Olympic angst on the mind when U.S. men host Costa Rica

Never has qualifying for men's Olympic tournament been as crucial for the USA as the quest to reach Tokyo 2020. Not since the 1960s did the U.S. men miss three Olympics in a row. And coming on the heels of the USA sitting out the 2018 World Cup, stretching Olympic absence to at least 16 years would deliver another blow to U.S. Soccer's reputation on the men's side.

But as Coach Jason Kreis prepares for the qualifying tournament in Guadalajara (March 20-April), Gregg Berhalter has his back. For the squad plays Costa Rica in a friendly on Saturday (4 p.m. ET), Berhalter has included 13 who are eligible for the Kreis U-23s, and two others took part in the first three weeks of Berhalter's camp.

"It's a strong age group that we have right now and it would be nice to put these guys in a position to compete in the Olympics," Berhalter said. "We're not going to be able to pull from all the players in this [Olympic] qualifying tournament, but nonetheless it's still an opportunity for guys to step, be battle-tested in a Concacaf qualifying format, and learn from it."

For Berhalter, it's not just about helping prep U-23s for Olympic qualifying. He's also thinking his World Cup qualifying quest.

"When you think about what we have in store for us this year," Berhalter said, "we're going to going through 60 percent of our qualifying for the World Cup, so [Concacaf Olympic qualifying] is a good testing ground for them."

USA's U-23s vs Costa Rica
DEFENDERS: Julian Araujo, 18 (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Reggie Cannon, 21 (FC Dallas; 10/0), Justen Glad, 22 (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Mark McKenzie, 20 (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Sam Vines, 20 (Colorado Rapids; 0/0).
MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson, 19 (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Christian Cappis, 20 (Hobro/DEN; 0/0), Bryang Kayo, 17 (Unattached; 0/0), Brandon Servania, 20 (FC Dallas; 0/0), Jackson Yueill, 22 (San Jose Earthquakes; 6/0)
FORWARDS: Jesus Ferreira, 19 (FC Dallas; 0/0), Jonathan Lewis, 22 (Colorado Rapids; 5/0), Ulysses Llanez, 18 (Wolfsburg/GER; 0/0).

Berhalter confirmed on Friday that 19-year-old Jesus Ferreira will be eligible for Saturday's game and will start. The Colombia-born forward, who has played 36 MLS games for FC Dallas, had already gotten his U.S. citizenship need completion of his FIFA paperwork this week after confirming his commitment to the USA.

After the men's Olympic soccer became a U-23 tournament in 1992, the USA qualified in 1992, 1996 and 2000, when it finished fourth under Coach Clive Charles. It missed out on 2004, returned in 2008, and has not qualified since.

Coach Caleb Porter's team lost 2-0 to Canada and tied El Salvador, 3-3, to get eliminated from the qualifying tournament for 2012. Four years later, full national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann put the U-23s under the guidance of his Austrian friend Andi Herzog, whose only previous head coaching experience was failing to qualify Austria for 2011 U-21 European Championship. Herzog's U.S. team failed to clinch an Olympic spot by losing to Honduras in the Concacaf U-23 Championship and fell in a playoff series with Colombia.

Kreis, the former MLS coach who led Real Salt Lake to an MLS Cup final in 2009 and runner-up finish in 2013, has been a part of the January full national team camp. He was appointed in March 2019 and will be evaluating U-23 players on Saturday. On the woeful recent history of the men's Olympic team, Kreis told Yahoo!Sports' Doug McIntyre:

“We know that this isn’t easy. We know that there's been failure before. So we should have a little extra energy, a little extra something to prove. I like that situation for us.”

The USA's most experienced U-23s, such as European-based Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent and Weston McKennie, won't be available for Olympic qualifying because their clubs are under no commitment to release them for an age-group competition that opens March 21 against ... Costa Rica. That makes the extra experience for those called up by Berhalter all the more valuable.

"We talked about the theme of this camp being stake or claim or seize your moment for some of these guys," Berhalter said. "And everyone has a different situation. Some guys want to make the Olympic qualifying group. Some guys want to be starters on that group. Some guys want to be starters on the full national team. Some guys want to be involved in the full national team. Everyone has a different way that they're looking at this. But collectively, can we perform well as a group, and individually can guys make a case for their involvement moving forward?"

4 comments about "Olympic angst on the mind when U.S. men host Costa Rica".
  1. Richard T. Lynch, February 1, 2020 at 7:24 a.m.

    I hope the quality of the writing and proof reading of this SA article doesn't get reflected over to the quality of the team.  Pick up YOUR game, SA.  

    Best of luck to the guys on the field!

  2. Wooden Ships, February 1, 2020 at 1:47 p.m.

    So happy it's on ESPNews, not. No watchy for me. Really wanted to see the game.

  3. Ginger Peeler replied, February 1, 2020 at 2:29 p.m.

    Ships, read my possible solution following your comment at the end of the Jesus Ferreira blurb  

  4. Wooden Ships replied, February 1, 2020 at 4:15 p.m.

     Not following your comment Ginger. It's being radio broadcast cast on XMFC if you have Sirius. Guess I will have to subscribe to ESPN+. Can stream through that membership. I look forward to see how Jesus does and we have Indiana playing for Villa now. We have to find goal scorers.

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