U.S. U-23 team kickoff
Kreis named U-23 coach as first roster and friendlies unveiled
March 19, 2019
Most of the roster has been leaked through various channels over the past week so there are not many surprises. Also with this being a youth team, teams are not required to release players for this camp regardless of it taking place during the international break.
As a result, several key players from MLS teams are not released as the league is playing through the international window. In addition, there is large overlap of players who are eligible for the full national team and the current U-20 team (which is in its final World Cup preparations) which squeezes the options for this U-23 team.
With that said, here are some thoughts on the U-23 roster, Jason Kreis, and the teams challenges and potential.
Goalkeepers (2): JT Marcinkowski, Jonathan Klinsmann
Defenders (9): Julian Araujo, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Marco Farfan, Jack Mahr, Matthew Olosunde, Donovan Pines, Lucas Pos, Antonee Robinson, Miles Robinson
Midfielders (6): Derrick Jones, Cameron Lindley, Djordje Mihailovic, Keaton Parks, Eryk Williamson, Jackson Yueill
Forwards (6): Jeremy Ebobisse, Josh Perez, Emmanuel Sabbi, Josh Sargent, Tim Weah, Haji Wright
Given how quickly things have come together for this team lately, the roster is fairly strong. The success of the 2017 United States U-20 team and the youth-oriented approach of the U.S. national team in 2018 has laid a blueprint what is available for this team.
Future roster will likely change as Kreis implements his vision for the team and selects players that fit accordingly. Of course, major considerations will have to depend on which players will be available for qualifying – and as of now that is impossible to predict as the dates and location of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying are not yet known.
Expectations for U-20 and U-23 rosters should naturally be different. U-20 players are generally more speculative as players are just starting their professional careers and might still even be at the youth levels for clubs. U-23 players should be expected to be further along and seeing consistent first team minutes with their respective clubs.
That was not the case four years ago as the U.S. U-23 rosters ahead of qualifying frequently lacked players which were earning regular minutes at the first team at their club.
That situation seems to be slightly improved in this situation as younger players are playing on a more regular basis in MLS. It’s still a concern for this roster as a lot of the players, both domestic and foreign-based, are still trying to earn regular minutes.
Looking forward, MLS players will be most important since they will be the players most likely to be released for qualifying. There are still a lot of MLS starters who are not part of this roster who could be favorites to make the qualifying team (Auston Trusty, Reggie Cannon, Brooks Lennon, Kyle Duncan, Omir Fernandez, Paxton Pomykal, Mark McKenzie, Danilo Acosta, James Sands, etc).
This camp is simply a first step and it seems likely to change a lot moving forward towards qualifying.
What Kreis offers
Jason Kreis was very successful early in his coaching career at Real Salt Lake but was fired after just a season at New York City in its inaugural season. He also struggled at Orlando City in his next job. He will also serve as the U.S. U-23 coach while working in the technical department at the new Inter Miami team as it prepares for its inaugural season.
The U-23 job is not a glamorous job as it only operates briefly every four years in the run-up to Olympic qualifying and the Olympics. U-23 head coaches rarely get their best players – either from a lack of a release or because the players are with the full national team. Also, given its older age group, it is not development-oriented. Therefore, the best youth coaches typically aren’t a great fit.
It’s been awhile since Kreis had success as a head coach but he does have experience in CONCACAF and his Real Salt Lake team came extremely close to winning the CONCACAF Champions League in 2011. He has a solid knowledge of the player pool and his Real Salt Lake teams played attractive soccer.
When the U.S. U-23 teams last qualified for the Olympics in 2008 and 2000, the tournament served as a great springboard for the full national teams. In 2000, players like John O’Brien, Landon Donovan, and Josh Wolff were able to quickly transition into becoming impact players for the full national team. In 2008, it was the same situation for Maurice Edu, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley.
It will be interesting to see if Kreis plays with a similar formation and style as full national team manager Gregg Berhalter to allow for a similar transition for the players to the next level.
How good is the player pool?
At its very best, the current U-23 team could easily be the best in American soccer history. Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie are just three names that jump out. On top of that, however, players like Reggie Cannon, Antonee Robinson, Auston Trusty, and Cameron Carter-Vickers are all in their second season where they will likely eclipse 2500 minutes. But the chance to assemble a U-23 team with several players with Champions League experience is impressive by any standard.
But to be a good player pool, the roster will need to be deep to the point where it can produce known and established players several deep at every position (with the possible exception of goalkeeper).
Looking ahead to qualifying, there are No. 10 which are based domestically and playing regularly in Paxton Pomykal and Djordje Mihailovic. There are weaknesses are the winger pool needs to be deeper but overall, this roster is encouraging.
This current U-23 team will be based on the previous two U-20 cycles (2017 and 2019). What is encouraging is that both those U-20 teams won the CONCACAF Championship with ease and without many of the best available players. That speaks well for the U.S. U-23 player pool for qualifying compared with other teams from the region. If successful, more European-based players will likely be released for the Olympics.
Keeping the camps relevant and competitive
Part of the problem with the failures of the previous two Olympics qualifying campaigns is that the early camps were often weak and did not resemble anything like the qualifying roster. Unless the camps consist of players that will be part of the qualifying tournament, its hard to see how they are relevant or important.
Part of the challenge for US Soccer & the U-23 team will be keeping the camps relevant & competitive. At this age, players should be regulars with their clubs. The first Olympic prep camps 4 years ago (height of the “Missing Years), lacked quality. Many now even out of the game pic.twitter.com/qaZzr6UiyD— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) March 19, 2019
Kreis will have to get a rough idea of what his best team will be and build off it to implement a style that fits the roster. That was not the case four years ago at this point in the cycle where a lot of the players at camp would not even factor in qualifying just months later.
Here was a U-23 match roster for a friendly vs Denmark during the March 2015 international window (a year after the first camp & only months before qualifying). Note how virtually all (except Miller) are now not playing regular first division minutes. Many now retired pic.twitter.com/AkSHAzlbJn— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) March 19, 2019
The last Olympic qualifying team was at the heart of the “missing years” generational gap but head coach Andi Herzog was also extremely rigid and did not even account for top emerging talent available to him. Sean Davis and Tim Parker were impressing in their rookie seasons and were never considered for the initial qualifying team.
This age group is better and Kreis will not have much time to have camps just to explore the player pool as the U-20 coach typically does early in the cycle. The next camps for Kreis have to be meaningful from the start while also allowing for late-emerging players.
There is plenty of reason to expect this U-23 team to be more successful than the previous two cycles but this is also a later start. Still, if the team comes together quickly and Kreis gets even his top domestic players release, the talent is there to get to Tokyo.
If the team gets to Tokyo, it will then be a battle for Earnie Stewart and U.S Soccer to try to secure the releases for some of the best American players in the game. If all breaks well, the team could contend for a medal. But for now, that a long way off with many “ifs” still at play.