it was the best football experience of their lives. I feel the same way, and I’ve been to the World Cup three times with the U17s.
The performance was one of the best in American men’s history at any level and led to several team members making the national team. Six members of the squad – Agush, Friedel, Hayduck, Donovan, O’Brien and Beasley, a reserve who played in the first game of the 2002 World Cup against Portugal – started. Of the 18 players who travelled to Australia, 16 have played at least one international game in their career with the national team and nine were part of the final World Cup squad.