Top Stories

Jason Kreis addresses Atlanta United’s call-up rejections, Efrain Alvarez, and more


When the roster for the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team was released on Monday, it included three Atlanta United players, an inclusion that came despite the fact Atlanta United had already made it clear it wasn’t releasing the players for the upcoming Olympic qualifying training camp, or for Concacaf Olympic qualifying.

Citing the team’s upcoming Concacaf Champions League participation in early April, and Covid-related concerns, Atlanta United balked at releasing Miles Robinson, Brooks Lennon and George Bello, with Robinson’s exclusion hitting particularly hard given his expected role as a key defensive leader.

“Atlanta was an interesting situation,” U.S. Under-23 coach Kreis told reporters on Monday. “They have two to three players, I would say who have been very, very big contributors for us in this camp. We’ve been working for the past couple of weeks on trying to come to a solution that would be beneficial for both parties. Obviously, as I said, these were going to be big, big players for us in this qualification process.

“Atlanta wanted to keep the players because they’re in Concacaf Champions League,” Kreis said. “They were also concerned with some COVID stuff. And so we thought we had moved to a solution that was going to work, and over the weekend, we found out that Atlanta ultimately decided to not make those players available to us. So, unfortunate situation for us, unfortunate situation for the players, but ultimately, as a former MLS coach, I think we have to respect the decision.”

This isn’t the first time Atlanta United has balked at a national team call-up, having rejected USMNT call-up bids for Robinson and other players for the January 2020 national team camp.

Robinson did take part in the USMNT’s most recent January camp, earning a start and impressing in the team’s 7-0 win against El Salvador. That performance reinforced Robinson’s standing as the top centerback heading toward Olympic qualifying, making Atlanta United’s decision not to release him a difficult one for the U.S. Under-23 team.

“To not have him I think is a pretty big blow to us, but I do think that we’ve got four centerbacks right behind him in (Justen) Glad, (Henry) Kessler, (Mauricio) Pineda and (Auston) Trusty,” Kreis said. “They’ve all gotten significant minutes and significant experience at the very highest level in the US in the past year. So we believe that we’ve still got a deep enough and strong enough group.”

Alvarez not ready to decide national team future

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Kreis’ decision to include Efrain Alvarez on the preliminary roster for Olympic qualifying could be best described as a token gesture of interest to a player who was extremely unlikely to rush a decision on his national team future, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when Alvarez’s name was missing from the training camp roster.

“Efra’s a player that we were working with and talking with about making as we said from the beginning, a very, very difficult and personal decision,” Kreis said. “He’s decided to not make that decision yet. So he’s decided that he wasn’t ready to commit to one team or another, which puts us in a very hopeful position.

“Again, we continue to let Efra know that we support it, that we would like him to be a part of the US men’s national teams programs,” Kreis said. “But ultimately, we understand that this is a very personal and deep decision. We want to respect that.”

Kreis did bring in another teenage midfielder who hadn’t been part of the January U-23 camp in Colorado Rapids standout Cole Bassett, while pointing out that Gianluca Busio was ultimately not included due to not having been a part of any past U-23 camps.

While Alvarez put off his decision between the United States and Mexico, two other players facing a similar decision will take part in the U.S. camp. Julian Araujo and Ricardo Pepi were called up by Kreis, and both are still eligible to represent Mexico.

Ebobisse’s absence was a coach’s decision

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

One of the more surprising exclusions from the Olympic qualifying training camp roster was Portland Timbers striker Jeremy Ebobisse. The most experienced of the striker options in the available U-23 player pool, Ebobisse was passed over in favor of Sebastian Soto and Jesus Ferreira as striker options, along with Ricardo Pepi, who is a long-shot to make the final roster, but who likely earned a call-up in a step toward trying to convince the FC Dallas forward to continue representing the United States rather than potentially switching to the Mexican national team.

“It was coach’s selection,” Kreis said of Ebobisse’s omission. “We know that ultimately, we’re going to end up with a roster with probably two number nines. (Ebobisse)’s a player that you know, I felt in the past was a player that could play winger, but could also play nine. But through working with him in the January camp, I walked away from that camp feeling very strongly that he is a number nine. And for us at the moment we have two number nines that we prefer to him. So that’s the decision we make.”

U.S. U-23 has a different look after a year-long delay

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

The upcoming Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament will come a full year after it was originally slated to take place, a delay caused by the Coronavirus pandemic that froze the world, and a look at the training camp roster for the United States shows just how much things have changed.

A total of nine players on the 20-player roster chosen for last year’s postponed edition of Olympic qualifying are not included in the current group, including a trio of standouts who have since secured transfers to Europe. Reggie Cannon, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie were all projected to be starters on the 2020 team but are not available now as they have established themselves as regular contributors with their current teams in Europe.

In other instances, injuries have played a part, with Paxton Pomykal having endured a difficult time and Richie Ledezma having undergone knee surgery that has sidelined him. Erik Palmer-Brown’s recent injury ruled him out after it was believed he would take part.

