Olympic team news
Thoughts on Mitrovic's first U-23 roster as the team starts Olympic preparations
October 09, 2023
UNITED STATES U-23 head coach Marko Mitrovic announced the roster for the team’s first camp as it prepares for a return to the Olympics next summer in Paris. The camp will take place in Arizona during the October international window and the team will face Mexico on Wednesday, Oct. 11 and Japan on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at Phoenix Rising Stadium.
The initial roster featured 23 players, but central defender Brandan Craig was subsequently added on Monday. Unlike with senior national teams, youth national team player releases by their clubs are voluntary – even during international windows. That makes putting together this roster tricky.
ASN spoke with Mitrovic from Arizona on Sunday night and he said a number of players were invited but not able to attend. He didn’t mention any specific names although he acknowledged the report that Sparta Rotterdam winger Agustin Anello was one.
Other possible names could be Cade Cowell, Gaga Slonina, George Campbell, Matthew Hoppe, and Diego Luna. ASN heard that Josh Wynder was invited but couldn’t attend due to a family matter. There are also injuries keeping prospective players out – such as the Galaxy's Jalen Neal and Hajuk Split’s Rokas Pukstas.
But expect things to move quickly for this group. They will only have this camp, the November camp, a January camp, and then the March camp before final Olympic preparations.
ASN spoke with Mitrovic from Arizona on Sunday night and the coach stressed the limited time he will have with his players this cycle. Because of that, every camp is going to be important. He is going to have to identify his players quickly and then start building a team.
With 18 players making the final roster (which includes two goalkeepers and three overage players), the competition to make the team is going to be intense and players can ill afford to have a bad camp.
Here is the roster along with some thoughts about it.
U.S. Olympic roster for October camp
GOALKEEPERS (3): Christopher Brady (Chicago Fire FC; Naperville, Ill.), John Pulskamp (Sporting KC; Bakersfield, Calif.), Patrick Schulte (Columbus Crew; St. Charles, Mo.)
DEFENDERS (7): Brandan Craig (Austin FC; Philadelphia, Pa.), Maximilian Dietz (SpVgg Greuther Furth/GER; Frankfurt, Germany), Nathan Harriel (Philadelphia Union; Oldsmar, Fla.), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo/BEL; Fort Worth, Texas), John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls; Chatham, N.J.), Jonathan Tomkinson (Bradford City/ENG; Plano, Texas), Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United FC; Atlanta, Ga.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Paxten Aaronson (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER; Medford, N.J.), Gianluca Busio (Venezia/ITA; Greensboro, N.C.), Benjamin Cremaschi (Inter Miami CF; Key Biscayne, Fla.), Jack McGlynn (Philadelphia Union; Queens, N.Y.), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew; Ft Lauderdale, Fla.), Tanner Tessmann (Venezia/ITA; Birmingham, Ala.), Obed Vargas (Seattle Sounders FC; Anchorage, Alaska)
FORWARDS (7): Esmir Bajraktarevic (New England Revolution; Appleton, Wisc.), Taylor Booth (Utrecht/NED; Eden, Utah), Johan Gomez (Eintracht Braunschweig/GER; Keller, Texas), Brian Gutierrez (Chicago Fire FC; Chicago, Ill.), Bernard Kamungo (FC Dallas; Abilene, Texas), Duncan McGuire (Orlando City SC; Omaha, Neb.), Indiana Vassilev (St. Louis City SC; Savannah, Ga.)?
Considering Mitrovic was not able to get all of the players he requested, this is a very good roster. There are plenty of highlights.
The first is that the attacking midfield trio of Benja Cremaschi, Paxten Aaronson, and Brian Gutierrez is a strength of this team. None of them were at the recent U-20 World Cup despite being age-eligible but all are top players of their age groups Gutierrez is one of the better young American players in MLS and Aaronson has been on the verge of getting regular Bundesliga minutes with Eintracht.
Cremaschi, meanwhile, is playing up a U-23 age group and is eligible for the 2025 U-20 team. He is talented but there is a lot of competition in his position to make this team at his age.
But overall, that is a strength of this team.
With Ricardo Pepi and Folarin Balogun age-eligible for the U-23 team but with the full national team, Mitrovic was able to still call a center forward in Duncan McGuire who now has 13 goals for Orlando across all competitions. McGuire has shown that he should be able to finish opportunities if given the service.
The fullbacks are also strong. Joe Scally and Kristoffer Lund are with the full national team despite being age eligible. Despite that, Bryan Reynolds is a very good option on the right side while Caleb Wiley and John Tolkin are good on the left.
But in terms of experience, nine players have been capped by the full national team.
Central defense is thin
The current player pool is very, very thin in central defense. When looking at MLS, any first division in Europe (even those outside of the “Big Five”) or the second divisions that sit under the “Big Five”, there are only three American U-23 age-eligible central defenders playing regularly: George Campbell at Montreal, Jalen Neal, and Maximilan Dietz at Greuther Furth.
Dietz is with this team. Neal is hurt and presumably Campbell wasn’t released by a desperate Montreal team fighting for a playoff spot. The result is that the team must rely on prospects such as Jonathan Tomkinson who is way down on a second straight loan in League Two. Brandan Craig was added. 2005-born Josh Wynder was invited but couldn’t attend due to a family matter.
It’s not Mitrovic’s fault, but he is forced here to grasp at straws in a very important position in central defense.
At some point, the overage players will join the mix, and this will surely help central defense. But it won’t alleviate the big and growing generational gap in the back.
Overage players to be added soon
Marko Mitrovic told ASN that given the limited number of camps, he is going to want to start bringing overage players into camp soon. Likely those picks will go to address weaknesses among the age-eligible U-23 group or to bring players who are exceptionally versatile given the 18-team roster. But he said the overage players would “need to compete” for a spot which suggested that several overage options could be at camps to see how they fit.
But that further adds to the competitive nature of this team.
Assuming Slonina, Luna, Campbell, Hoppe, Cowell, and Anello were not released and others are with the full national team, there are some notable omissions among players who were likely not selected by choice.
Cole Bassett: would probably have been a leader on the U-20 team whose cycle was cancelled by COVID. Playing on a bad Colorado team has seen him fade a bit from the picture, but what is lost is how well he is ending the season. In his last six games for Colorado, he has four goals and an assist. He missed about 10 games with a hamstring injury and when he returned, he’s been excellent. After playing on the wing, interim head coach Chris Little moved him back into the middle of the field and he’s started to produce. With Colorado’s elimination, he certainly would have been released if selected.
Aziel Jackson: the attacking midfielder for St. Louis was surprisingly not selected but his teammate, Indiana Vassilev, was. Jackson has been one of the engines of a good St. Louis team that won the Western Conference. He has six assists and has played very well this season.
Ted Ku-DiPietro: With DC United’s season complete, Ku-DiPietro finished the campaign with five goals and three assists. He was one of the few bright spots on the team that failed to qualify for the playoffs.
With Bassett, Jackson, and Ku-DiPietro, they are attacking midfielders and Mitrovic instead elected to go with Gutierrez, Aaronson, and Ku-DiPietro.
Cam Harper: Developed as a winger, Harper played as a wingback for the New York Red Bulls this year and was effective in getting forward. With Reynolds the normal starter, Mitrovic elected to go with Nathan Harriel as the other right back.