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With World Cup Qualification secured, USMNT U-20’s shift focus towards Olympics

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For the fifth time in a row, the U.S. Under-20 men’s national team will be at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, but with a win over Honduras on Friday, the USMNT U-20’s can do something that it has not done in 12 years — qualify for the Olympics.

It is a weird dichotomy for Mikey Varas and his players who are all gunning for roster spots for the aforementioned U-20 World Cup in 2023 but are long shots for a 2024 Olympic roster that sets the age cut-off at 23 years old.

“We were laser-focused on the first step which is World Cup qualification,” said head coach Mikey Varas. “The boys are going to enjoy winning and the step that they made tonight but we’re very cognizant that we’re not going to get too high because we have the potential to help the country in an even bigger way on Friday.”

At a time when the U.S. Men’s national team is headed to Qatar for the World Cup in November after failing to qualify in 2018, making it back to the Olympics is an important barometer for U.S. Soccer to show they have moved past the notion of a “lost generation”.

“The Olympics are such a big deal,” said Paxten Aaronson postgame. “We haven’t qualified for the last three Olympics so the team knows how important it is and I know the boys will be up for it.”

In March 2021, the U.S. Under-23 men’s national team endured a heartbreaking loss to Honduras in regional qualifiers that ended its hopes of returning to the Olympics and as luck has it, the Americans face Honduras in San Pedro Sula with an Olympic berth on the line at a different level.

The Hondurans defeated Panama 2-1, securing their spot in the semifinals behind a brace from Marco Aceituno, but there is confidence from the USMNT U-20 squad that they are ready for whatever Honduras throws at them.

“As a group, we have fire in us and we don’t back down from anybody,” said Varas. “We’ve been one of the teams that have given the opponents backline the least amount of time to be on the ball and make decisions and I’m very proud of that,” said Varas.

Tired legs may also be a concern for a Americans that are playing their sixth match in 13 days, but Honduras is also facing the same challenges, though Hondurans have the benefit of being in front of their home fans.

“The rotation has been key,” said Aaronson. “At the end of the day, when fans are in the stadium, I think the adrenaline helps a lot, but you’re always up for these kinds of games.”

Comments

  1. I believe the last time the US beat Honduras in Olympic Qualifying was 1992. US won 4-3 on a hat trick from Steve Snow. Honduras has won the 5 meetings since.

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  2. Not eligible for the U20s but I think eligible should we qualify for the Olympics, Joshua Pynadath who hadn’t played since Feb. 2020 for Jong Ajax has signed with AZ. Likely will be with Jong AZ. There’s been almost no info on this prospect post Covid other than some rumors he was trying with Chelsea youth and trying to get a work permit. Announced on AZ’s official Twitter account.

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  3. i thought getting back to the U20 worlds was basic competence and the real test is going to be the olympics and maintaining their regional U20 dominance. and on cue honduras shows up. sing for your supper.

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  4. it’s cool for them but not sure if people noticed DR (and 3 other teams) got to skip the whole ground round and start at the knockouts. to be fair, they then beat group winner ES and overall had to win 2 games to get this far, but resting while everyone else plays is probably some increment of competitive advantage.

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    • They won their group stage just in November. No idea why Concacaf did it that why. I was trying to decide if the rest was a benefit or rust was a deterrent. DR would say benefit, the other 3 teams lost by an aggregate of 15-1. Perhaps the real benefit was getting drawn against the Panama, ES, Guatemala group.
      DR has been working the dual nat angle their keeper is one of your Dynamo II guys. Edison Azcona their #10 is in Inter Miami organization and played well at U23 tournament last year. He played for US U16s. A couple others are in Europe.

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      • you’re conflating what was called “qualifying” with this “championship” which in gold cup would just earn you the right to the group round like the rest of us. they basically took teams 16-32 in the regional U20 rankings to compete for 4 slots. then for whatever reason that got treated like a group. but when canada played an extra few rounds in the senior world cup quali they didn’t get to say oh we already did our ocho.

        i hear you that it generally had little impact but then DR won a couple games so it worked for them. personally i like everyone having a similar road and earning it. but then i wouldn’t like power teams getting to skip steps DR had to take either.

      • In the last 7 U20 qualifying tournaments they’ve used 6 different formats. This year was a return to knockout rounds for the first time since 2015. They keep trying to get more teams involved but it’s usually US, Mex, Honduras and one other team no matter what they do. Your right though even if you wanted to have the “minnow” groups why not have at least play their groups at the same time even if it’s in other countries. It does seem a little crazy that they hosted all 30 teams in Bradenton at the same time.
        Qualifications for U20 WC since 2009 (no 2020 due to Covid)
        US 6
        Hon 5
        Mex 5
        Pan 3
        CR 3
        Guatemala 2
        TnT 1
        DR 1
        Cuba 1
        ES 1

  5. To Paul’s point – DR, Guatemala, Honduras, & the US will rep Concacaf in U20 WC. Watched El Tri lose and figured US U20s will have the confidence to beat Honduras and qualify, …and once again, Honduras is in America’s path to the Olympics! Can’t wait to see the ending this story.

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  6. regarding rest of the group – if i’m reading the (limited) info correctly = Mexico will not be in U-20 WC based on loss to Guatemala, and Dominican Republic has qualified…which has to be their biggest win ever in soccer, right?

    Am I reading this correctly? And how bad is the overall state of affairs in Mexican soccer if they won’t be in U=20 WC, no Olympics, and backed their way into 2022 WC?

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    • from Jamaican newsite:
      “The Dominican Republic won the match 1-0 (over Jamaica), making it the first time any Dominican Republic team has qualified for a FIFA World Cup at any age level.”

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    • I wouldn’t write them off their U23 got the bronze at last years Olympics. Their U17s finished 2nd in 2019 U17 WC but most of that roster is a year too old for this U20 tournament. It is going to hurt though that this age group were too young for U17 WC, and missed their U20 WC and the U23 Olympics. They don’t seem to be missing too many guys who weren’t released either Marcelo Flores with Arsenal and the Jonathan Gomez (who seems to be still uncommitted) I’m sure there’s a few more. If their U17s struggle in 2023 they should really worry. Expect every US U20 player with Mexican dual nat possibilities to get the full court press to switch.

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    • yes, they are out for what would have been the first U20 next cycle plus the one olympics before 2026. normally there are 2 U20s per cycle so they will have another chance ~2024. there was only one U20 last NT cycle due to the pandemic and it’s an interesting question how that might have affected and de-platformed a particular U20 class. GB adores first team club time and if there is no U20 that narrows the road to the senior team.

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