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Olympic Qualifying

After Two Losses to Brazil, U.S. U-23s Need to Retool

Andi Hezog's U.S. under-23 team needs to get past Colombia in March in order to reach the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But two poor showings in Brazil suggest this team has a long way to go.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 17, 2015
11:30 AM

THE UNITED STATES U-23 TEAM recently completed a two-game series against Brazil, and the squad was thoroughly outplayed on both occasions. It was an eye-opening spectacle—one that revealed just how weak this team is despite nearly a full year under the direction of head coach Andi Herzog.

The finals scores of 2-1 and 5-1 tell only part of the story. The Americans were dominated throughout both contests. Brazil had a huge majority of possession and was able to pick apart the U.S. backline. The Yanks struggled to win the ball back to regain control, and on the rare times the U.S.had the ball, it was never dangerous.

Its only two goals came from an own goal, and a penalty after a clumsy Brazilian challenge. Brazil is much more talented than the United States, but that does not excuse a U.S. side that has done a ton of work with little or no return on the investment.

Herzog's team has shown no real improvement—why?

Many players are struggling

Not just in the group of players in Brazil, but also in the group for qualifying, one thing was striking: The struggles have been shared across the board. MLS players have been poor, European-based players have been poor, and Mexican-based players have been poor.

If you look at the core of this team, one thing that stands out is that so many of them are new to the international game. Generally, what you want to see a healthy number of players gradually progressing upward through the system.

The problem, essentially, is that there’s little overlap between those who have both moved up through the ranks of U.S. Soccer and those who are earning regular minutes for their respective clubs. It’s a huge disconnect that has left Herzog little to work with.

The 2013 U-20 World Cup team should have provided the core of this group, but that class has been an enormous disappointment, with Shane O’Neil, Alonso Hernandez, Mario Rodriguez, Caleb Stanko, Daniel Cuevas, Juan Pablo Ocegueda, Victor Pineda, Mikey Lopez, and Javan Torre among those who have failed to progress. Luis Gil, meanwhile, remains professionally experienced but had a rough year with Real Salt Lake.

From that cycle, only Cody Cropper, Wil Trapp, Kellyn Acosta, and DeAndre Yedlin have shown the sort of development you'd like to see.

A serious makeover is needed

Few would argue that the United States will enter its series against Colombia in March as the heavy underdog.

If the Americans are to have a chance at an upset, Herzog needs to go back to the drawing board—quickly. It will be difficult to rebuild this team, of course, since only the January camp remains to evaluate players, and most European-based players won’t even be able to attend.

The only alternative Herzog has, though, is the status quo. And that’s clearly not good enough.

New players to consider

For the U.S. U-23s to have a legit chance at defeating Colombia, Herzog needs to persuade Jurgen Klinsmann to let him have access to all eligible players. That means Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Jordan Morris, and Rubio Rubin.

Others to consider:

Kellyn Acosta: The FC Dallas homegrown player struggled at the U-20 World Cup while being asked to play out of position as a left back. But as a central midfielder, he’s been very good for a Dallas side that just missed out on the Supporters’ Shield and is now making a push for MLS Cup.

Amadou Dia: The left back from Sporting Kansas City had a strong second half of the season in MLS, making him one of the rare U-23-eligible fullbacks earning first-team minutes.

Desevio Payne: After a very strong U-20 World Cup, the outside back was not able to transition to the U-23 team because of an ankle injury. That has since healed, however, and he is back on the first team at FC Groningen in the Netherlands.

Paul Arriola: The winger at Tijuana had a very solid U-20 World Cup both on the ball and defensively. He’s a great locker-room player, too, with an engine to push for a full 90 minutes and the ability to make things happen in the final third.

Tim Parker: The Vancouver Whitecaps central defender has been one of the best rookies in the league after earning a starting spot, helping the Whitecaps both to the playoffs and the Canadian Championship.

Sean Davis: The New York Red Bulls central midfielder has not earned regular minutes because of having to play behind Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty, but when Davis has been on the field, he’s consistently shown well.

Jose Villarreal: The Los Angeles Galaxy forward has been a staple of U.S. youth national teams for years. Playing behind international-caliber talent like Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, and Giovani Dos Santos has proven to be a challenge, but like Davis, Villarreal has played well when given the opportunity.

Walker Zimmerman: The FC Dallas central defender was wrongly left out of that since-stagnated 2013 U-20 World Cup group but is now a hero in Dallas after coming on as a substitute and eliminating Seattle.

21 Names for Colombia

As of this moment, here is the team I'd like to see in those March matches against Colombia.

Goalkeepers: Cody Cropper, Ethan Horvath, Zack Steffen

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, Desevio Payne, Amadou Dia, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Parker

Midfielders: Wil Trapp, Luis Gil, Gedion Zelalem, Kellyn Acosta, Dillon Serna, Marc Pelosi, Paul Arriola

Forwards: Jose Villarreal, Rubio Rubin, Jordan Morris, Jerome Kiesewetter

That's my take. Share yours in the Comments section below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter. 

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