USA will face challenges with Olympic men's qualifying

While the U.S. men's national team will begin assembling on Sunday in New Jersey for friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay, the U.S. under-23 national team will gather across the country for its third camp of the year.

The roster picked by U-23 head coach Jason Kreis for the camp at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center is expected to be announced as soon as Friday. The camp will be capped off with a closed-door friendly against Japan, the 2020 Olympic host team, on Sept. 9 in Chula Vista, near the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California.

Dates. Concacaf will hold its Olympic qualifying tournament March 20-April 1, 2020, in Guadalajara, Mexico, to determine the two nations from Concacaf that will go to the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The dates are later than four years ago when the Concacaf U-23 tournament was held in October 2015 -- the USA ended up losing to Colombia in a playoff played in March 2016 -- so Kreis, who was only appointed U-23 coach in March, will get more time to prepare the team. But the dates do pose several challenges.

-- Clubs are under no obligation to release players for age-group competitions, and the Concacaf tournament begins three days before the March 2020 FIFA window opens and one day after it closes. Therefore, getting players released from their European clubs if they are first-team contributors will be almost impossible.

-- The tournament will take place during the same window as Concacaf holds the final four of the first Concacaf Nations League. If the USA wins its group with Canada and Cuba, the U.S. coaching staff could be faced with deciding which teams to send players eligible for both teams (see below).

-- The tournament will begin about a month into the 2020 MLS season so players will be just rounding into form. Just how much earlier will MLS start the 2020 season, given its decision to push up the end of the season by a month, is not yet known. The offseason will be dominated by talks on a new collective bargaining agreement. The worst-case scenario for the U-23s: a labor dispute impacts the start of the 2020 MLS season.

Player pool. The pool of talent available for the USA at the U-23 level is unprecedented. To begin with, national team coach Gregg Berhalter called in eight U-23-eligible players for the September friendlies:

Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas)
Sergino Dest (Ajax/NED)
Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
Weston McKennie (Schalke 04/GER)
Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas)
Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG)
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER)

Two other U-23-eligible players -- Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER) Tim Weah (Lille/FRA) -- would have been called in but for injuries.

The nucleus of the team will come players on the last two U.S. U-20 World Cup teams that both reached the quarterfinals.

Others from the 2017 U-20s besides Adams and Sargent might be:

Cameron Carter-Vickers (Stoke City/ENG)
Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake)
Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake)
Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake)
Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Wien/AUT)
Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union)
Luca de la Torre (Fulham/ENG)
Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake)
Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers)
Emmanuel Sabbi (Hobro/DEN)

From the 2019 U-20s besides Dest and Weah are such players as:

Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy)
Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union)
Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II/GER)
Chris Gloster (Jong PSV/NED)
Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas)
Richard Ledezma (Jong PSV/NED)
Alex Mendez (Jong Ajax/NED)
Brandon Servania (FC Dallas)
Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg U19/GER)
Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96/GER)

But such has been the development of U.S. talent breaking through at MLS clubs or in Europe that Kreis has plenty of other options to consider. Those players include:

Andrew  Gutman (FC Cincinnati)
Donovan Pines (D.C. United)
Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic/ENG)
James Sands (NYCFC)
Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union)
Frankie Amaya (FC Cincinnati)
Christian Cappis (Hobro/DEN)
Hassani Dotson (Minnesota United)
Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire)
Keaton Parks (NYCFC)
Jonathan Amon (Nordsjaelland/DEN)
Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas)
Haji Wright (VVV Venlo/NED)
Joshua Perez (LAFC)
Mason Toye (Minnesota United)

The one glaring absence is a sure-fire pick in goal. None of five goalkeepers from the last two U-20 World Cup teams is a first-team starter for his club.

6 comments about "USA will face challenges with Olympic men's qualifying".
  1. Bob Ashpole, August 30, 2019 at 12:04 p.m.

    Good article. Thank you.

  2. Robert Pantanini replied, August 30, 2019 at 1:25 p.m.

    Nations League Final Four was moved to June 2020.

  3. Mike Anderson, August 30, 2019 at 5:56 p.m.

    No-brainer Olympics vs Nations League. With a World Cup run being unrealistic, no event other than the Olympics could possibly do more to elevate the U.S. men’s game with the American public. It feels like this group could make a run. In comparison, any other competition would be like the proverbial tree falling in the forest that nobody hears. 

  4. Wooden Ships replied, August 31, 2019 at 8:47 a.m.

    Mike, I’m not sure what the added/extra benefit could be with the CONCACAF Nations League result? FIFA ranking ingredient, qualifying process for Qatar? It’s not coming to me at the moment. A couple thoughts though, we won’t have a lost generation this time around if we don’t make the Olympics, I’m still, nor have ever been concerned about appeasing-appealing to so-so, on the fence soccer fans (the game is growing steadily in this country-more than any other sport). And, lastly, our goal needs to always focus on the World Cup. It is very realistic, assuming we qualify, to get out of group in 2022. Of course the draw plays a part and so would the ranking going into the draw. Is 2026 going to provide even more US depth and talent, it should, but we shouldn’t discount the upcoming Wirld Cup. Remember, the Olympics holds only tepid interest comparatively. 

  5. Hal Barnes, August 31, 2019 at 10:23 p.m.

    Gio Reyna.  Nuff said. 

  6. humble 1, September 3, 2019 at 1:42 p.m.

    it's not really about comparing Olympics to WC or Nations Cup or Gold Cup, it's really about saying that if you cannot assemble and train a group of 23 U23 players in a country of 300+ Million in CONCACAF to be one of two teams to qualify for the Olympics with all the 'investment' in DA and USSF and MLS and all this - then your performance rating is an 'F'.  

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