Olympic Qualifying Crisis: Where Are All the U-23s?
Tab Ramos' U.S. U-20 squad has already qualified for New Zealand. Richie Williams' U-17 team stumbled last night but has talent to spare. So why have the U-23s failed to distinguish themselves?
March 12, 2015
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WITH QUALIFYING FAST approaching for the 2016 Olympic Games, I thought we could switch up the Reserve List this week and take a look at the current U.S. men's under-23 player pool.
First off, what’s striking about the list is the number of players who are failing to get any kind of substantial playing time. Athletes born in 1993 and 1994 represent a talent gap for U.S. Soccer—one that, in light of the talent-rich rosters of the current U-20 and U-17 teams, seems hard to fathom. With so many players sitting out with such regularity, it’s conceivable that the first Olympic qualifying roster—the camp will convene in October—could feature as many U-20s as U-23s.
In order to be comprehensive as possible, this is an update on all 36 Olympics-eligible players that have been called up by U.S. Soccer dating back to August 2014. For the purposes of this post, I am excluding all under-20 eligible players who have been called (Zack Steffen, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga, Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin, and Ben Spencer) as well as a few age-eligible senior team players who will likely play a part in the proceedings—DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Julian Green immediately come to mind.
U-20 World Cup starter Cody Cropper hasn’t featured for the Southampton reserves since a 2-1 win over Fulham on January 12. Just two minutes into the match, Cropper was downed after a fierce collision with Cottagers midfielder Dean O’ Halloran, who suffered a fractured angle when he slammed into the American. After a lengthy treatment on the field, Cropper was removed and taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
Former USSDA standout Charlie Horton—London-born, Ohio raised—took an unconventional path to international soccer. After initial interest from several EPL powers, Horton signed a three-year deal with Peterborough United before asking for his release last season when he couldn’t crack the first team lineup. After taking trials with Tottenham among others, the 20-year-old signed on with newly relegated Cardiff City on a free transfer prior to this season. The six-foot-four keeper has primarily served as a backup for the Blue Bird’s developmental side, but he did post two clean sheets in wins against QPR and Bristol City earlier in the year.
Another big 3 points! We kept working the whole 90min, got our reward right at the end. Always nice for a clean sheet too???????? @CardiffCityDVP
The sixth pick in this year’s SuperDraft, Alex Bono made Toronto FC’s final roster, but is currently slotted in as the team's fourth goalkeeper. Bono will likely see plenty of time with TFC II, which will kick off its inaugural USL campaign against the Charleston Battery on March 21.
Like Bono, John Kempin finds himself on the bottom of the goalkeeping depth chart in Sporting Kansas City. He did not make the game day roster in a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
University of Santa Clara’s Kendall McIntosh chose to remain in school for the upcoming NCAA season.
Colorado’s Dillon Serna and Shane O’Neill both played a role for the Rapids during a scoreless draw with Philadelphia Union on Saturday. Serna got the start and played the full 90 on the left wing, while O’Neill entered in the 74th minute as defensive cover with Colorado down to 10 men. Serna and O’Neill both received their first senior team call-ups in January, but did not feature against Chile or Panama.
On Saturday, Juan Pablo Ocegueda made his eighth consecutive start of the season for Ascenso MX side Oaxaca, playing 90 minutes in a 2-1 loss to Necaxa.
After failing to hear his name called at January’s MLS SuperDraft and failing to catch on with the L.A. Galaxy in the pre-season, Ramon Martin del Campo has apparently landed with Costa Rican giant Saprissa. ASN is unable to confirm as the Saprissa official website is currently down. (That’s so CONCACAF!)
I can confirm that Ramon Martin Del Campo left LA camp on his own accord to sign with Saprissa.
Christian Dean did not make the game day roster for Vancouver Whitecaps in a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC.
A.J Cochran did not make the game day roster for Houston Dynamo in a 1-0 win over Columbus Crew.
Oscar Sorto did not make the game day roster for L.A. Galaxy in a 2-0 win over Chicago Fire.
Eric Miller did not make the game day roster for Montreal Impact in a 1-0 loss to D.C United.
Since being waived by the Portland Timbers, Bryan Gallego currently finds himself without a club. Reports indicate he underwent a recent trial with New York Red Bulls.
After spending much of last season on the bench, Luis Gil received the start in the MLS season opener for Real Salt Lake, playing 88 minutes in a scoreless draw on the road against the Portland Timbers.
Will Trapp manned his usual spot in midfield for Columbus Crew, playing 90 minutes in a 1-0 loss to Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
On loan from Club Tijuana, Esteban “Stevie” Rodriguez has played a substantial role (11 appearances in all competitions) for Ascenso MX club Dorados de Sinaloa. After registering 90 minutes in its 4-2 Copa MX win over Lobos BUAP early last week, Rodriguez made a late substitute appearance over the weekend, playing the final 18 minutes in a 3-1 win over Deportiva Tepic. Rodriguez netted his first goal of the campaign in a Copa MX win over Iraputo last month (:15 mark of below video).
After missing Tijuana’s last Copa MX match due to a red card, Alejandro Guido returned to the Xolos lineup last week, getting the start and playing 90 minutes in a 2-0 Cup win against Universidad de Guadalajara. In addition to his first-team duties—where he has scored two goals in five appearances—Guido has started the last four matches for the Tijuana reserves.
