Can this team travel to Tokyo? U23 stars ready for the World Cup cycle?

In international football, history can have a strange relationship with the present. The turnover of players and coaches can be so frequent that what is happening now may have little to do with what happened before. Externally, that appears to be the case for the United States Under-23 team as they attempt to qualify for the Olympics this summer. None of manager Jason Kreis’ 20-man roster was in the mix in 2015, when the United States fell to Honduras in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, then failed in the match. qualifiers against Colombia.

The losses marked the second consecutive time the United States failed to reach the Olympic tournament.

– List of United States for Olympic qualifiers

“I don’t think any of us should feel really responsible for what happened four years ago, and neither of us were part of it,” Kreis told reporters earlier this this month. And yet this failure and the 2018 World Cup qualifying fiasco persist. Even in Kreis’ mind, this story hangs out on the periphery, declaring that the Olympic qualifying tournament is an opportunity and a chance to “right some wrong”.

“We kind of have the first opportunity to take a big step forward by qualifying for a major tournament, when the full squad has [World Cup qualifying] at the end of the year, “he added.” We kind of have the first bite, and that’s another motivator. “

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It won’t be easy. The United States is in a group with Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and their rival Mexico, with the top two teams advancing to a win-win semi-final. With that in mind, there are questions that need to be answered.

Is this team good enough to make it to Tokyo?

The team certainly has enough talent and experience. While eligible players (the Olympics is an Under-23 tournament, with each country being able to select three major players) such as Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams are not available because clubs are not required to release players, the The list is always filled with artists like Jackson Yueill of San Jose Earthquakes and Henry Kessler of New England Revolution, who are regulars at their clubs. Then there are players like Sebastian Soto from Norwich City, who have played in previous international youth tournaments.

That said, the team that tried to qualify for the 2016 Olympics were also talented – Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga and Jordan Morris were all on that list – even though they were slim on the outside. .

With this group the big question is where the creativity will come from given that Pulisic or even Brenden Aaronson are not available. At first glance, the roster has four defensive midfielders in Hassani Dotson, Johnny Cardoso, Andres Perea and Yueill. Kreis told reporters on a conference call that players like Dotson and Cardoso have more in their attacking toolbox than they have been asked to show at club level. These players, along with wingers like Jonathan Lewis and Sebastian Saucedo, will need to be at their peak if the United States is to qualify.

There are also concerns about whether there is enough diversity in the body of attackers tasked with scoring goals. To be clear, Kreis was only allowed to have 17 outfielders on his roster, limiting his options to some extent. But neither Jesus Ferreira nor Soto offer a great physical presence, relying more on their mobility and the speed of their feet to get the job done. Kreis has made it clear that he expects his forwards to return to midfield and help build up, but his decision not to select Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse could come back to haunt him.

Is anyone in this group ready for the senior team?

Yueil has already caught the attention of USA team principal Gregg Berhalter, winning nine caps and performing as a deep playmaker in games when Berhalter needed such a player. Otherwise, it’s hard to see too many players breaking through in the short term, especially as young players based in Europe like Adams and Giovanni Reyna are now mainstays. There appears to be an opening when it comes to the lining for Adams in midfield, so Perea, Cardoso and Dotson will be looking to impress.

The attacking position with the senior squad is also up for grabs, giving Soto and Ferreira a chance to gain more minutes. That said, Ferreira has been through a tough 2020 and Soto is now trying to break into Norwich first team now that his loan to Dutch second division team Telstar is over. As is often the case, their performances with their respective clubs will play a huge role in their progress with the national team.

Why are the Olympics important?

As much as the Olympic tournament is derided in parts of the globe (read: Europe), it still offers an opportunity for international experience that is not always available to American players.

The last time the United States participated in the Olympics, in 2008, you had players like Sacha Kljestan and Stuart Holden who used the tournament as a platform for bigger things. Would they have achieved the same level of international success without it? Maybe, and it certainly was the case for Olympic teammates Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

But every level of international experience helps, especially when it comes to the drudgery of qualifying for the World Cup. It also provides Berhalter with more data points as he fills his depth chart, and given the number of events this year – Nations League, Gold Cup, World Cup qualifiers and others. – he will have to dig deep into his pool of players. More importantly, the Olympic qualifying tournament is another opportunity for the American men to show that the program is moving in the right direction after the 2018 World Cup qualifier failed.

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