Early qualification gives U.S. U-20s and U-23s something they've rarely gotten -- a long runway to prepare

There were a lot of benefits to the redesigned Concacaf qualification tournaments for under-20 and under-23 men's national teams.

The 2022 Concacaf Under-20 Championship served as qualifying for both the 2023 Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia and the 2024 men's soccer competition at the Paris Olympics.

Because clubs are not required to release players for under-age competitions, the USA was probably missing half a dozen starters for the Concacaf Under-20 Championship, which ended on Sunday. But that's nothing compared to what would be the case if, as was always done previously, Concacaf organized a separate under-23 qualifying tournament, usually about four months in advance of the Olympics themselves.

In November 2018, the USA swept all eight games at the Concacaf Under-20 Championship. Ten of the 11 starters in the final against Mexico were on the initial roster for the 2019 Under-20 World Cup in Poland six months later, but not one of the starters was on the U.S. squad that lost in the semifinals to Honduras at the delayed Concacaf Under-23 Championship that served as qualifying in March 2021 for the Tokyo Olympics. Several of the players on the 2019 U.S. U-20 quarterfinalists had graduated to the senior national team after breaking into the first teams at European clubs.

By holding the double qualification tournament in the summer, Concacaf has given the three-time under-20 champion USA something that it's rarely gotten and that's a long runway — 10 months to prepare for the 2023 Under-20 World Cup and almost two years to prepare for the Paris Olympics.

"We already have camps programmed in the fall, winter and spring," said Coach Mikey Varas after his U.S. U-20s clinched their goal of U-20 and U-23 double qualification.

Varas was speaking about the U-20s.

"The Olympics is even further away," he said, "and those are things that are not in our control. They will get discussed at a larger leadership level later."

Varas said he expects a core of the current U-20s will stay together, though he said players who weren't in Honduras will get the opportunity to fight their way back in the team based on their club performances.

"To guarantee anybody a spot in the World Cup a year from now doesn't make sense," he said. "And the players that are here with us right now wouldn't even want that. This is going be an incredible achievement, but that's going to be in the past as soon as they head back to their clubs. And the next step for them is to do big things with their clubs, earn themselves the spot on the World Cup roster."

The U-20s whom Varas took to the Concacaf championship were picked in part because they were available. The nine MLS players who started against Honduras in the semifinals have a combined two league starts in MLS, and none has played as much as 200 minutes in the first half of the season. Alejandro Alvarado started one game in his first season at Portuguese club Vizela. Mauricio Cuevas played for Club NXT in Belgium's development league.

It doesn't mean that they will remain on the bench or at their club's second team for long, creating new complications for Varas in assembling his team for Indonesia.

"They know that every time they put on the jersey," he said, "it could be their last time. This is the national team. And part of the reason that the team is as strong as it was in this tournament is because it's been a competitive process from the get-go."

13 comments about "Early qualification gives U.S. U-20s and U-23s something they've rarely gotten -- a long runway to prepare".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 6, 2022 at 12:42 a.m.

    In my view the problem with U23 MNT competition is a lack of attention by USSF. They have always known of the Olympics years in advance. Will there be any change?

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, July 6, 2022 at 8:53 a.m.

    I just don't get how FIFA/Confederations can hold Events, and NOT "Force" Releases of Players.!?!?!?... What's the Point.???... Why hold Events,  Without the  Best Players AVAILABLE.??? (It's REALLY STUPID TO HOLD A u20 WC in April.!!!)

  3. humble 1 replied, July 6, 2022 at 12:17 p.m.

    Santi, Olympics is a non-fifa event, even for USSF it is a cost not revenue based event, for the most part.  This is why they do not force it.

  4. frank schoon replied, July 6, 2022 at 12:19 p.m.

    Guys, I don't get the U23 thing...U20 should be the end station. U23 are fully professional and should no longer condsidered youth talent for now they fully involved in the fully pro-mix. 

  5. humble 1 replied, July 6, 2022 at 12:29 p.m.

    Bob, for me, the big problem with Olympics was the gaping hole in the development pathway from U19 to U23.  It was like a black hole.  So difficult to break into MLS first team.  No real D3 for long time, the D2 we have/had, NASL had no academies, then the USL version was highly competitive and sucked in a lot of foreign players, it was not a development platform.  Now you have the complete USL Academy setup with their Academy contracts that enable players to maintain amatuer status while playing in D2 or D3, and you have the reaction of the MLS to the competivivenss of the USL platform for youth and also the competiveness of USL Ch, and the struggle to develop players in that context and they have their MLS Next Pro.  Along the way, the DA cease to exist, a good thing and now you have MLS Next, ECNL Boys, and USL Academy, three seious development platforms with over 200 clubs to replace Boys DA which had like 70 clubs, maybe and a very flawed academy implementation.  Only since January of 2019 did USSF begin to register youth players with FIFA so youth clubs can, theoretically, be compensated for their development work before U23.  I just returned from a trip to Uruguay where I visited several of the top 20 academies, they live from producing pro players, that and contributions from socios is how they survive.  Penarol of Uruguay just cashed something like a $3 millon check from the Darwin Nunez move from Spain to England.  It was this space, the space from U19 to U23 that suffered the most.  I ramble.  Have a nice day. 