“I think the team feels different in a lot of ways,” Kreis said. “You know, obviously, not having players like (Brenden) Aaronson and (Mark) McKenzie. Those players would have been, I think, really important players for us. But you know that those players are also not available. Also, Erik Palmer-Brown’s not available this year. So there’s a host of players that weren’t available this year that were available last year.

“But as we’ve said, what we have gained as we’ve gained players that had a tremendous amount of experience in MLS this past year due to the, I think, more opportunity for young players in the league,” Kreis said. “So we’ve got I think, arguably, probably a more experienced group as far as how many of these players have played lots of matches in the last year to two years. But ultimately looks a little bit different from from the top end perspective, perhaps so deeper group.

“And I think still, at the end of the day, I still feel very good at the talent level we have the team that we’re going to be able to put forward to help us qualify for the Olympics.”

Among the new faces who have emerged to position themselves as key contributors are centerbacks Mauricio Pineda and Henry Kessler. The two players are coming off standout rookie seasons in MLS, whereas a year ago neither was anywhere close to being on the Olympic qualifying radar.

Brazil-based midfielder Johnny Cardoso is another player who wasn’t in the picture a year ago, but has now emerged as a promising prospect who made his USMNT debut last November.

Then there is Sebastian Soto, a star at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup, but a player who wasn’t available for the 2020 edition of Olympic qualifying, but who will now be expected to start in the 2021 qualifying tournament.


  1. re Ebobisse, that’s a nice way of saying he didn’t rate him as a wing, and didn’t rate him as one of the first two 9 options either. and that if they carry three 9s it would be Pepi to try to lock down his nationality. which i think is kind of lame when someone already has USA on their resume.

  2. the alvarez discussion feels like public relations. the guy has a row of Mexicos on his resume. you had a window on him where you brought him into senior camp. you then offered him U23 and that apparently wasn’t the incentive he wanted (compare with Soto who has other options but is willing to play U23 for us). if he shows up playing for mexico again then we haven’t made any real traction there. in theory he could switch but he hasn’t.

    • I think the issue is he can play fro Mexico u-23s and then file for a one-time transfer to the US if he wanted. If he picked the US U-23s now, he would have to file a one-time transfer and would not be eligible for Mexico. He is quite simply keeping his options open.

      I suspect he will end up staying with Mexico, but until he is capped by the full Mexican National Team, I think he could still in principle transfer to the USA.

      • here is the deal. he has a row of Mexico on his resume. you briefly enticed him to camp with the senior place. when march came you offered U23 instead. whatever traction you got with senior camp obviously went away. if he plays for mexico U23 you add another age group up the ladder same team. he could in theory switch, and one can always cite the one senior camp, but he didn’t switch and he went right back away. we had a window, obviously, because he showed up. whatever we did — and what is visible to us is following up with U23 offer — it didn’t work. far as i am concerned if a senior friendly instead would have sealed the deal, you call him to europe end of the month — even if he could help U23. in theory he will remain in play but in reality i think that was our chance and it’s over. you sometimes have to take risks to secure players eg Green and AJ on the Brazil roster in 2014.

      • personally i find the U23 obsession silly and the tracking of certain senior performers to U23 misguided. if you perform for senior team anyone who helps senior team should be with them. the leftovers can then try to qualify for the olympics, because i want the best kids chasing the world cup.

    • Most of these U23s would have never gotten NT call ups at this point in their career if it weren’t for the Olympics. They are almost all Jan or the one December pandemic camp call ups. These aren’t guys that would get a call up if the full squad was available except Yueill. These guys really are the leftovers or whatever you called them.

      • that sounds cute but then soto who GB thinks is a U23 is wanted by chile and mexico’s senior team. i think GB has a skewed idea of which is which. i think a lot of people he deems U23 would be senior players under another coach. you had people producing for the senior team in their opportunities — soto had a brace in 10′– who would be more fully involved under other senior team coaches. you have guys like richards who would have been ahead of robinson and dest. the flaw in your logic is assuming GB has the talent properly evaluated and sorted, and is a reliable scout. i think the team looked far better when he put the kids out there which says something about his regulars.

      • recall also that sargent was initially dismissed as a U23 and cut from gold cup, now borderline starter. i don’t even think GB can keep his story straight one minute to the next. when richards emerges he will have to explain why that took so long as well.

  3. i call “bull” on the “experience” complaint on busio. last time the U23s had a game as a unit was 2019. this was destined to be slapped together no matter who gets selected. it’s really just a convoluted way of saying GB doesn’t rate him, didn’t have him in any of the winter games.

    • According to the article they’ve been in discussions that they thought they had an agreement but then it fell thru.

      • that suggests the selection choices were made before availability was discussed and secured, which in light of history is silly. i thought the whole point was lining up a regular set of players who we weren’t going to be fighting and losing with clubs. i don’t get calling people in 19/20 with an eye to quali but not asking for their involvement until 21. particularly with Atlanta I would have been, do we get them or not? if not, move on. and that was completely predictable from actions on up to senior turndowns.

