News analysis

Thoughts on the U-23 draw, Pulisic injured, MLS draft, & a new ASN 100

Despite the sticker shock, the U.S. U-23 team had a favorable Olympic qualifying draw and here is an explanation. Also of note, Sergino Dest left Ajax's camp, Christian Pulisic is injured, and the MLS SuperDraft took place. Finally, at long last the ASN 100 is back and better than ever. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 10, 2020
12:00 AM
IT HAS BEEN a busy week for American soccer despite most leagues not currently playing competitive games at the moment. With both the full national team, the U-20 team, the MLS Draft, and European friendlies taking place, it made for a lot of news.

But the biggest story of the week happened last night with the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying draw taking place.

Olympic qualifying draw

The U.S. U-23 team knows its path to Tokyo after Thursday night’s draw. At first glance, it was a brutal draw but after deeper thought, it was probably among the better scenarios that could have happened for the U.S. team.

The U.S. team was drawn into Group A with Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. A very challenging group draw and Mexico, as hosts, will be even tougher to beat in Guadalajara.

Group B consists of Canada, Honduras, Haiti, and El Salvador.

The format is simple. After a typical round robin group stage, winner of Group A plays the runner up of Group B and the winner of Group B plays the runner up of Group A in the semifinals. The winners of those semifinals advance to the Olympics this summer in Tokyo.

So, here are a few thoughts to consider when analyzing the draw.

First, qualifying for the Olympics out of CONCACAF is always very hard. Unlike other FIFA tournaments, only two teams from the region advance (unlike four teams form the U-20 and U-17 World Cups or the three or four slots given at the senior level for the World Cup). So there is always a thin line for error and you can never avoid the regions better teams.

But in this draw, a tougher group stage is the price to pay for a more manageable knockout. The last thing the U.S. team wanted would be for Mexico to be in the opposite group. If that were the case, then a potential semifinal (with an Olympic berth on the line) against Mexico in Guadalajara would always be looming. Now, it is impossible for the U.S. team to face Mexico in that all-important game.

Of course, the group stage won’t be easy. It is entirely possible the U.S. team might not advance. But there are two big reasons why this was a successful draw.

  1. There is margin for error in the group stage. You’re always going to have to play good teams. Playing these teams when it is not “all or nothing” is the best alternative.
  2. If it advances, the knockout round is more manageable and facing a hosting Mexico is impossible.

Pulisic injured

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard revealed that U.S. national team winger/No. 10 Christian Pulisic suffered an adductor injury in training and will miss a few weeks – although he did not give anything more specific with his timeline.

Dest leaves Ajax camp

United States national team right back Sergino Dest opted to leave Ajax’s training camp in Doha, Qatar because he felt “uncomfortable” there at this time. Recent events have made the region more unstable and the U.S. national team recently canceled its January training camp in Doha.

Sergino Dest was granted permission to leave and will play for Jong Ajax until the first team returns to Holland. 

Other Americans remain in the region as part of their training camp. Ethan Horvath at Club Brugge and Jesse Marsch at Red Bull Salzburg are still there.

2020 MLS Superdraft

The 2020 MLS SuperDraft took place on Thursday in a much more scaled-back version than previous eras.

It makes sense, as most of the young players entering into the league are coming in via the homegrown route. There are now frequently top-draft picks that do not ever materialize into qualify first team players in MLS.

Still, there can be great value at this level – although it could come at any level. Hassani Dotson had a terrific rookie season for Minnesota last year and he was drafted in the second round. We’ve even seen Jackson Yueill play his way onto the U.S. team and he was a draft pick.

In this year’s draft, Inter Miami selected Clemson forward Robbie Robinson with the first overall pick after much speculation that Virginia’s Daryl Dike would be the top pick (Dike went fifth overall to Orlando City). Indiana defender Jack Maher was also another potential first overall but he went second to Nashville.

It is a good thing that the draft is losing its importance but it still provides a professional pathway for players who might struggle to find one otherwise. And as long as a few of those players show a lot of promise, it’s still worth it.

ASN 100 is back

After a nine-month hiatus, the ASN 100 is back. ASN has undergone a lot of changes in recent years and a new panel was established. At first we wanted to wait until after the U-20 World Cup, and then the Gold Cup, and then the international windows, and then the MLS season. But with each passing month, it becomes harder to publish an ASN 100 because new player bios/pictures are needed.

But we finally got all that done and got a new list together. But the bottom line is that it won’t take nearly as long to get another ASN 100 together and we hope to do it every two or three months.

As always, the tougher aspect of voting is how to handle young players who are very unproven at the professional level. We respect their talent and upside but when you’re not playing much against adults, there is a lot to be said about not having them too far up the list. With that said, we like the balance that was struck.

But here it is. Enjoy it, debate it, and have some fun with it.


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