  6. humble 1 replied, July 6, 2022 at 12:38 p.m.

    Frank, your comment appeared while I was writing, I agree, only I see the space from U19 to U23 and the final stage of develolpment for pro players.  The five year period from U19 to U24 is where we need to support players, give them chances, help them develop into professionals and we just did not have that here, it is now, but in its early stages.  This is what is allowing us to gap Mexico in player development.  This platform is also giving chances to Canadian, Jamaican, and other CONCACAF talents, somewhat lifting the boat.  It is not a joke the games a players can get here, now.  Not hard to find 40-60 or even 70 games in competitive youth leagues.  What we still lack from U6 to U23 is quanitity and quallity of development of the technical skills of players.  Work in tight spaces, with and without the ball.  THis is unique to soccer.  A football, baseball, basketball coach or speed agiliity guy/gal cannot teach this.  It will come, people are beginning to see the way.  It is not the clubs for this, they are doing their part in leagues and games provided.  It is work players must do on their own, or in techincal academies.  You already see these all around cities like Dallas, they are spreading, people will figure this out.  Takes time.  Not overnight.  Have a nice day!  

  7. frank schoon replied, July 6, 2022 at 1:57 p.m.

    Humble, yes, I agree, but to me the stage players who have passed the U20 stage now belong in the professional pool where you learn from better player and gain the experience playing...Yes , that is the stage beyond U20. Now you learn to survive to gain the knowledge, the experience through playing, for the stuff you at this new stage is not taught via a coach but only via experience from others and through playing..

    As Cruyff states when was coaching Barcelona, he stated if you need to work on shooting or dribbling, heading , do it on your own time. Ronald Koeman  would practice his 40yard diagonal crosses for 40min. after practice. If you have a particular weakness or you need to improve on something, do it. 

    What you're saying about our players lacking ,and need another 4years to improve ,so that's why we should have a U23, then there is something very wrong with our developmental programs up to U20 and it certainly won't get better for the  same people who are developing you another 4years.  
    After the age of 21, the brain needs to become the major part of the game and that is done through playing with older ,more mature players . 

  8. humble 1 replied, July 7, 2022 at 11:35 a.m.

    Definately there are deficits in our development programs prior thru U19. I agree with everything you write.  Having lived youth soccer since 2010, I have tremendous growth in youth soccer to U19.  In 2010 where I am if your son had no college aspirations after HS he had no career, exept in the cash Latino leagues.  MLS first team was impossible to bridge to, even from their academy, no one had ever done it in our town, it was a path to college, and NASL was the same.  The space that opened in 2017 when USL got division 2 status and later when USL1 got D3 status and now with MLS Next Pro, these are the first bridges for players beyond HS to professional and the first, USL Championship, their D2 setup quickly became focused more on winning than on development.  USLs Academies are only in their 2nd year now.  All along we've had youth soccer, but the space from U18/19 to U23, the bridge to professional player, this just opened.  It being so new, it will not be perfect, just like our youth system is far from perfect.  For me, this period from U18 to U23 this is the low hanging fruit, where the system producing pro players can and needs to improve the most in the short to medium term.  In the longer term it is the youth system, and their it is exactly as you write, we need to produce more players that are fluid on and off the ball in tight spaces.  This is not very complicated to do once everyone agrees it is the priorty in youth soccer, but we have a long way to go to get to that realization.  If I can do it for my player, anyone with a kid that has the ability can other things being equal.

  9. Bob Ashpole, July 6, 2022 at 8:46 p.m.

    Humble you made excellent points. A lot has changed since 1995. Even in the last 10 years. Other countries have internationals playing D2 here now. Wow!

  10. Santiago 1314, July 6, 2022 at 9:04 p.m.

    Humble... Granted that IOC gets all the Revenue and Pays all the Bills for the Olympics... But, FIFA runs the actual Tournament... FIFA sets the "Eligibility" Rules... FIFA "Laws" and Refs are Used, Not IOC... So, FIFA could Mandate "Participation.!!!

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, July 7, 2022 at 1:22 a.m.

    To clarify, FIFA has said in the past that release of U23 players for the Olympic finals is always mandatory.

  12. humble 1 replied, July 7, 2022 at 11:43 a.m.

    Right Bob, I think the release of players for Quals is where the issue has been.  Sani, yeah maybe they run it, but they can say or write whatever they want, in practice they do not prioritize it.  FIFA is the ultimate not-for-profit that is really run for profit. I was a huge pro-cycling fan before my son began his soccer journey in 2010 so I know very well how these Swiss based governing bodies operate.  Soccer is the same only on a grander scale and run by much more clever and devious individuals as the stakes are much much higher.  All good.  No complaints here.  Happy the boys are finally back in, enjoyed the games and looking forward to the opporutnity to watch'em play in the Olympics in a couple of years. 

  13. Santiago 1314 replied, July 8, 2022 at 9:35 a.m.

    Humble... They Don't call it The FIFA MAFIA for Nothing.!!!
    I still got my papers from Olympics.. They got FIFA all over them.
    IOC proritizies MONEY.!!!... FIFA couldn't get enough of it, so they Slapped a u23 Restriction, so that IOC was "Put in It's Place".

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