USA's 2016 Olympic building blocks take shape

The U.S. national team that faces Chile on Wednesday includes a mixture of World Cup veterans and Olympic hopefuls. The task of preparing for Olympic qualifying has begun with the identification of under-23 candidates, six of whom are in Rancagua. For a look at the building blocks on which the U.S. U-23s will be constructed.

Jurgen Klinsmann used to this year's January camp to get two teams started down two distinct paths -- the senior team that quickly jumps back into competitive play with the Gold Cup in July and the start of the 2018 World Cup qualifying -- already -- in November and the under-23 team that will take part in Olympic qualifying that is scheduled to be held in March 2016 but could be pushed up to the fall.

Qualifying an Olympic team is not easy. First of all, only under-23 players are eligible to take part in qualifying, and getting players released from foreign clubs is problematic. If players are already part of the senior national team, staffs must choose which team to send them to. That will certainly be the case if the USA qualifies for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as it follows the special edition of the Copa America the USA will host next year.

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The Olympic men's tournament consists of only 16 teams -- half the number of teams that go to the World Cup. Concacaf will qualify 2.5 teams to Rio 2016 -- up from the two teams -- eventual gold-medalist Mexico and quarterfinalist Honduras -- that qualified for London 2012. The third-place team in Concacaf will play the second-place team in the Sudamericano, the South American under-20 tournament that is being held in Uruguay.

Andrea Herzog, Klinsmann's trusted assistant, has been named coach of the under-23 team, and he will look to build the U-23s from three blocks:

2014 World Cup team. Three 2014 World Cup players are eligible as U-23s for the 2016 Olympics: John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. None started in Brazil, but all three made significant contributions off the bench. The dilemma is that all three are now based in Europe with Yedlin's transfer to Tottenham, and their availability for qualifying -- let alone the Olympic tournament -- is uncertain.

2013 Under-20 World Cup team. Tab Ramos coached the U-20s for the first time in 2013, leading them to second place with a very credible showing against Mexico in the final of the Concacaf Under-20 Championship. They only picked up one point in three games at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, but it was a 1-1 tie against eventual champion France.

Four players whom Ramos took to Turkey are with the senior national team in Chile: defender Shane O'Neill and midfielders Luis Gil and Wil Trapp, plus Yedlin, who was called in from Tottenham for Wednesday's game and the match Feb. 8 against Panama. Dillon Serna, who is also in Chile, started for the U-20s in qualifying but did not make the final U-20 World Cup roster. An excellent 2014 season with Colorado as a wide midfielder has put him very much in the U-23 picture.

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One concern with the 2013 U-20 group is that many of the key players on the team that held Mexico even into overtime in the Puebla final have not progressed. Captain Benji Joya was dropped by the Chicago Fire after one season on loan from Santos, Jose Villarreal's loan from the LA Galaxy to Cruz Azul was a disaster, and players like Daniel Cuevas and Juan Pablo Ocegueda have had trouble even getting playing time in the Mexican second division.

2015 Under-20 World Cup team. While the USA struggled to qualify for New Zealand 2015 and never developed the cohesion that his 2013 team had, Ramos is very, very high on many of current U-20s, players like Emerson Hyndman and Kellyn Acosta in midfield and 17-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers in the back.

Ramos also evokes the depth of talent on the current team, which helps the numbers game. The bigger the pool of potential standouts, the higher the number of them who will likely pan out.

The two U-20 World Cup teams won't contribute all the players Herzog will be looking at. Stanford University's Jordan Morris, who was capped at the senior national team level in the fall, didn't make the 2013 U-20 World Cup though he got a look-see late in the process.

English-based players Marc Pelosi and Will Packwood were unable to take part in the 2013 Under-World Cup because both suffered broken legs. Their recovery has been slow, though. Pelosi joined the USA for January camp but was bothered by a knee injury that prevented him from traveling to Chile.

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Perhaps the best player in the current U-20 pool is 18-year-old Rubio Rubin, who plays for FC Utrecht but did not join the U-20s in Jamaica for qualifying. He started for the USA against Colombia in November and did not look out of place.

One area of concern at the moment is in goal. In 2012, U-23 keepers Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson were already in their third MLS seasons as starters. There is currently no U-23 keeper who is starting at the professional level.

Jon Kempin
, who is with the national team in Chile, started three games for Sporting Kansas City in 2014 but looks to again be the No. 3 keeper in 2015 as SKC has brought in Luis Marin and Tim Melia ahead of him.

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