The U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team’s Olympic qualifying campaign kicks off on Thursday against Costa Rica, and Jason Kreis knows full well he needs to put his best possible lineup on the field for the opener in order to set a good tone for a whirlwind group stage that will feature three matches in seven days.
As Kreis pointed out this week, the U.S. team as a group doesn’t have the ideal level of match fitness due to so many players at the start of their preseasons. That means Kreis will need to juggle lineups, use liberal substitutions, and we should see a completely different lineup against the Dominican Republic in the second match as the Americans prepare for the group finale against Mexico.
First thing’s first, the Americans take on a Costa Rica side with a nucleus of players who play in Costa Rica, and are in the middle of their club seasons. The good news for Kreis is that his defense is built around a group that spent plenty of time together in the recent USMNT January camp. Between that camp, the recent pre-Olympic camp, and with the experience the defensive nucleus has, the U.S. backline will be leaned on heavily.
Here is the lineup we could see taking on Costa Rica on Thursday:
Who should start at striker? That seemed like a big question given the presence of Sebastian Soto and Jesus Ferreira, but there’s no reason both can’t play given Ferreira’s versatility. The only real argument for not playing them together is wanting to have one of them available to start against the Dominican Republic. That’s a fair thought, but beating the Ticos takes priority so we should see them start together.
The back four is pretty straight forward, and Marcinkowski should get the nod in goal if he is fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in January camp. Yueill is the captain and anchors the defense, while Johnny Cardoso arrives from Brazil and has the fitness advantage to step in and start.
Substitutions will be just as important for Kreis, with Sebastian Saucedo and Benji Michel and good attacking options off the bench, and Hassani Dotson and Andres Perea giving the midfield depth and Henry Kessler and Julian Araujo expected to play a part along the back-line during the tournament.
What do you think of this projected lineup? Who made the cut that you are happy to see included? Who missed out that you feel deserves to start?
Share your thoughts below.