At first blush, the USA's 20-player squad for the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship, which begins March 18 in Guadalajara, is lacking.
None of the big stars eligible for the under-23 competition are available. No Christian Pulisic. No Weston McKennie. No Tyler Adams. No Sergino Dest. No Gio Reyna. Or any of the other young Americans making an impact in Europe.
Also unavailable are several sure starters who have moved to Europe in the last year: Reggie Cannon, Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson. They are among eight players from the team U.S. under-23 head coach Jason Kreis took to Guadalajara a year ago for Olympic qualifying, which was called off before it started due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the 20 players don't lack for experience: 11 have been capped on the senior national team and several other players attended national team camps before the U-23s broke off in January.
With only 20 players on the qualifying roster -- and 18 if the USA qualifies for the Tokyo Olympics -- Kreis prizes the versatility of the field players he picked.
“We've got fullbacks that can play center back, we've got right backs that can play on the left back, we've got an attacking midfielder, a No. 8-minded player in Hassani Dotson who's played both right back and left back for Minnesota," he said on a media call after the roster announcement. "We've got wingers that have played inside."
Several of Kreis' selections are intriguing prospects. Johnny Cardoso played 13 games last season for Brazilian runner-up Internacional and debuted in the No. 6 role off the bench for Adams in the senior national team's friendlies against Wales and Panama in November. Jackson Yueill will start as the No. 6 for the U-23s, but Kreis thinks there is another role for Johnny.
“Maybe most people don't know this, but Johnny Cardoso was developed as a 9,” he added. “The couple of times we've had him in the national team camps, once with the 23s, once with the full team, the first time in the 23s I had him at 6 but then looked at him at 8 late in the camp and in the game. And he showed that he's got some real creative ideas in the attacking half of the field."
The U.S. midfield lacks a true playmaker, but Colombian-born Jesus Ferreira provided that role as the center forward in the 7-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, scoring two goals and dishing out three assists.
“Jesus is an interesting one," said Kreis, "probably the most interesting one, because he hasn't played a whole lot of striker for FC Dallas, they typically will use him in midfield. But the way that we want to utilize our 9 means that Jesus is a perfect candidate for that. And having Jesus in last January camp, and then having him again in this January camp, we see a player that really seems to understand and fit our game model in that position, and we see in his performance in the match, it was excellent, really, really excellent in the match against Trinidad."
Datebook: The USA will face Costa Rica (March 18), the Dominican Republic (March 21) and host Mexico (March 24) in Group A play. The semifinals will be played on March 28 while the final will take place on March 30. The semifinal winners will be the two Concacaf representatives at the Olympics.
Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union)
JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake)
2020 qualifying roster: Freese, Marcinkowski, Ochoa.
Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), 1 cap
Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake)
Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), 1 cap
Henry Kessler (New England Revolution)
Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire)
Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids), 3 caps
2020 qualifying roster: Reggie Cannon, Glad, Chris Gloster, Herrera, Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown.
Johnny Cardoso (Internacional, Brazil), 2 caps
Hassani Dotson (Minnesota United)
Uly Llanez (Heerenveen, Netherlands), 3 caps, 1 goal
Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montreal), 6 caps, 1 goal
Andres Perea (Orlando City), 1 cap
Sebastian Saucedo (UNAM, Mexico)
Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes), 9 caps
2020 qualifying roster: Brenden Aaronson, Dotson, Richy Ledezma, Paxton Pomykal, Yueill.
Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), 2 caps, 2 goals
Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), 7 caps, 2 goals
Benji Michel (Orlando City)
Sebastian Soto (Norwich City, England), 2 caps, 2 goals
2020 qualifying roster: Jeremy Ebobisse, Ferreira, Lewis, Llanez, Mihailovic, Saucedo.