Top Stories

U.S. U-23s embracing challenges, pressure of Olympic qualifying playoff

SANDY UT- OCTOBER 13: The team from the United States pose for a photo before the game against Canada during the third place CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying match at Rio Tinto Stadium on October 13, 2015 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

Given the previous generation’s failings, and even some of its own, the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team knows just how much pressure awaits in the coming weeks.

After settling for third place at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, the U.S. U-23s are set to take on Colombia in a home-and-home playoff with a berth in the summer tournament on the line. It’s a less than ideal path to a dream tournament, but one that must be taken if the U.S. is to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2008.

The road to Rio continues on Friday in Barranquilla, Colombia for the opening leg of the two-game series. The challenge of traveling to Colombia is one the U.S. is certainly not taking lightly, and one its players know will be difficult.

“We have to be willing to be in a game and suffer for a little bit,” midfielder Wil Trapp told SBI. “These games are going to be difficult. They’re not always going to be pretty. At the end of the day, we’re fighting for a chance to play in Rio for the Olympics, so it’s absolutely worth the challenge.

“We will generate chances, but we also have to finish those chances. That will be extremely important for us. The thing is just realizing that it’s 180 minutes vs. just 90 minutes. We have two games, and it’s not about trying to do everything we can to get an extra goal away or at home. It’s balancing that, as well as bringing that competitive edge.”

Looking back at the team’s qualifying run, Trapp and several of his teammates said there has been plenty of analyzing and reflecting on what went right and wrong. Admittedly, it was a difficult experience, but one the U.S. has learned from.

Entering Friday’s opening leg, 10 members of that qualifying team have been named to head coach Andi Herzog’s 23-man roster. With it, 10 players rejoin the team with a fresh memory of seeing the team’s Olympic dream nearly squandered.

Several months removed from the loss to Honduras, Trapp says that the team needs to be a bit more disciplined with its shape. Throughout the tournament, the U.S. proved stout defensively while lethal in front of goal. That changed against Honduras, and suddenly the U.S. team’s dreams of an automatic Olympic berth were dashed swiftly and painfully. Midfielder Matt Polster says that the only game the U.S. didn’t play well in was the one that mattered most, forcing the upcoming playoff that has seen anticipation build for months.

Polster admits the pressure is significant, given the stakes and situation at hand. However, the Chicago Fire midfielder says the U.S. merely needs to build on what the team did well in qualifying. It’s not about reinventing the wheel or completely changing mindsets. He believes it’s about sticking to the team’s strengths for another chance at achieving their ultimate goal.

“It’s going to be a high level with a high pace,” Polster told SBI. “Especially at home, they’re going to want to dictate the game and come at us. I think we got a little bit of a taste with it when we played Brazil. We were missing a bunch of guys in that camp, but, for the guys that were there, they noticed how a South American team played. We didn’t do our greatest, but we took a lot of things away from the game in knowing how it is going to be against Colombia. It was a good experience overall for us.”

“I think it will be a good atmosphere,” added Trapp. “Stepping into South America, they love their football and any time a national team of any age is playing, the rally the support. For us, it’s managing that environment, managing our mentality and sticking together as a group.”

Herzog and U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann took several steps to help prepare for the difficulties that lie ahead. The first of which came in a pair of November friendlies with Brazil, matches that, like Polster said, acclimated the U.S. to the challenges that come in facing elite South American opposition.

The second bit of preparation came in January’s senior team camp, a gathering that included 11 players that comprise the current roster.

“There were two sides of the camp,” Polster said. “One side was to get some of the young guys like myself, Wil, Eric Miller, Jerome (Kiesewetter) in with the first team with Jurgen and Andi Herzog. Having that aspect of it was nice. Having those high level coaches and some of those veteran players to see what it takes to play at that level, but on the other side, it was nice to play with some of the guys that are going to be playing against Colombia in the qualifiers to get to know them better and to get a relationship going.

“It was very important for us,” added Trapp. “It was a great month-long camp of just getting chemistry and getting an insight into what guys are like on the field as well as off the field. It’s just as important with the games coming up because you have to be together on the field and off the field. It was a great time to get some insight on those things and see some new guys that came into the fold that maybe weren’t there in qualifying.”

With preparations made and a bit of chemistry established, the U.S. can now gather to focus on the task at hand. Polster says he expects the team to take a long, hard look at Colombia over the next several days while tinkering with a potential lineup for Friday’s opener.

No matter who starts for the U.S. in Friday’s clash, they will be feeling the weight of those who came before them. After failing to qualify in 2012 and leaving the door open for another missed opportunity in 2016, the U.S. knows moments like the upcoming series hold the utmost importance for both the players on the field and the future of U.S. Soccer.

“The pressure is even more on us now because of not qualifying in the years before,” Polster said. “We just need to go down and play a really solid game. We need to be solid defensively. They’re going to try and come out and dictate the game. It depends what that coaches do, but with the forwards we have like Jordan Morris, Jerome Kiesewetter, we’re going to create chances. We’re going to get a good look at goal, as long as we’re solid defensively and prevent them from scoring, I think we have a good chance of getting a goal here or there and qualifying.

“We’re expecting to go down there and we’re going to go to win. Playing that first game away from home is massive for us. It gives us the edge a little bit because we’re going to go down there for that first game and we’re going to be hungry to get a result. That’s the expectation: to make the Olympics, because we didn’t do it last time.”


  1. Is Cameron Carter-Vickers out injured or just not selected due to injury or club commitments? I find it hard to believe he wouldn’t be a first choice if available.

