Our 20 U.S. players for the Olympic playoff series

By Paul Kennedy

The USA faces Colombia in a two-game series March 25 and March 29 to determine the 16th and final team in this summer's Olympic men's soccer tournament.

After being badly outplayed by Honduras in the decisive Concacaf under-23 semifinals, the USA is in need of a serious upgrade for the series against Colombia, which beat Olympic host Brazil, 3-0, in their final game to earn second place in the South American qualifying tournament.

For Jurgen Klinsmann and Andi Herzog, two factors complicate their task of picking a 20-player roster for each game. The games fall the same day as the USA-Guatemala double dates in World Cup 2018 qualifying. And clubs are not required to release players for the under-23 series.

With that in mind, here's our of 20 players for the Olympic playoff series ...

Ethan Horvath (Molde/NOR)
Cody Cropper (MK Dons/ENG)

The USA is putting together a deep group of youth goalkeepers. Horvath came out of nowhere last year to snatch the No. 1 spot in the U-23s after winning the starting job at Molde and helping it advance to the knockout stage of the Europa League.

Cropper is starting to see some playing time at MK Dons in the English second division so he gets the nod over Zack Steffen, who had one of the best tournaments ever for an American keeper in a FIFA youth championship at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup and is part of a growing colony of Pennsylvanians breaking into the pro ranks in Germany along with Christian Pulisic and Russell Canouse.

DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland/ENG)
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas)
Brandon Vincent  (Chicago Fire)

Outside back -- both sides -- was a problem in qualifying. Herzog went with Boyd Okwuonu or Matt Polster on the right side and used several players on the left, including Marc Pelosi, who is hurt.

The solution on the right side is to go all in. If qualifying for the Olympics is so important, Jurgen Klinsmann, Herzog's boss, should twist Sunderland's arm and call in Yedlin, who has been starting at right back for the Black Cats in recent weeks. Having Yedlin and John Brooks get the USA to the Olympics is more important than having them in the finals, where wild-card players can take their place, so Klinsmann and Herzog can make the case that these are one-time moves.

The January camp helped solve the dilemma at left back. Either Acosta or Vincent will be an upgrade.

John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER)
Cameron Carter-Vickers  (Tottenham/ENG)
Matt Miazga  (Chelsea/ENG)
Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Brooks is having a phenomenal season in the Bundesliga so why not make every effort to bring him, especially for the first leg in Barranquilla, where the USA will be under siege? After all, there are multiple options at center back on the national team, so he won't be missed if he joined the U-23s. Hertha coach Pal Dardai may balk at releasing Brooks -- he was upset when Brooks was injured playing for the USA in September -- but Klinsmann should use full-press diplomacy to sway the Hungarian.

Miazga and Carter-Vickers both have great futures and teamed up at center back all last season, beginning with U-20 qualifying, through the finals in New Zealand and at the Concacaf U-23 championship. Both have dressed for their London clubs in UEFA competition but without any recent first-team competition, it's hard to depend on both of them to hold off Colombia.

Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes)
Paul Arriola 
Luis Gil (Queretaro/MEX)
Julian Green (Bayern Munich/GER)
Emerson Hyndman
Matt Polster
(Chicago Fire)
Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
Gedion Zelalem (Rangers/SCO)

We'll take the opposite tack regarding Pulisic and say there is no reason to disrupt his season at Borussia Dortmund and call him up for the U-23s. Perhaps bring him for one of the national team's May friendlies to get to know the big boys, but the No. 1 priority (and No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4) is his progress at Dortmund.

Six of our eight choices are holdovers from qualifying. Gil has been getting considerable playing time in Mexico, so this will be his big chance to stamp his name on the program. Our two additions are Arriola and Green. Herzog has not given Arriola any love, but he is the only American playing at Tijuana -- he went the distance in a key away win last week -- and he gives the U-23s another option out wide, along with Green, the other addition.

Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Jerome Kiesewetter  (VfB Stuttgart II/GER)
Khiry Shelton (New York City FC)

This trio attended January camp, and Morris and Kiesewetter played in both wins over Iceland and Canada. We all know about Morris, but Kiesewetter was a pleasant surprise. One problem: he's languishing on Stuttgart's second team. Shelton has started both NYCFC games and has a goal and an assist.
6 comments about "Our 20 U.S. players for the Olympic playoff series".
  1. Wooden Ships, March 15, 2016 at 6:57 p.m.

    Hope I'm wrong, but this appears to be a long shot to advance. Can't quibble with your selections. As the saying goes, "if we can win or at least come close to winning the midfield" then we will have a chance. And, how ironic that both qualifiers are at the same time. Jeez, we are going to need our best in both.

  2. Bob Ashpole, March 15, 2016 at 10:36 p.m.

    Columbia has a strong tradition, but for this series so much depends on who is released by their clubs. Only 8 of the 20 listed are playing with MLS. I imagine Columbia will have the same problems.

  3. BJ Genovese, March 15, 2016 at 11:05 p.m.

    Yedlin, stay at Sunderland where you are finally in favor and starting games. You would be crazy to leave for the u23. Do what everybody else has to do in the rest of the world. Prove yourself with your club first. This is the only country that has it backwords. US soccer will only screw up your head.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, March 17, 2016 at 1:45 p.m.

    Do you realize a) he's on loan at Sunderland and b) Sunderland won't have any games during the period?

  5. Andrew Kear, March 17, 2016 at 3:52 p.m.

    The US has never gone back to back Olympics without qualifying. Both Klinsmann and Herzog have to go. What else can be said?

  6. Kim Littleton, March 18, 2016 at 6:14 a.m.

    First of all, why is there not one (1) college player on this list? Just because these are all pros (not playing for the most part for their respective clubs) does not make them the BEST choices. There are two (2) college players (one a sophomore) right now playing a BS spring season that would give great depth to the midfield! Very disappointing that college players with quite a few college accolades are not being given a chance over midfielders who clearly just know someone. At least Tab is giving a bunch of college players a chance on the U20 side. Should have done that before.....Agree with Andrew K that both JK and AH should be moving on.....

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