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
, 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 ... GOALKEEPERS (2) Ethan Horvath
(Molde/NOR) Cody Cropper
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.
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
. OUTSIDE BACKS (3) DeAndre Yedlin
(Sunderland/ENG) Kellyn Acosta
(FC Dallas) Brandon Vincent
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,
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. CENTER BACKS (4) John Brooks
Berlin/GER) Cameron Carter-Vickers
(Tottenham/ENG) Matt Miazga
(Chelsea/ENG) Tim Parker
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. MIDFIELDERS (8) Fatai Alashe
(Queretaro/MEX) Julian Green
(Chicago Fire) Wil Trapp
(Columbus Crew) Gedion Zelalem
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. FORWARDS (3) 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.