The Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament is just a month away, and the U.S. Mens’s Under-23 national team will soon be chosen to try and end the USMNT Olympic drought, which dates back to 2008, the last time the American men played in the tournament.
The January U.S. Men’s National Team camp, and subsequent 1-0 friendly win against Costa Rica, put a heavy emphasis on Olympic qualifying and players eligible to take part in the March Concacaf qualifying tournament. The January USMNT camp helped Kreis move that much closer to identifying the group he will take to Guadalajara, Mexico for qualifying.
There are still plenty of factors that will dictate how the roster takes shape, factors that can change, such as form, injuries and player releases, which aren’t a given since the qualifying tournament isn’t an official FIFA competition.
That is why players such as Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna won’t be projected for Olympic qualifying, and should instead be key figures on Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT squad for the March friendlies against the Netherlands and Wales (though Pulisic and Adams are injury doubts at this point).
Despite that list of players unlikely to take part in Olympic qualifying, Kreis told SBI in January that the Olympic qualifying team would feature some European-based players, and his recent scouting of Erik Palmer-Brown in Austria suggests he is serious about having a well-represented European-based contingent.
As things stand, here is an updated look at the 20-man squad we can see Kreis bringing together for Olympic qualifying in March, along with players to keep in mind as possibilities, and some who may not be released:
J.T. Marcinkowski, David Ochoa, Matt Freese
Marcinkowski was the only U-23 goalkeeper in the recent January camp, and should be considered the favorite to start, though Ochoa is a very strong candidate to take over the starting role if he can win the starting job with Real Salt Lake.
Missed the Cut/Not Released – C.J. Dos Santos, Jonathan Klinsmann, Brady Scott
Reggie Cannon, Aaron Herrera, Erik Palmer-Brown, Mark McKenzie, Justen Glad, Sam Vines, Chris Gloster
The big question in this group is whether Atlanta United will release Robinson for the Olympic qualifying tournament. Atlanta rejected his call-up for the January camp, and there is no telling whether a different approach will take place for the Olympic qualifiers. Robinson is a lock starter and defensive leader for the U-23 team, but if Atlanta stands in the way, Kreis will have to look elsewhere.
Robinson’s slow return from injury is making it increasingly unlikely that he will take part in Olympic qualifying, but Kreis appears to have a ready-made contingency in Erik Palmer-Brown, who Kreis recently went to scout in Austria. Palmer-Brown is playing regularly for Austria Vienna, and if his club releases him for the qualifying tournament, Palmer Brown would be a leading candidate to start.
McKenzie and Glad were in the January camp and are the next in line at centerback, though Chris Richards is a good candidate for a place on the squad if Bayern grants his release for the tournament. If so, he is good enough to start.
The spot behind Cannon at right back goes to Herrera, who is versatile enough to play right back or left back, which gives him an edge over Julian Araujo. Vines had a good January camp and USMNT debut and looks like a good bet to start at left back.
Antonee Robinson is age-eligible, but might not be released for the Olympic qualifying tournament. Of course, given what transpired with his proposed transfer to AC Milan, you have to wonder if Kreis could parlay that toward a favorable decision to allow him to play in Olympic qualifying. All that said, Robinson has been dealing with a reported groin injury that has kept him sidelined in recent weeks, so he may not be match fit for the tournament.
Missed the Cut/Not Released– Miles Robinson, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson, Erik Palmer-Brown, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Kyle Duncan, Julian Araujo, Auston Trusty
Jackson Yueill, Brendan Aaronson, Richie Ledezma, Alex Mendez, Brandon Servania, Keaton Parks
There are some very tough decisions for Kreis to make in midfield, but Yueill should be the safest bet to anchor the group. Aaronson is coming off a good January camp and should be a factor as well, while Paxton Pomykal’s prolonged recovery from offseason surgery keeps him out of this group.
Kreis let it be known he plans to call in some European-based players for Olympic qualifying, and Ledezma and Mendez are two players who have been seeing regular minutes in the Dutch second division and could be available for the tournament. They will both be ahead of some other candidates from a fitness standpoint.
There are other options that could be tough to gain releases for, such as Christian Cappis and Chris Durkin, while Djordje Mihailovic is edged out.
Missed the Cut/Not Released– Paxton Pomykal, Johnny Cardoso, Djordje Mihailovic, Chris Durkin, Christian Cappis, James Sands
Jesus Ferreira, Mason Toye, Ulysess Llanez, Jonathan Lewis, Sebastian Saucedo
Ferreira and Llanez are coming off good January camps and should play parts in Olympic qualifying, while Toye is a solid striker option who brings something different to Ferreira. Lennon wasn’t released for January USMNT camp, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be available in March.
Jeremy Ebobisse should be a part of this group, but there is some doubt about whether the Portland Timbers will release him for the qualifying tournament (the Timbers have two MLS matches scheduled for the same time period). He is also coming back from offseason knee surgery.
Weah suffered another injury setback after only just returning from a long injury layoff, so his participation in March qualifying appears unlikely at this point. The same goes for Emmanuel Sabbi, who is in the middle of his club season in Denmark.
Sebastian Saucedo is a new addition to this projection, with his recent form for Liga MX side UNAM Pumas earning him serious consideration. The fact that the qualifying tournament is in Mexico, and would be an easy event for Saucedo to take part in, should allow him to feature, especially since there is a good chance he could be called up by the USMNT for the March friendlies instead. Saucedo’s versatility — ability to play as a winger or central midfielder — makes him ideally-suited for a tournament with a relatively small roster.
Konrad De La Fuente is an intriguing option. If things at Barcelona have improved, as it appears they have, then he could be an excellent wing option.
Missed the Cut/Not Released– Tim Weah, Emmanuel Sabbi, Jeremy Ebobisse, Konrad De La Fuente, Sebastian Soto, Brooks Lennon, Indiana Vassilev
What do you think of this squad? Who would you include that missed the cut? Who are you happy to see included?
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