With a playoff date with Colombia scheduled for March, the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team is set to start the preparation period on Wednesday with a friendly match vs. Brazil (6 pm, Fox Sports 1).
U.S. head coach Andi Herzog has called in 19 players for a pair of friendlies this month, which will serve as tune-ups ahead of March’s two-legged playoff for a spot in the 2016 Olympics. The Americans are coming off of a disappointing third-place finish in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, and Herzog has called in some heavy hitters as the U.S. looks to build towards a potential Olympic berth.
World Cup goal-scorers Julian Green and John Brooks join up with the U-23s this time around, while goalkeeper Cody Cropper rejoins the squad after missing the qualifying run due to injury. Absent, though, are some of the team’s key contributors, as Jordan Morris, Matt Miazga and Wil Trapp are among the faces that will be absent from the upcoming friendlies.
Overall, the squad will feature 10 players that weren’t a part of the qualifying run, giving Herzog a chance to shake things up in an effort to find his best group ahead of the Colombia clash.
Here is a lineup we could see Herzog use on Wednesday:
After missing out on qualifying, Cody Cropper should slot right into the position of starting goalkeeper. Cropper returns from injury and finds himself in a real competition following admirable performances from Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen in qualifying, and needs to make the most out of these pair of Brazil clashes in order to convince that he should be the No. 1 vs. Colombia.
In front of Cropper, Shane O’Neill should return to the fold after missing qualifying due to a head injury, while John Brooks looks likely to slot in next to him after spending the majority of 2015 with the senior team. The current Bundesliga campaign hasn’t been an easy one for Brooks, and, now returning from an injury of his own, time with the U-23s could go a long way towards helping to build some confidence against solid competition.
With potential starts, Brooks and O’Neill would enter a fierce centerback competition. Matt Miazga, who is likely to be penciled in for March’s playoff, is currently with the senior team while 17-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers remains waiting for another chance after a mediocre qualifying campaign.
On either side of the central defenders could lie Dillon Serna and Eric Miller. Serna showed well enough at qualifying from the left back position and should be expected to start, while Miller rejoins the squad after pulling out of qualifying shortly before the tournament started.
In the midfield, Fatai Alashe remains an anchor and one of the age group’s best midfielders, while fellow MLS Rookie of the Year nominee Matt Polster could pair with him after featuring as a right back in qualifying. Gedion Zelalem remains a bit of a puzzle, but should earn another look in at least one of the upcoming friendlies. Tijuana’s Alejandro Guido will also earn an appearance at some point, as the U.S. carries just six midfielder heading into the two games.
Julian Green and Khiry Shelton are two players who could prove to be threats on the wings. The perception of Green has certainly been up and down since the 2014 World Cup, but his performances at the Toulon Tournament in June demonstrated that he can be a valuable contributor on the U-23 level. Shelton, meanwhile, is a player who has received limited looks with the U-23s. He is now healthy, however, after dealing with multiple injuries during New York City FC’s seasonn, and could slot in on the left to provide a bit of speed.
Up front, CONCACAF qualifying Golden Boot winner Jerome Kiesewetter will likely start. Although he could be moved out on the wing again, Kiesewetter should get some additional time up top after impressing alongside Jordan Morris throughout qualifying. Throughout qualifying, the U.S. tended to favor two-striker sets, making the inclusion of Maki Tall a logical one.
Why would Green be on the right when he is one of the few natural left wingers in the pool. Polster over Zelalem is crazy.
Is a 20 year old who rarely even plays for a third division Swiss club (Sion II) really the best U-23 striker we have?
No, but Rubin is hurt, and Morris is with the full team.
Crazy how two guys who scored in the last World Cup are playing in this game.
Alashe is NOT one of our best midfield prospects. He’s a mediocre player with the touch of a brick wall. Alashe and Polster starting in Central Midfield, with no one more creative in front of them, is asking for problems. Why not play a 4-2-3-1 with the personnel available? Jerome is more comfortable out wide anyways, and that would allow a true playmaker to sit in front of two more defensive midfielders. Also, Guido should get the start, as he’s been playing with Club Tijuana lately, and looks very good in the “8” role for them.
I thought he looked strong in midfield. Good tackling and a comfort level (and strength) holding the ball that the other holding options don’t posses. He’s definitely not a creator, but he’s one of our better midfielders at this age group IMO.
Serna Brooks CCV Miller