    • Injury, one report has him out for the rest of the year, but no one is saying when it happened or what it is just that the US had to pull him off the roster.

  2. I need confirmation from Jurgen that Brooks could not have played with the u-23s. Otherwise it makes no sense not to have him with the u-23s when the senior team is playing against Guatemala and have so many suitable alternatives (Gonzalez, Cameron, Besler, Birnbaum, Orozco, etc.). Klinsmann always finds a way to make me scratch my head.

    • Has to be the club’s refusal. I’m pretty sure JK has already expressed wanting Brooks and Yedlin to help the U-23’s through, but he was doubtful from the beginning they would get the release. And I just don’t see Hertha (and Sunderland for that matter; Yedlin has worked himself well into that lineup) agreeing to a release for anything they aren’t required to.

      I really want to know what sort of punishment/fine USSF would get for switching the squad selections.

      • I see Carter-Vickers is out. Hard to believe that JK would not now redeploy Brooks to the U-23s unless he’s prevented from doing so. …but on the other hand, JK has done a bunch of things that I have found very hard to believe. 🙂

      • MAC, i don’t think it is the club that refused. Herzog said that he pretty much got every single player he wanted, that all clubs were helpful. The only players he didnt get are the injured ones (Rubin, Zelalem, CCV). Why would Berlin say no to the u-23 game when they know they are going to have to release Brooks anyway because of the WCQ? I could be wrong but Brooks was going to leave anyway, so I don’t see why Berlin would care which team he plays for.

      • I mean I understand and agree with you that Brooks was being released no matter what. But I only know the facts, which is: 1.That Olympic qualifiers are not a FIFA mandated event, so clubs can refuse releasing their players. 2.That JK and Herzog began talking to Hertha months ago, to try and work out some way to get Brooks released, and all reports pointed to Hertha saying “Nein!” 3.Hertha are still trying their hardest to keep the automatic CL qualifying spot, and Brooks has grown into an important role in helping achieve that, only reinforcing Hertha’s original position. 4.That they can’t refuse a WC Qualifier.

        I don’t know the technical parts of these rules, or if there are ways around it. I assume there must be some sort of ineligibility to be on a teamsheet in the U-23 game if a club refuses a release. All I know, is Hertha was/is doing whatever they can to prevent Brooks from playing. They have ALL the power in the world to prevent Brooks from getting injured in the U-23 game. They have NO power in preventing that injury at a WCQ, and have to leave that one up to faith/chance.

    • in a Q&A with Jurgen yesterday he hinted that after the first round of games they would decide if the two eligible players (Yedlin and Brooks) would go to Columbus or Texas.

      unless the U23 backline has a monster game on Friday I would bet both Yedlin and Brooks go to Texas for the second leg of the U23 series.

      hopefully the series is not out of hand at that point. its too bad they did not go directly to the U23’s but Guatemala away will be a difficult game and those two will be needed. Colombia called 3 players 23 and younger to their senior roster for March WCQ’ers so ya..its an issue shared by both teams.

    • None of the alternatives are as good as him. Brooks is outstanding, playing at a very high level right now, and qualifiers are always more important. Don’t know if that is Klinsmann’s reason but that’s my reason.

  3. The US-23’s were not acclimated to the altitude in Colorado for the CONCACAF cup and it finally caught up with them in the final which is why they looked like hot garbage. They have a shot v. Cuba. The U-20s eliminated Cuba from the U-20 WC R16 while carrying loads of injuries inclunding Russel Canouse who is now starting in BL, Andrija Novakovich who is in the EPL and Maki Tall, Bradford Jamieson who both scored goals earlier in that event. so there is no reason to think this group of kids can’t give them a fight both home and away. Ve vill see. .

    • Um Andrija Novakovich plays for Reading, in the Championship, and is currently on loan to a 4th division club.

      Interesting take on the final in Colorado. Went to school in Boulder, and the altitude definitely helped our football team not get blown out at home all the time. And if that’s true, then they’re gonna have serious problems in Colombia. I assume they’re playing in Bogota, which is at 8600+ft, over 2400ft. higher than Denver.

  4. I read an article yesterday about the selection of the Colombian team in a Colombian news paper. I found it very interesting that it almost misses to mention the fact that they will be playing against the US. No mention of what kind of rival the US will be to them or anything like that. The comments of the people are mostly about how players are selected based on what region they are from. Imagine that people from the east coast are complaining that only player from the west coast where called in or vise versa. Most of the fans assure that they have a very solid team and they all believe their head coach is garbage, that if they don’t qualify his head should roll, kind of what we say 🙂 Like us, two of their best players were needed more by the senior team. One thing though, none of their stars are injured… not good news for us. I just wanted to share the Colombian perspective.

    • my post with link was blocked but check out LaLibertad’s article on the game. Nice wrap up on the US lineup and a lot about Colombia’s #10 Juan Quintero who was recently called out by his French club coach for only being 20 mins fit.

      I would say they sound just as confident in their team and coach as we do about our’s.

    • the geography issue is interesting.. most of the players are from the southern teams only 2 are from Junior in Barranquilla, who are having a really big year currently top of the league. the National Stadium is in Barranquilla and it is a very difficult place to play because of the extreme heat and humidity (Friday should be 90F+70%) but those comments are saying why not call in more players from the host city club Junior..which is a good point.

      imagine if the US called in almost all California based players for a mid-March game in Columbus when multiple Americans were leading the Crew to the top of the league..


Leave a Comment