Mike Slane: Mexico eyes Olympic success as USA misses major opportunity

With the average sports fan watching the Olympics, the United States and Mexico would have had a great platform to showcase their soccer rivalry.
The Mexican national team is the big winner in North America. While U.S. Soccer has disappointed its fan base by not even making it to the knockout stages of Olympic qualifying, El Tri is already talking about being one of the stronger teams in London this summer.

Mexico qualified for the Olympics after its weekend win over Canada, the same team that handed the U.S. the loss that likely cost the Americans a trip across the pond. Mexico will be joined by Honduras as the two CONCACAF representatives in the Olympics, while tuning into NBC will be the closest the U.S. team gets to the action.

"I think we could have a very strong team for the Olympics," Mexico U-23 coach Luis Fernando Tena said following Saturday's 3-1 win over the Canucks. "There will be a great amount of difficult teams in London, but we feel we're strong as well."

Tena says Mexico will have solid "reinforcements" when the team selects its three players over the age of 23 to join the roster for July. One experienced player who could be added when the official squad is announced in the upcoming weeks is Manchester United star striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez.

Chicharito not only has the talent to single handedly take the Mexicans to the next level but he also has the recognizable face that will draw added attention to the team.

A source told Goal.com earlier this year that Clint Dempsey would have considered playing for the U.S. team had it advanced. The Fulham midfielder liked the fact that the Olympic Games would be played in his adopted home city. But he'll spend his summer fishing instead.

Having the U.S. and Mexico and Chicharito and Dempsey in the Olympics would have been a major boost for soccer in the United States. The rivalry could have been on display for the average American sports fan who likely has never heard of the Gold Cup. The two biggest stars in the region could have showcased the elite talent from the area.

"Everyone feels like they let their country down," U.S. U-23 midfielder Brek Shea wrote in his weekly blog for Goal.com.

Mexico's youth teams have been among the best in the world recently, winning the U-17 World Cup in 2011 and 2005 and finishing third in the U-20 World Cup last year. As a result, the young Mexicans are on the international radar. The Olympics would have provided the Americans with a chance to catch up to their neighbors to the south.

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For players like Shea and Juan Agudelo, missing out on the Olympics may have ruined their short-term plans of making moves to big European-based clubs. LA Galaxy star David Beckham even recognizes the huge missed opportunity for the Americans to shine.

"It's disappointing because obviously there are a lot of young kids there that are there who the eyes are on," Beckham said after a recent practice. "The teams and the players are involved and from a soccer point it's obviously disappointing."

Soccer needs to continue to grow in the United States for it to be mentioned in the same sentence as baseball, basketball, football and even hockey. Having Mexico and the United States chasing a Gold medal at the same time would have helped.