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Projecting the final USMNT Olympic qualifying squad and starting XI


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


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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.


  1. I still stick with who I had on Monday’s article. I had Trusty over Kessler. My midfielder that was different was Tessmann over Bassett. My forwards- Pepi over Mihailovic. As the starting lineup back 4. I got Trusty & Glad with Araujo @ RB. My midfield was the same. …and Llanez over Lewis in the front 3. I hope we qualify and beat El Tri 2x while also winning the tournament. We qualify, the Olympic squad lineup we’ll be that much different and more dangerous! Similar to U17s & U20s, US has one group for qualifying, then the A or B+ team for the tournament.

    • I don’t think many believe Pepi will make the 20 man roster. Kreis was pretty clear he’s taking 2 #9s, seems pretty likely that’s Ferreira and Soto. Given Tessman got in vs TnT I’d say he’s got the edge over Bassett.

      • I know Pepi is a long shot. Here’s my point of view!! 1)- He’s has dual citizenship (Mexico). If you look at Pepi’s age group in Mexico, there isn’t anyone in their pipeline at his position with his skillset. (JR, I know you’ll check!!). He would be the top dawg!! Setting up a tug of war, so to speak. I think, this makes him a good candidate for the Olympic roster. (Imperative has talked about capping players 1st, then finding a spot for’em later). Yunus Musah ring a bell? 2)- Ferreira can play 4 positions (False 9, 10, CF, & Winger). IMO, I don’t believe, Kreis was talking about Jesus when he made the “two 9s” comment. I’m not talking about which position is his best. 3)-In my reasoning, that leaves Soto & Pepi, as traditional CF/9s, especially after Ebobisse was left off. 4)- I would like to know from an FC Dallas supporter. Who had a better season, Pepi or Ferreira, because I thought it was Pepi. No U20s this year, so I can picture a scenario where Ricardo is called in for qualifying but doesn’t make the final Olympic squad.

    • Well bringing Pepi to Olympic Qualifying doesn’t lock him in anyway and I generally think IV’s ideas are idiotic and would divide the team so no I don’t think he comes based on his dual citizenship. I watch a decent amount of FCD because of their NT players. I’m not sure why Luchi moved Ferreira to the 10 spot he was far more productive as a 10. Pepi was coming on strong at the end of the season and certainly brings size and strength that Ferreira doesn’t. I wouldn’t have said he was better at the end of last season but he was training with Bayern in January so maybe he’s gained. Ferreira is not really a winger, plays there once in awhile but not more than once or twice a year. Luchi uses him as a traditional #9 although I think it would have been good to use him dropping in with Fafa and Barrios running in behind. Pepi had 3g 1a last year Ferreira 1g 1a so marginally yes. Kreis and Berhalter have never used Ferreira anywhere but the 9 role so I’m pretty confident he’s one of the 9s mentioned.

  2. I don’t really get the love for Yueill. Yes, he can hit a good switch and has nice touch on his passing, but his speed of play is always a concern for me.
    Would prefer if Cardoso was the CDM and a different option was used as the 8. Not as familiar with these lesser known players in this camp, so don’t have a solution to who the 8 should be, but there has to be someone who’d let Cardoso play his more natural position.
    Hopefully we can get another Euro player or 2 released (Konrad) for the actual tournament….but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

    • Cardoso was a forward and AM as a youth, he only switched to CM/DM recently. When his name first started being mentioned about a year ago I looked for videos they all were of him as a striker. I think you’re probably right that he’ll end up there but often young CMs are played as 6s so they have more time and space to operate before moving into an 8 role.

      • I get him playing an 8 to get him comfortable if this was a Sr. Camp where he’s playing against more experienced players, but this is a U-23 and he’ll be playing against people with less or equal experience. If he’s projected as a 6 for the Sr. Team…what better time to get him experience playing it than in his own age bracket.

    • Regarding Yueill, I can’t think of a better long passer from the #8 who has ever worn a US jersey. I have seen him make 40 yard passes that are just about inch perfect. In fact, if anything, he seems to play better with the Nats than he does with the Earthquakes. Adams is probably a better all around player and his passing is very good in the 15 to 25 yard range, but Yeuill is outstanding at his specialty.

  3. I suppose these players are okay, but when you consider all the under 23’s we have playing outstanding ball in Europe, this team pales in comparison to what could have been under different circumstances.

    • Yup. By it’s nature, Olympics qualifying is not about who has the best group of U-23’s. It’s about who has the best group of eligible guys you can get released. Easy to be a victim of your own success in this regard.

  4. Regarding Ebobisse’s lackluster January camp…wasn’t he dealing with the concussion issue?..shame that it seems this is the reason why he wasn’t rated by the staff…not sure about that decision….

    • You would think that 9 goals and 3 assists in 23 games last year for Portland (and 11 and 1 in 35 games in 2019) might have some bearing on how he is rated. I guess performance in actual games doesn’t count for much with Kreis. BTW, before COVID, Ebobisse was selected for the team in 2020, so scoring 9 goals in a shortened season seems to have set him back.

      • Soto his competition had 7g in 12 matches in Dutch 2nd Division and has 2 g in 45 mins with the NT. He’s put up better numbers in MLS than Ferreira but they don’t play the same type of 9 role. Ebobisse isn’t going to drop into midfield they way Jesus Ferreira does. Ferreira has been good in his two NT starts vs weak competition.

  5. Good article and hard to argue about the choices

    Maybe if the ones that aren’t going to make it were listed As well, I could argue for a few of them but didn’t have time to do a comparison to see who didn’t make it 😉


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