A look at the U-23 pool after the October camp in Miami
The United States U-23 team is quickly moving along in its short cycle and the team looks more talented than in years past. But qualifying will still be extremely difficult. ASN's Brian Sciaretta writes about what the team looks like after the recent October camp in Miami.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedTHE UNITED STATES U-23 team wrapped up its October Camp this week and the team is progressing nicely heading towards March’s Olympic qualifying tournament. Overall, the pool of players this cycle is solid but with this age group, there are many factors to consider.
October 17, 2019
October 17, 2019
Without a doubt, this is the hardest youth national team to figure out. There are so many more factors at play.
First, unlike the U-20 team and the U-17 team, almost all the U-23 players are playing regularly with their clubs and are typically becoming very important players too. At the U-17 level, players are lucky to get first team minutes. At the U-20 levels, they are playing but sometimes not regularly or have limited roles. With the U-23 level, it’s a higher standard. With clubs not required to release players for the U-23 levels, it is more of an uphill battle to get releases since they are key players.
Second, many of these players are now also featuring with the full national team. There have been so many players in this age range who have received a U.S. cap. Whether it be for players abroad like Josh Sargent, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson, Jonathan Amon or players based domestically like Reggie Cannon, Jackson Yueill, Paxton Pomykal, Miles Robinson, Djordje Mihailovic, Jeremy Ebobisse, or Jonathan Lewis.
So there is a huge degree of overlap between the U-23s and the full national team. It doesn’t just come down to club releases, it comes down to where Gregg Berhalter and Jason Kreis believe they belong. But next year, it might also come down to where U.S. Soccer prioritizes the Olympic team and it would not be a surprise to see some top players play with the U-23 team at some point. Jason Kreis told ASN he was having discussions with having some key players available to him in March – when the USMNT is playing only friendlies.
Third, qualifying for the Olympics is hard. It is much, much harder to qualify for the Olympics than the U-20 and U-17 World Cups. Obviously, the U.S. U-23 team missed the last two Olympics and qualifying for the 2020 games will be hard as well. Unlike the U-20 and U-17 World Cups which take four teams from CONCACAF, just two teams from the region will go to the Olympics. The margin for error in qualifying is very thin. The U.S. and Mexico typically enter qualifying as the two favorites but the last time both qualified successfully (not counting when the U.S. hosted in 1996) was 1992.
Fourth, we don’t yet know the technicalities. Every year CONCACAF changes things in qualifying – whether it be format, roster size, or now possibly even roster augmentation. In 2012, the roster size was 20 players including two goalkeepers. In 2015, it was also a 20-player roster but three were required to be goalkeepers. As of now, it is not known if 2012 will allow for roster augmentation – which was allowed with the U-20 qualification where teams were allowed to make up to six changes to their rosters for the important games that often fell during the international window. This allowed for higher-profile players to take part since clubs were typically more inclined to release players during the window.
We do know that the Olympics is an 18-player roster and three players may be overage. It is the smallest roster for any FIFA tournament that consists of group stages and multiple knockout rounds. So it places an much higher demand on versatility than normal events.
The October camp
The United States capped off the October camp with a 6-1 win over El Salvador which saw six different goal scorers hit the back of the net: Brooks Lennon from Alex Mendez, Jonathan Lewis from Djordje Mihailovic, Richard Ledezma from Omir Fernandez, Sebastian Soto from Jonathan Lewis, Mason Toye from Richard Ledezma, and Manny Perez from a Richard Ledezma corner.
Earlier in the camp, the U.S. team won a scrimmage 7-0 against a local team.
ASN has heard that the top field performers in camp were Jonathan Lewis, Richard Ledezma, and Hassani Dotson. The four central defenders in Mark McKenzie, Justen Glad, Auston Trusty, and Chris Richards all had strong camps although were not particularly tested during games.
The U.S. team will be moving ahead into a camp in November. After that, there will be an extended camp in January. There are tentative plans for a camp between January and the start of qualifying in mid-March.
At some point, there is a possibility that some of the top MLS-based players who are on the full national team will shift to the U-23 team (Cannon, Pomykal, Robinson, Yueill, Aaronson).
A Potential Qualifying Roster
What does a potential roster look like right now for World Cup qualifying?
Assuming a 20-player roster with two goalkeepers, here is what it might look like – keeping the age-eligible, European-based U.S. national team players out.
1) Matt Freese
2) JT Marcinkowski
In the mix: David Ochoa, Jonathan Klinsmann, Brady Scott, Andrew Thomas
3) Reggie Cannon
4) Aaron Herrera
5) Miles Robinson
6) Justen Glad
7) Mark McKenzie
8) Chris Richards
9) Chris Gloster
In the Mix: Auston Trusty, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson, Julian Araujo, Sam Vines, Donovan Pines, Erik Palmer-Brown
10) Hassani Dotson
11) Jackson Yueill
12) Richard Ledezma
13) Paxton Pomykal
14) Brenden Aaronson
15) Alex Mendez
In the mix: Djordje Mihailovic, Christian Cappis, Brandon Servania, Chris Durkin, Keaton Parks, Johnny Cardoso
16) Jonathan Lewis
17) Jesus Ferreira
18) Brooks Lennon
19) Sebastian Soto
20) Jeremy Ebobisse
In the mix: Mason Toye, Emmanuel Sabbi, Uly Llanez, Jonathan Amon, Sebastian Saucedo, Omir Fernandez, Haji Wright, Gianluca Busio, Gio Reyna
This is completely wide-open right now and a lot can, and will, change between now and March. But the above mock roster and those listed as “in the mix” represent a good picture of the pool right now.
In defense, Cameron Carter-Vickers is interesting and it remains to be see if his club, Stoke City, will be inclined to release him during what looks like an uphill battle to avoid relegation.
Midfield is where the toughest cuts will have to be made. Dotson looks like the best bet to start as the No. 6 but he can also cover at either of the fullback options. Ledezma pushed his way onto the team after a strong camp while Pomykal, Aaronson, and Yueill have all had recent U.S. national team call-ups – making them tough to leave off. Mendez, Cappis, Servania, Mihailovic, Parks, and Durkin are all battling it out for one position.
The forward and wing pools also show an intense competition to make the team. Sebastian Soto and Jeremy Ebobisse look likely to be the center forward duo. Jonathan Lewis now has an outstanding chance of making the qualifying team after a very good camp. Jesus Ferreira is a wild card due to his eligibility still not being settled, but it likely will be ahead of qualifying and he is versatile.
Mason Toye has cooled off a little but could still make it. The same can be said for Emmanuel Sabbi but what will Hobro’s appetite be for releasing him or Cappis. Uly Llanez is one of the most talented American prospects but is also extremely young for this group – the U-20 team seems like a very decent path for him (he’s also eligible for the 2024 U-23 team and playing up an Olympic cycle is typically tough to do).
Right now, it’s just too hard to predict that Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, Tim Weah, Weston McKennie, or Sergino Dest (if he decides to play for the U.S. team) will play with this team right now. If U.S. Soccer wants to prioritize the U-23 team and both the players and clubs are in agreement, then they obviously go.
Will any of these top players go to qualifying? It’s possible one or two could. Tim Weah was so enthusiastic about playing in the U-20 World Cup that it’s easy to see him eager to get into the fold. Plus, his recent injury has set him back with his club that maybe this gives him the chance to get games.
If the U.S. team qualifies for the Olympics, I think discussions with all those players and their clubs becomes a little more serious. The Olympics end on August 9, which is before the start of the season in most European leagues during a summer where the European Championships take place. It’s unrealistic to think all of those players will play for the U-23 team but it’s certainly likely that at least a few will play.