U.S. U-23 men are headed to Spain -- here's a breakdown of the candidates

The U.S. under-23 men's national team has been until now a team of mystery.

Concacaf hasn't yet announced when qualifying will be held to determine who will be the two men's soccer entrants from the region at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics though it will be during the October 2018 international break if the last cycle's schedule is any indication.

U.S. Soccer hasn't announced who will coach the team though a U.S. Soccer spokesperson said that it's "deep into the hiring process." (The assumption is that the U-23 head coach will be national team assistant coach Josh Wolff.)

U.S. Soccer hasn't yet released a preparation schedule for the U-23s though the Pinatar Arena in Murcia, Spain, lists on its schedule of events U.S. U-23 matches against Egypt March 22 and the Netherlands (with Justin Kluivert) on March 24 in addition to two U.S. U-20 matches against France.

And the players?

U.S. national team coach Gregg Berhalter said on Tuesday the U-23s will allow teenage forwards Tim Weah and Josh Sargent, who have struggling to get consistent playing time at Celtic and Werder Bremen, respectively, to gain some more international experience.

“When we looked at players that were U-23 eligible and weren’t necessarily going to be in our starting group," he said, "we had to weigh if it’s more beneficial for them to play full international games at a level where they can gain confidence and potentially bring that back to their clubs.

“I spoke to Josh and Tim specifically. They’re young players with a lot of potential. We’re looking at this from the big picture standpoint. The big picture is Tim and Josh have the opportunity to play at the U-23 level and gain experience. I see them very much as part of the group moving forward, this is a way for them to keep playing and get on the field.”

Eligibility. Players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997, are eligible for the U-23s, who will include players from the USA's 2017 U-20 World Cup quarterfinalists and the team that will play in the 2019 U-20 World Cup in Poland this spring.

Four players who are eligible for the U-23s will be with Berhalter's senior national team for matches against Ecuador and Chile: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Jonathan Lewis.

Here's a breakdown of players born in 1997 and 1998 who might be considered for the March camp in Spain (clubs are under no obligation to release them):

Goalkeepers: No U-23 keeper is starting regularly for a first team in MLS or abroad. Jonathan Klinsmann played his first game for Hertha Berlin II in the German fourth division on Sunday since last November. J.T. Marcinkowski, his backup at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup, has started the 2019 season at Reno 1868, the San Jose Earthquakes' USL affiliate. Brady Scott, the third U-20 goalkeeper two year ago, is the current U-20 starter.

Defenders: The backline was a position of strength two years ago at the Under-20 World Cup and is even deeper, much deeper, on the U-23s.

Erik Palmer-Brown (on loan from Manchester City to NAC Breda) has been confirmed as a U-23 call-up by his Dutch club. Four other U-20 World Cup holdovers -- Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake), Danny Acosta (Orlando City on loan from Real Salt Lake), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City on loan from Tottenham) and Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake) -- are starting in MLS.

But they will have plenty of competition from Antonee Robinson, who has returned to action at Wigan Athletic after being out for more than three months with an ankle injury, Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), who debuted with the senior national team last fall, and Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union), who also attended the January camp in Chula Vista, in addition to Miles Robinson, who is starting at center back for Atlanta United, and Kyle Duncan (New York Red Bulls), who has made a successful comeback from ACL surgery.

Midfielders. The U-23 midfield in Spain should be built around Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), who started both games for the senior national team this winter but is another player Berhalter probably had in mind when he said he'd rather have players get playing time with the U-23s if they weren't going to be part of the starting group with the senior team in March.

The midfield group in the 1997 and 1998 age group isn't deep, though, when you take away Adams, McKennie and Pulisic, all senior national team starters. Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake) scored in the 2018 MLS playoffs but has played on 14 minutes so far in 2019. Derrick Jones (Philadelphia Union) played 12 minutes on Sunday at Sporting KC.

Others to consider: Luca De La Torre, who was called into the senior national team twice last fall, but doesn't play at Fulham, and Argentine-born Emil Cuello, who started in the LA Galaxy's opener after being drafted out of SMU.

Last but not forgotten: Gedion Zelalem (Sporting KC).

Forwards. Besides Weah and Sargent, who could end up at the U-20 World Cup if they get releases from their clubs, three other forwards stand out as U-23 candidates in the 1997 and 1998 age group: Jeremy Ebobisse, who started for the Portland Timbers at MLS Cup 2018 and against Panama on the left wing in Berhalter's debut game, Haji Wright, who broke into the Schalke 04 first team this season, and Emmanuel Sabbi, another confirmed U-23 call-up, from tiny Danish club Hobro.

8 comments about "U.S. U-23 men are headed to Spain -- here's a breakdown of the candidates".
  1. Bob Ashpole, March 14, 2019 at 9:03 a.m.

    No keeper elibible for the US U23 MNT is regularly starting in MLS? Why not? This is a huge step backward from 10 years ago while MLS has added 9 clubs opening up in theory more room for US players.

    Remember Tim Howard with the Metrostars in 1998? He was MLS keeper of the year in 2001.

    Huge step backward.

  2. frank schoon, March 14, 2019 at 9:39 a.m.

    Why a U23 team?...I don't see what the purpose this serves. I can't see pro-players spending their time on this endeavor. It would be more worthy to choose it from a player pool of college players and those just graduated from college....

  3. Paul Berry replied, March 14, 2019 at 2:52 p.m.

    Because the Olympics.

  4. John Soares, March 14, 2019 at 12:38 p.m.

    Frank, good question.
    I always thought it was an Olympic qualifier.
    This way no player could play in the Olympics more than once as an adult (21+) may qualify if he played as a teenager.
    Probably could use an update on this one:)
    On a similar note/issue having 2 or 3 exceptions in the Olympics is ridiculous.

  5. frank schoon replied, March 14, 2019 at 12:44 p.m.

    John, this is just as bad as seeing tennis pros you watch at wimbledon and then at the olympics...why????  So meaningless
    As matter of fact I wouldn't even walk across the street to an Olympic soccer match.

  6. John Soares, March 14, 2019 at 1:29 p.m.

    Frank, may be I'm just too hungry for decent soccer. So I  would, cross the street and do.
    Don't really care about the specifics. Just make it reasonable and move on on.
    I'm actually OK with the U-23 rule...with no exceptions.
    No Messi, Ronaldo etc playing with the younsters.
    It would be an opportunity to see today's youth,  tomorrow's stars.
    Why does it have to be so convoluted.

  7. frank schoon replied, March 14, 2019 at 3:37 p.m.

    John, I really don't understand Olympic soccer in the way it is currently set up. Maybe if it were the best amateur players against each other than it would be of interest to see what level of soccer the best Amateurs produce. But to mix it up with some pros, why???  
    The very fact that the US won the Hockey championship with Amateurs, fighting with all their heart and perserverance, beating the Russians back in the 80's ,gives me much more satisfaction and joy than having the US team filled with a few NHL players winning it...

  8. Wooden Ships, March 14, 2019 at 3:03 p.m.

    I want the best players available on the senior team. Qualifying starts next year. And, this bs regarding tactical acumen/ the SYSTEM is so demeaning to players. Yes, that’s a separate article-press release. I’m like John I’ll watch any game. 

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