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Olympic Qualifying

Flawed U.S. Roster Presents Andi Herzog With Challenge

On Friday the United States U-23 coach named a 20-man roster for the Olympic qualifying tournament that begins on Oct. 1 in Kansas City. ASN's Brian Sciaretta shares his thoughts on the squad below.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 19, 2015
1:30 PM

Jordan Morris provides big boost

Two weeks ago Jurgen Klinsmann mentioned that Jordan Morris might join the full national team for the October 10 CONCACAF Cup showdown with Mexico rather than playing with the U-23 team for Olympic qualifying. Later, when the Stanford University forward was named to the preliminary roster for the Mexico match, it added to the speculation that he could miss the Olympic qualifying effort.
While John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are age-eligible for the U-23 team, neither has ever been part of it. Morris, on the other hand, had been an important part of the squad and is easily the team's best goal scorer. 
U.S. U-23 coach Andi Herzog and Klinsmann came to the right decision with Morris. He is a key player with the U-23s and a likely starter; with the senior squad he would be more likely to serve as a backup.

The Miazga—Carter-Vickers partnership

The 2015 U-20 World Cup featured one of the best defensive performances ever from an American youth national team. Central defenders Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter Vickers established a mostly impenetrable wall and developed tremendous chemistry.

Both players are young but it appears as if Herzog is going to continue to roll with these two for Olympic qualifying. It will be the third official international tournament the two have played together in 2015.

So while the 20-year-old Miazga and Carter-Vickers, 17, are young for an under-23 competition, Herzog is hoping that these two can reprise their strong performances from earlier in the year.

Who will start in goal?

First-choice U-23 goalkeeper Cody Cropper underwent knee surgery last week and will miss Olympic qualifying. That was a huge blow to the team and creates a battle for the No. 1 shirt. 
Zack Steffen is playing for Freiburg's reserve team but is coming off an outstanding showing at the 2015 U-20 World Cup. Ethan Horvath was the backup for most of the last U-20 cycle but was denied his release for the World Cup—which turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him. The Colorado native is now starting in goal for  Molde FK and has played in—and performed well in—Europa League games and Champions League qualifiers.
Both are viable options for Herzog. It will be fascinating to see who emerges as the top backstop.

Green's absence is noteworthy

Herzog said that several players were not released for this tournament and it was fairly obvious who most of those players were. Rubio Rubin is a top young American forward who plays for Utrecht's first team and Shane O'Neill is now playing for a Belgian team that is desperate for points. Neither will be part of qualifying.
But what about Julian Green? Did Bayern Munich decline to release the 20-year-old World Cup goalscorer? Or did Herzog simply decide that Green wasn't good enough? A U.S. Soccer representative said that Herzog opted not to speak about specific players but the coach would be speaking to reporters ahead of the tournament.
If Herzog simply decided not to include Green, it would be a stunning setback for the Tampa-born attacker. It has been a terrible year for Green at the club level, where his loan to Hamburg failed to result in meaningful playing time. In the summer window he did not go out on loan and instead remained with Bayern's reserves. Now it would appear his stock has faded at the international level as well.

Defense lacks depth

Aside from the scarce options for outside midfielders, a big concern for this squad is the overall lack of defensive depth. It should hardly come as a surprise given that the 2013 U.S. U-20 World Cup team struggled in the back and now Brooks and Yedlin are not playing with this team and they are part of this age group.
Instead, it is built on players who lack professional experience or are playing there out of position. Fullback Eric Miller is not earning regular MLS minutes while Dillon Serna only plays left back for youth national teams. Throughout his entire club career he has played as an attacking winger.
Birmingham City released Will Packwood after last season and he hasn't been caught on with an MLS team despite multiple trials. Carter-Vickers is one of the most talented teenager American players but he is still only a reserve team player and is the youngest player on the team by a wide margin.
Backup fullback options are thin should suspensions or injuries limit Herzog's choices. Matt Poster can play right back or central defense. Marc Pelosi can play left back in an emergency and Jerome Kiesewetter has played right back occasionally for the reserve team at Stuttgart.

More Roster Concerns

The 2012 U-23 carried the burden of high expectations and when it failed to qualify for the Olympics it was a huge disappointment. This unheralded team, however, will not be expected to dominate. Yes, the U.S. should qualify for the Olympics and the odds are that it will. But there are lots of holes on this team—a lack of fullbacks, young central defenders, and no wingers.
Of the four forwards listed on the roster (Alonso Hernandez, Morris, Maki Tall, and Kiesewetter), none are starters for top-flight professional clubs.

The midfield is relatively experienced but only Luis Gil and Wil Trapp have logged professional minutes prior to this year. Pelosi, Fatai Alashe, and Polster are in their first MLS season. Gedion Zelalem is doing well in the Scottish Championship but he isn't facking top-tier competition. Emerson Hyndman has not been with Fulham's first team this season.
More vexing, every midfield player on the roster is primarily a central midfielder. But they can't all crowd in the middle—somebody will have to venture out wide.

That Was Then and This Is Now 

If the Yanks survive qualifying, the conversation shifts completely. The Olympics are 11 months away and the three overage selections will add much-needed experience to the team.

And many of the players not released for this tournament, including Rubin and O'Neill, as well as the injured Cropper, Desevio Payne, and Khiry Shelton, will likely be available. Age-eligible senior team players like John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin might also receive roster spots.
Plus there are other under-23 players starting to step up for their clubs now who may get a shot at the Olympic roster. Paul Arriola is back to playing for Tijuana, Lynden Gooch is closing in on the first team for Sunderland, Sean Davis has been effective with the Red Bulls, and Tim Parker is one of the best rookies in Major League Soccer.
It's entirely possible that a reconstituted United States Olympic team could be a strong medal contender come next summer.
Simply getting to Rio, however, will be a tremendous challenge. 

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