The final 20-man roster for the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team’s Olympic qualifying campaign is set to be decided next week, and Jason Kreis still has some tough decisions to make as he puts his squad through the motions in camp this week.
Atlanta United’s decision not to release its players for Olympic qualifying has shaken things up for Kreis’ plans, but it has also reduced the number of contenders for the small 20-player roster, and opened the door for some new contenders for the first-choice starting lineup.
Here is a look at the 20 players we see making the final roster, and the first-choice lineup we can see taking the field when the most important Olympic qualifiers take place in Mexico later in March:
Projected First-Choice XI
Projected USMNT Olympic Qualifying Squad
Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union; Wayne, Pa.), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes, Alamo, Calif.), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake; Oxnard, Calif.)
Kreis put to rest any concerns there might be about Marcinkowski’s availability after an ankle injury picked up during the January USMNT camp, and the San Jose goalkeeper remains the leading candidate to start in Olympic qualifying. Matt Freese is likely the second-choice option.
Will David Ochoa be the third goalkeeper in favor of an older option in Klinsmann? Look for Ochoa to get the nod, and potentially push for playing time in tournament play.
Julian Araujo, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Henry Kessler, Mauricio Pineda, Sam Vines
Miles Robinson’s absence opens the door for at least one other centerback to make the squad, and that is likely to be Glad. In terms of who starts, Mauricio Pineda should be one of the starters, with Justen Glad and Henry Kessler battling to start alongside him.
At fullback, Marco Farfan looks to be the odd man out, and Aaron Herrera’s ability to play on either said allows Kreis to carry just three natural fullbacks (and Justin Glad can deputize at left back if needed).
In terms of starting roles, Herrera is Kreis’ preferred right back, though Julian Araujo will push for minutes. Sam Vines is the left back, unless Araujo’s play leads Kreis to consider moving Herrera to left back.
Johnny Cardoso, Andrés Perea, Eryk Williamson, Jackson Yueill, Cole Bassett
Having just concluded his club season, Cardoso should be sharp and a good candidate to start along with Jackson Yueill. Though he’s seen more as a defensive midfield option for the USMNT, Cardoso can handle a more advanced role with this U-23 team. Hassani Dotson made the final qualifying roster a year ago, but the additions of Cardoso and Andres Perea leave him the odd man out.
One good battle will be between Frankie Amaya and Cole Bassett for the attacking midfield spot alongside Eryk Williamson. Amaya is a bit more of a two-way midfielder, but Bassett gets the nod here as a more attack-minded threat, which this roster can use.
Jesús Ferreira, Jonathan Lewis, Ulysses Llanez, Djordje Mihailovic, Sebastian Saucedo, Sebastian Soto
Soto and Ferreira should be Kreis’ striker options, meaning young striker Ricardo Pepi misses out. It is still puzzling that Jeremy Ebobisse didn’t make this team, but the word is he lost ground in the race for a roster spot with a lackluster showing in January camp.
In terms of wing threats, Ulysses Llanez will need to show he is fit and sharp enough to contribute after a recent layoff. If Llanez is on his game, he is good enough to start, but if Llanez isn’t sharp, then that could open the door for a Benji Michel to make the team.
What do you think of the projected squad? Who would you like to see make the team that didn’t make our projection? Who made it onto our projected squad that you are happy to see included?
Share your thoughts below.