Marc Pelosi is still struggling to get back to full fitness for the Liverpool reserves. When asked about the lingering injury of another academy prospect, U-21 boss Michael Beale commented on Pelosi in passing, saying “It’s very much the same [situation] with Marc Pelosi. I’d be really disappointed if we don’t see him on the pitch in the next month playing and that again.” Pelosi was not on the roster for Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Everton on Monday.
Along with Pelosi, Leon’s Dennis Flores was one of the few Olympic-eligible talents to train with Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team in January. Flores has made sporadic appearances this season for the Leon reserve squad, last featuring as a late substitute in a 1-1 draw with Santos Laguna on Feb. 28.
Benji Joya currently does not have a place to play professional soccer. With his contract up at Santos Laguna and after a disappointing loan stint at Chicago Fire, the midfielder has had trials with Seattle and Colorado but remains unsigned. There is reportedly interest from other MLS sides as well destinations abroad.
Daniel Cuevas was not included on the game day roster for Lobos BUAP, which drew 1-1 with Estudiantes de Altamira on Friday. Cuevas has not featured for the Mexican second division club since October.
Marlon Hairston did not make the game day roster for Colorado Rapids in a 0-0 draw with Philadelphia Union.
Colin Martin did not make the game day roster for D.C United in a 1-0 win over Montreal Impact.
Despite making only six first-team appearances last season, Jose Villarreal got the start on Friday, playing 70 minutes and scoring the eventual game-winning goal during the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 2-0 season opening win over Chicago Fire. After a cross from Dan Gargan skipped through a lackadaisical Fire defense, Villarreal pounced on the mistake and slid his shot past Sean Johnson to open the scoring in the 65th minute.
Julio Morales is steadily moving up the pecking order at Deportivo Tepic. After beginning the season with two goals in five appearances for the club’s reserve squad (which plays in the Mexican third division), Morales made his first start for the senior team on Saturday, playing 81 minutes in a 3-1 loss to Dorados. The Chivas loanee has also seen time in Copa MX, playing 90 minutes and scoring the opening goal (first clip of the below video) in a 2-1 loss to Necaxa last week. Check out ASN’s interview with Morales from earlier this year.
Mario Rodriguez made his return to the starting lineup for Borussia Monchengladbach II on Saturday, playing 79 minutes and picking up a yellow card in a 1-0 win over Rot-Weiss Essen. The win brings ‘Gladbach—with two games in hand—within three points of Regionalliga West leader Alemania Aachen. Rodriguez has featured in every match for the club since returning from the Bundesliga winter break.
On Tuesday, USL club Austin Aztex announced the signing of Alfred Koroma, who lands in the U.S. after spells with Brazilian clubs Fluminense and Internacional. Koroma received his most recent national team call-up in August, scoring the opening goal in a 5-1 friendly win against the Bahamas.
Alonso Hernandez got the start for Monterrey's reserves on Saturday, playing 90 minutes in a goalless draw with Toluca. Although Hernandez has not featured for the Rayados during the ongoing Liga MX Clasura campaign, the 21-year-old has started nearly every game for the reserves and has made two recent substitute appearances in Copa MX play.
Squaring off against his former team on Sunday, Sean Okoli played the final 23 minutes for the New England Revolution in a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders.
Stanford’s Jordan Morris decided to return to school instead of turning pro and will play the 2015 NCAA season for the Cardinal.
Omar Salgado did not make the game day roster for UANL Tigres' U-20 side in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Universidad de Guadalajara. Salgado has only featured once for the Tigres reserves since leaving Vancouver in the preseason—a 45-minute sting in a 3-0 loss to Club America on January 31.
Victor Pineda did not make the game day roster for the Chicago Fire in Friday’s 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Danny Garcia did not make the game day roster for FC Dallas in a 1-0 win over San Jose.
Jack McBean did not make the game day roster for Los Angeles in its 2-0 win over Chicago.
Tennessee-born and Wales-eligible Adam Henley has been with the Blackburn Academy since age 11, where he has continually featured for the first team since making his Premier League debut in 2011. After seeing sporadic time the past two seasons, the 20-year-old has started three of the last five matches for the Rovers, scoring his first career goal—an impressive one, at that—in a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday (3:00 mark of video).
On Saturday, Henley put in another solid shift in a
scoreless FA Cup draw with Liverpool. With the dearth of defensive prospects in this age group, you have to assume Klinsmann is paying close attention.
Jesus Vasquez found his way to Mexico by attending tryouts for then-second division club Universidad de Guadalajara while on vacation at his grandmother’s house. Since making the move, the 20-year-old has become a steady fixture. Last season, Vasquez featured 24 times, including two starts in the club’s promotion-earning wins against Tecos.
The Los Angeles native has featured in four of the club’s first five matches to begin the Clasura, including a 90-minute shift and game-winning assist in a shocking 1-0 upset over Club America two weeks ago. In a recent interview, Vasquez—who has never had contact with either the U.S. or Mexican federation—commented on his international future saying, “My first choice is the USA.”
Twenty-two-year-old German-born Jerome Keisenwetter is quietly having a solid season for VfB Stuttgart II in the German 3.Liga. He leads the reserve squad in appearances to go along with three goals and three assists. After a suspension for striker Martin Harnik left the club down a man, Kiesewetter (“The 19th Man”) was named to the senior team and played the final eight minutes in a scoreless draw with Hertha Berlin.
Caleb Stanko remains out of action for Bundesliga side Freiburg, still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in September. His current timetable for recovery is unknown.
What do you think about the state of the U-23 men's team? Tell us in the Comments section below.ASN Contributing Editor Josh Deaver is a former academic turned soccer obsessive. Follow him on Twitter.