Kreis Finalizes 20-Player Squad for Concacaf Men's Olympic Qualifiers
by Bart Keeler
United States U-23 head coach Jason Kreis has finalized the 20 players he will deploy to drag the men’s team back to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. The Men’s Olympic Qualifiers in Guadalajara, Mexico, start Thursday, March 18, and run through Tuesday, March 30. Teams will play up to five matches in 13 days.
US U-23 Men’s Olympic Qualifying Roster:
JT Marcinkowski (23, San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Freese (22, Philadelphia Union), David Ochoa (20, Real Salt Lake).
Julian Araujo (19, LA Galaxy), Sam Vines (21, Colorado Rapids), Aaron Herrer (23, Real Salt Lake), Henry Kessler (22, New England Revolution), Justen Glad (24, Real Salt Lake), Mauricio Pineda (23, Chicago Fire FC).
Jackson Yueill (23, San Jose Earthquakes), Andres Perea (20, Orlando City SC), Djordje Mihailovic (22. CF Montreal), Johnny Cardoso (19, SC Internacional), Hassani Dotson (23, Minnesota United FC), Sebastian Saucedo (24, UNAM Pumas), Ulysses Llanez (19, SC Heerenveen).
Jonathan Lewis (23, Colorado Rapids), Jesus Ferreira (20, FC Dallas), Sebastian Soto (20, Norwich City), Benji Michel (23, Orlando City SC).
Overall, this roster has a lot of professional experience. That’s a massive improvement from any other U-23 squad for the Olympic Qualifiers. The 20 players have combined for 862 total first-team professional starts. Sixteen of the 20 players are MLS first-teamers. The other leagues represented are the EFL Championship, Liga MX, Dutch Eredivisie, and Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. Real Salt Lake is the most-represented club, with three of their homegrown players made the final roster. Orlando City, Colorado Rapids, San Jose each have two players.
Even though there is experience, it’s fair to be worried about the spine of the team. All of the center backs and central midfielders are far down the depth chart for the senior NT and even in this U-23 group. The players who stayed with their clubs for one reason or another would have strengthened the midfield and defense.
Specifically, the center backs cause concern. While Glad, Pineda and Kessler are starters for their MLS clubs, none of them have broken through for the senior team (compared to Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson). Glad has been a professional for half a decade, he has not played for the senior national team. Pineda and Kessler turned pro just last year and the former didn’t play despite being called up to the USMNT in December and January.
One major question is whether or not Yueill can handle the defensive pressure in this tournament. He is not a true defensive midfielder, operating more of a distribution center for both San Jose and the USMNT. That said, he has nine caps for the senior team, and all but one was against Concacaf competition. Perea could offer more defensive bite but men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference for a distributing, deep-lying midfielder rather than a hard-nosed ball-winner. Because the U.S. is expected to be a more possession-dominant team against Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, Yueill will likely start.
Kreis whittled down the roster from 48 to 31 to the final 20. Some of those decisions were made for him because decided to not release players. Atlanta United did not George Bello, Brooks Lennon, or Robinson to travel to Guadalajara for the pre-tournament training camp and did not release any of the three for the tournament proper. The club cited COVID-19 concerns; the players would be required to quarantine after returning from the tournament that ends on Tuesday, March 30, and miss the first Concacaf Champions League match on Tuesday, April 6.
Other notable absences include Konrad de la Fuente, who players for Barcelona’s B squad, Alex Mendez (Jong Ajaz), and Chris Gloster (Jong PSV). Even though several talented U-23 players are not on first-team rosters for European clubs, they were not released for this non-FIFA competition.
The USYNT is in Group A and kicks off the competition on Thursday, March 18, at 5 p.m. EDT against Costa Rica, in Estadio Jalisco, in Guadalajara. Then play Dominican Republic on Sunday, March 21, at 7 p.m. EDT, in Estadio Akron, in Zapopan. The final matchday, Wednesday, Mach 24, pits the U.S. against Mexico at 9:30 p.m. EDT, at Estadio Jalisco.
Group B features Honduras, Canada, El Salvador and Haiti.
The top two teams in the two groups advance to the semifinals on Sunday, March 28. To qualify for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, a team must advance to the final, meaning the semi-final match is the most important match in the tournament. The final will be played on Tuesday, March 30, in Estadio Akron, Zapopan, at 9 p.m. EDT.