    • I’m with you on Busio…just because he was never called is a crap reason to exclude…isn’t that what this camp is for…get everyone acquainted….

    • They did name 31 for a 20 man roster so they had wiggle room. Also hard to hold someone to an agreement for tournament literally occurring a year later than it was supposed too. Any agreement would have been made with DeBoer and now he’s long gone as are about half of their roster.

  4. Atlanta was completely predictable. We have been discussing the availability issues for years. They have been a particularly problematic team. Did we not ask?

  5. Friendly reminder! Remember the Cuba match USA won 7-0. I know, it was vs a minnow. What’s important is Miles didn’t play but GB had him & others doing sideline workouts/stretches during the match. He pulled his hamstring. The very next week, Darren Eales & Bocanegra came on the local sports talk radio station, who covers the sports teams, here in Atl. They interviewed at different times but Eales & Carlos were pissed @ GB. I mean pissed, where the listener could hear the contempt! Eales is English, which made his interview more memorable to me. I think, if Robinson was hurt playing, it would’ve been a different story. It’s the same radio station that interviewed Nagbe, weeks before any national outlets reported on it. Nagbe expressed not playing for the Nats & spending time with his fam. My point- a conversation about MLS team(s) not releasing players for the National team began with Atl United (Miles Robinson) at forefront 2019. MLS teams always released players to the Nats, given the impression MLS & USSF work hand -n-hand. Now, because GBs mistake with M. Robinson, releases will be conditional, ie Champions league, Campeones/MLS Cups, playoffs, supporters shield, no release. Teams & Nat managers normally work around it, but the Five Stripes took a hardline on their players. Bello, Lennon, Robinson are locked in starters.

    • feels like spin. the real beef sounds like “you called him and he didn’t even see the field for cuba.” cause otherwise, sorry, bench players on down to youth play don’t just sit on the bench all day, they get up and warm up. are you really complaining i had someone kick a ball or two or run a couple windsprints? and boca as a former player and NT would fully understand all this, I assume it comes from the boss and is simply a dressed up version of the basic complaint that the clubs have to release anyone.

    • It was in a post match workout. Yes ATLU was upset about it, but everyone today does post match workouts with the guys that didn’t play so that everyone is on the same recovery schedule. If you watch the post match on field interviews or you watch post game shows there are always goes doing their workouts.

    • When a player get injured working out or warming up, the only way that is on the coach is if the player had been overworked or was being expected to do too much without having achieved fitness. In the case you cite, it seems impossible for me to believe that the injury was in any way Berhalter’s fault. In short, a phony rationale.

      • let’s be blunt, if you pull a hammy in a no-minutes cool down, you were probably an injury timebomb anyway. it was going to happen regardless. and the point as Page notes is that you’re going to warm up before the game, during the game, and then cool down, or you’re going to get in the game and play. the real beef is he got hurt being called up, and beneath that is usually the owner’s complaint he had to release them at all. that is why the rules on release have to exist, but it also points to them being upset about the consequence or the basic fact they had to release, as opposed to his actual treatment. it’s not like he got hurt being thrown in a game cold or doing punishment. he got hurt doing routine things.

  6. I definitely disagree with Kreis’ decision to leave out Ebobisse. I think it is clear that he has done much more than either Ferreirra or Pepi. And yes, I know that Pepi is considering Mexico, but Kreis’ job is to qualify for the Olympics with the best players he can get. I also rate Ebobisse over Lewis. This makes me have concerns about Kreis’ player selection judgment. Finally, what”s with Atlanta.? They have a disturbing history of non-cooperation with the national team. USSF needs to talk to Garber who needs to talk to Atlanta top management.

    • I’m on the fence with ATL.
      I want our players to be able to rep the national team.
      However, I understand their hesitation to let key players go, especially considering Robinson’s injuries last time and how the 2020 season went…

    • I agree, Gary. He also selected Llanez who, let’s be honest here, hasn’t played in a year and hasn’t been in training either since he returned to the US. I know the player is talented, but to leave off a more deserving attacking player because Kreis wants to get someone he likes going again when he’s at his lowest point is sentiment over substance and the kind of thing that kills qualification campaigns.

    • Thinking about this more, I thought I would point out something pertinent. I have noticed that Ebobisse score a lot of his goals with headers. Can’t say I’ve seen all our strikers at work, but it seems to me that since Dempsey retired we really haven’t had an attacker who is good in the air. Maybe I’m missing someone, but I certainly don’t see anyone on this roster who fills that bill. Another reason to b ring in Ebobisse.

      • Weren’t both Soto’s goals against Panama headed goals? I believe he also scored on a header against Nigeria at the U20 WC. It seems clear they like Ferreira’s ability to drop into the middle and play the ball in behind to Lewis and Llanez and they like Soto to run onto crosses from the wings if the have to play outside in. Now if they choose Pepi over Soto and Ferreira???

Leave a Comment