Olympic qualifying look ahead

A look at the state of the U-23 team as Olympic qualifying approaches

In less than two months, the United States U-23 team will start its Olympic qualifying campaign. There are a lot of moving parts in putting this team together and ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the factors at play and takes a stab predicting the roster for March's tournament. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 29, 2020
8:55 AM
PREDICTING WHAT the United States U-23 Olympic qualifying roster will look like is a very hard task because there are so many variables. The most obvious one is determining which players will get released. But there are other factors as well. Such as, the importance of having played with the team before and the ability to integrate newcomers at qualifying. Then there is also the small roster size which might value versatility more than usual.

It is different than the U-20 and U-17 levels because at the U-23 level, many players have reached the age where they are important to their clubs to miss games or training. With all these factors, here is a look at where the U-23 stands. 

What we know about the Olympic qualifying tournament for the U.S. team is the following:

  • The roster will consist of 20 players with 17 field players and three goalkeepers
  • Clubs are never required to release players for youth tournaments. While the international window tends to make things more agreeable, clubs can always say no in terms of releasing players.
  • The FIFA International Window in March runs from March 23 through March 31 - which begins on the second group stage game and runs through the semifinal. 
  • The group stage is very hard for the U.S. team with Costa Rica (March 20), the Dominican Republic (March 23), and Mexico (March 26) as its opponents. While advancing out of the group will be hard, the flip side is that if it does so, it cannot face Mexico in Guadalajara in the semifinal game which will determine qualification.
  • U.S. U-23 head coach Jason Kreis had five camps in 2019 (March, June, September, October, November) but is not having one in January as most of the January camp for the full national team consists of players eligible for the U-23 team.
  • Following this U.S. national team camp, it will be extremely difficult to assemble the team for a meaningful period before the final preparations for qualifying begin. 

What we can infer or guess about the Olympic qualifying tournament for the U.S. team is the following:

  • Expect most if not all MLS teams to cooperate and release their players for the duration of the tournament. The one exception might be if teams are in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. That might impact the ability for a player to play in the opener against Costa Rica (which might be the U.S. team’s most important game)
  • Berhalter has already said that the star players of this age group that play for big European teams are unlikely – this would be Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Weston Mckennie, Tyler Adams and Sergino Dest.
  • Berhalter has also said that full national team players Jackson Yueill and Reggie Cannon will play with the U-23 team and not the national team.
  • It’s fair to be optimistic that European-based players who have played with this team on multiple occasions will be released if invited (which is not a sure thing as it is a competitive roster). Kreis has said these clubs have been agreeable (more agreeable than MLS teams) over the past year for releases. Such players include Chris Richards, Christian Cappis, Richard Ledezma, Alex Mendez, Chris Gloster, Sebastian Soto.
  • It will probably be hard for any newcomer to make this team if he hasn’t played with either the U-23 team or the full national team before.

There are also some other factors to consider as well. Such as the availability of Tim Weah who is working his way back from a long-term injury. Would Lille be willing to release him as part of a win-win scenario where it would give him a chance to get some valuable games during his return? Is there any wiggle room with Dest if he is not starting for Ajax? Cameron Carter-Vickers club status is in limbo right now, will he be at a club that is willing to release?

Finally, will Kreis be willing or able to make a deal with clubs to allow for players just to play in the international break? It would leave the U.S. team shorthanded for the first or second group stage game but it might make clubs more agreeable to release some top players. U.S. Soccer has taken this approach to bring in better players for Olympic qualifying. In 2008, U.S. Soccer reached a deal with West Ham to release Jonathan Spector for just the semifinal qualifying game. 



1) David Ochoa
2) J.T. Marcinkowski
3) Matt Freese

In the mix: Brady Scott, Jonathan Klinsmann

The skinny: It’s a tough position to predict at the moment without a clear first choice right now. David Ochoa is very young and the U-20 starter right now but had a lot of success with the Real Monarchs. J.T Marcinkowski was at the current U.S. national team camp although he was released before the team traveled to California. Matt Freese started for the U-23 team during the fall camps. Brady Scott was the starter at last year’s U-20 World Cup. So this remains difficult.


4) Reggie Cannon
5) Miles Robinson
6) Chris Richards
7) Justen Glad
8) Aaron Herrera
9) Chris Gloster

In the mix: Julian Araujo, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson, Kyle Duncan, Sam Vines 

The skinny: Reggie Cannon is the starting right back for this team but that is the only certain thing right now about the backline. Chris Gloster has been solid at left back for this team while Antonee Robinson’s release seems unlikely. Aaron Herrera meanwhile is a decent option at both right and left back. The big question is whether or not Kreis goes with a fourth central defender (which would likely be Mark McKenzie) or a fourth fullback (which would likely be Julian Araujo). Araujo is a solid option because he’s a right back that can cover in central defense. But he is young and likely with the U-20 team.


10) Jackson Yueill
11) Brandon Servania
12) Christian Cappis
13) Richard Ledezma
14) Brenden Aaronson
15) Paxton Pomykal

In the mix: Alex Mendez, Hassani Dotson, Keaton Parks, Bryang Kayo, Johnny Cardoso, James Sands, Djordje Mihailovic

The skinny: Hassani Dotson would make a lot of sense on this team and he is probably in a competition with Servania right now. Dotson makes sense as a No. 6 because he can also fill in at right and left back but Servania’s late inclusion into January camp probably gives him the edge. Cappis is also versatile across the midfield while providing size and strength (and if Cappis is not released, it opens another door for Dotson's inclusion). Both Dotson and Cappis seem to be ahead of Keaton Parks right now. Meanwhile Ledezma, Aaronson, and Pomykal are the attacking midfielders. It makes it tough for Alex Mendez but he is certainly not out of the mix as Ledezma’s club status at PSV is improving (which might limit his release) and Pomykal's hasn't been healthy in some time. Djordje Mihailovic is a tough player to read at the moment as he was at January camp last year but not this year - while over the past year seems to have been passed by Aaronson and Pomykal. Still, he wore the armband for the U-23 at times in the fall so he is still certainly in the mix. 


16) Jonathan Lewis
17) Sebastian Saucedo
18) Ulysses Llanez
19) Jeremy Ebobisse
20) Jesus Ferreira

In the mix: Sebastian Soto, Timothy Weah, Mason Toye, Brooks Lennon, Gio Reyna, Emmanuel Sabbi

The skinny: Like many of the areas on this team, there are a lot of questions. First, will Jesus Ferreira have his paperwork cleared by FIFA to represent the United States (he is seeking a FIFA residency requirement that applies to naturalized citizens). Will Sebastian Saucedo be released by Pumas – where he is a starter for a team that has started off the Liga MX season atop the table. For now, Ulysses Llanez has the edge since he’s at the U.S. camp, but how is he performing? So, among the five players listed, we have questions on three of them and only Jonathan Lewis and Jeremy Ebobisse seem like safer bets. Brooks Lennon is a tempting pick since he can also cover at right back (and versatility is key) while Mason Toye has been useful so far this cycle. Then you have Timothy Weah, who Lille might like to have involved to get him games after a long-term absence. There is also Gio Reyna who is playing for Borussia Dortmund’s first team, but still only in a limited role – if he was released for the U-17 World Cup two months ago, what makes the U-23 team out of bounds? He would play a lot of minutes.

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