Which MLS players escaped U.S. Olympic failure with reputation intact?
This past year has been something of a chastening year for U.S. Soccer within its own geographic region. There were the Gold Cup losses to Jamaica and Panama, the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the MLS teams being uniformly eliminated by Mexican opposition in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
And this last weekend offered further evidence that the U.S. in general still has a lot of work to do. Tuesday's emphatic victory over Guatemala in Columbus might have suggested normal service being resumed, but the debacle in Guatemala City that preceded it will probably hold a more indelible place in the memory of U.S. fans increasingly less indulgent of Jurgen Klinsmann's penchant for unfamiliar lineups.
And then there was the U-23s.
A credible draw in Colombia on Friday had briefly raised hopes that October's CONCACAF Olympic qualifying loss to Honduras, on the day the senior team lost to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, might not prove fatal after all. But on Tuesday, the team barely hung in with a rampant Colombian side, ending the game with nine men and much more comprehensively beaten than the 2-1 scoreline suggested.
The U.S. looked outclassed all over the field, and now must endure both a postmortem on their collective performance and some hard individual assessments from Klinsmann and his coaches, as he considers who to salvage from the wreckage for future development and incorporation into the senior team between now and (hopefully) Russia 2018.
But let's focus in particular on the MLS contingent, the types of players for whom the Olympics would have represented a real chance to make a case for their future senior team roles, without pinning all their hopes on the lottery of a January team camp slot. Who did well? Who didn't? And who (this may sound familiar) was not set up to succeed?
Good: Tim Parker | Center-back | Vancouver Whitecaps
Parker has been one of the pleasant surprises of the past year, as he has emerged as a central defensive starter for Vancouver Whitecaps, and now as a solid international prospect.
Probably the most consistent presence for the U.S. over two legs, Parker was kept busy by the intricate approach play of the Colombians but stood his ground robustly. A little too robustly at times; he was perhaps lucky not to see red instead of yellow in the second leg after what looked like a clear stamp.
That would perhaps have been an unduly harsh end to his personal Olympic campaign, however. Defensive partner Matt Miazga did see red, and the Chelsea player often looked every inch the benchwarmer he currently is, as he struggled to find the rhythm, timing and positioning that comes with match sharpness. There were times when a sprawling Miazga was grateful for the no-nonsense physical presence of Parker beside him.
He'll return to a steadying Vancouver Whitecaps team who actually secured their first clean sheet of the season without him last weekend, but who will doubtless continue to lean on the 6-foot-2 Long Islander as he builds on last year's promising rookie season.
Indifferent: Jordan Morris | Forward | Seattle Sounders
The Seattle Sounders player started the year electing to remain in MLS to grow with his hometown team rather than take a professional contract with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. The learning curve in Seattle got steeper straight away, with the departure of Obafemi Martins putting an instant weight of expectation upon Morris' shoulders.
He's started as slowly as you'd expect any new young professional to do, and while other young U.S. players who might have helped the U-23s -- such as John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin -- were deemed too important to the senior team to feature in the Olympic playoff roster, Morris was not called up to face Guatemala and instead helped lead the line against Colombia.
He did OK. There was enough there to suggest that the intelligent running off the ball he's been celebrated for could become a significant weapon for future U.S. teams, but there were also unfavorable comparisons to be made to some of his Colombian counterparts as a creative outlet.
There was one moment in the first leg, where an instinctive first-time shot with the outside of Morris' boot arced off the Colombian crossbar. Had it dropped, and had the U.S. had a bigger away-goals cushion, perhaps they could have organized to keep Colombia at bay in the second half and his contribution would have been the centerpiece of a famous victory.
That's a big perhaps, and perhaps, too, that would have obscured a sober analysis of Morris' strengths and weaknesses. If he is to grow into the type of player his club and country hope he's going to become, some sober analysis of his current ability is not the worst thing.
Bad: Kellyn Acosta | Left-back/midfielder | FC Dallas
This was a rough series for Acosta, though, let's be very clear and very fair: the Dallas player fell short of a very high benchmark. More usually a defensive midfielder in an exciting young FC Dallas team, Acosta has been caught up in Klinsmann's ongoing talent competition in which he searches for a viable long-term left-back amid a dearth of credible options.
Thrown in to play as a full-back for the senior team during the January camp, Acosta was willing but predictably suspect on positioning at the international level, and the Colombia series represented a further schooling for him.
The first leg in Barranquilla was particularly torrid for Acosta, who had already been turned several times before his most significant contribution of conceding the penalty that tied that game. To give credit to the player, by the end of the second leg he was adjusting to a difficult role, although once again he drew attention to himself for the wrong reasons when he headed wide of an open net late on.
So yes, in falling short of international standard at an unfamiliar position, it was not a good series for Acosta. If it's any consolation to him, there are more than a few players in the senior roster who know exactly how he feels.
Perhaps there's more good news for Acosta: If he can improve in the position Klinsmann and Andi Herzog seem to want him to grow into, he'll be at the front of a virtually non-existent line, compared to the ones faced by some of his peers who did better in more-contested positions.
Graham Parker writes for ESPN FC, FourFourTwo and Howler. He covers MLS and the U.S. national teams. Follow him on Twitter @grahamparkerfc.