Olympic analysis

Analysis: Breaking down the 2024 Olympic team roster

ASN's Brian Sciaretta has covered the U.S. U-23 Olympic team all cycle and will be in France covering the team's games. Here are his thoughts on the final Olympic roster. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 09, 2024
1:50 PM

ON MONDAY, the United States Olympic team head coach Marko Mitrovic named his roster for the 2024 Paris Games. This will mark the first time in 16 years the men’s team has competed in the tournament and the goal will be for the team to both earn a medal and put players into a position where they can push for a spot on the full men’s national team.

At only 18 players, it is an exceptionally small roster for a tournament that has group stages followed by knockouts. But the recent rules changes allow for the four alternates to be moved in and out of the roster a little more liberally.

The roster marks the culmination of a brief cycle where the team only had four camps together and overall, Mitrovic ended up with a roster that consisted of 15 age-eligible players and three overage players. But through the cycle, there was very little change. Of the 15 age-eligible players on the roster, 13 were part of the team’s first camp (the two exceptions being Griffin Yow and Gaga Slonina).

But the players this cycle are also a vastly different than the players many expected to be on the roster just a few years ago. Players such as Matthew Hoppe, Konrad de la Fuente, Owen Otasowie, Uly Llanez, George Bello, and Chituru Odunze were all called up to the USMNT on official FIFA Dates) during Berhalter’s first cycle and were age-eligible for the team but never progressed into this team.

There were also a large number of age-eligible players who did progress into the full team and were part of the recent unsuccessful Copa America team ((Johnny Cardoso, Kristoffer Lund, Gio Reyna, Joe Scally, Yunus Musah, Ricardo Pepi, Malik Tillman, and Folarin Balogun – although there are eligibility issues with the latter two given their involvement in Olympic qualifiers with other nations).

Combined with the changing player pool, conflict with the full national team,


The 2024 U.S. Olympic roster

(Club; Hometown)

Goalkeepers (2):?Patrick Schulte (Columbus Crew; St. Charles, Mo.), Gaga Slonina (Chelsea/ENG; Addison, Ill.)

Defenders (6):?Maximilian Dietz (Greuther Furth/GER; Frankfurt, Germany), Nathan Harriel (Philadelphia Union; Oldsmar, Fla.), Miles Robinson (FC Cincinnati; Arlington, Mass.), John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls; Chatham, N.J.), Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United FC; Atlanta, Ga.), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; Lawrenceville, Ga.)

Midfielders (5):?Gianluca Busio (Venezia/ITA; Greensboro, N.C.), Benjamin Cremaschi (Inter Miami CF; Key Biscayne, Fla.), Jack McGlynn (Philadelphia Union; Queens, N.Y.), Djordje Mihailovic (Colorado Rapids; Jacksonville, Fla.), Tanner Tessmann (Venezia/ITA; Birmingham, Ala.)

Forwards (5):?Paxten Aaronson (FC Utrecht/NED; Medford, NJ), Taylor Booth (FC Utrecht/NED; Eden, Utah), Duncan McGuire (Orlando City SC; Omaha, Neb.), Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg/GER; South Riding, Va.), Griffin Yow (KVC Westerlo/BEL; Clifton, Va.)

Alternates (4): Josh Atencio (Midfielder, Seattle Sounders FC; Bellevue, Wash.), Jacob Davis (Defender, Sporting Kansas City; Rochester, Mich.), Johan Gomez (Forward, Eintracht Braunschweig/GER; Keller, Texas), John Pulskamp (Goalkeeper, Sporting Kansas City; Bakersfield, Calif.)


Challenges of Player Releases

Given clubs have the automatic right to refuse a release for a player to participate in the Olympics, most teams face difficulties putting together Olympic rosters.

While Mitrovic had to deal with his share of rejection, it could have been much worse. He secured impressive releases of Tanner Tessmann, Gianluca Busio, Miles Robinson (who was also on the Copa America roster), Griffin Yow, Taylor Booth, Paxten Aaronson, and most surprisingly Kevin Paredes who made 28 Bundesliga appearances (including 15 starts) last season.

The players Mitrovic was unable to get were painful, however, given the lack of depth at the positions. For example, Aidan Morris was an important player all cycle but his recent move from Columbus to Middlesbrough saw him not released. His likely backup, Obed Vargas, was with the team early in the cycle but left the U.S. program for Mexico in May. This made the loss of Morris more costly.

While Yow was released for the tournament, his teammate, Bryan Reynolds was not. Reynolds was the team’s starting right back all cycle and this will likely move Nathian Harriel into the top spot.

The most difficult part of the releases came with the third overage spot, which was designed for an attacker after Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson were given two overage spots to shore up central defense, which was a major weakness. Local media reported that Haji Wright at Coventry and Brandon Vazquez at Monterrey were denied releases.

The consequence of this is that Mitrovic does not have experienced options in the front line of the squad.


Midfield’s defense is lacking


The biggest concern for this Olympic team is the team’s defense in midfield. Tessmann will start as the No. 6 and the best defender in the midfield. But after Tessmann, the rest of the midfield consists entirely of playmakers or box-to-box midfielders like Busio, Jack McGlynn, and Benja Cremaschi who are still more attack-minded.

Tessmann has an incredible amount of defensive responsibility on this team to shield the team’s backline. His club chemistry with Busio will have to carry over into this team for there to be success. But if something happens to Tessmann which prevents him from being on the field, this team could be in trouble defensively.

One option to watch in the pre-Olympic camp is whether Maximillian Dietz becomes a possibility to join Tessmann in defensive midfield. Dietz has only played as a central defender with the U.S. U-23 team but has played defensive midfield occasionally with his club, Greuther Furth in the 2.Bundesliga, and at the youth level as well.

Regardless, a key for this U.S. team to advance will be in the success of the entire slate of the midfielders to defend well.


Different options to attack


Most likely, Mitrovic will have Tessmann and Busio in the back of a midfield triangle. But Mitrovic has a variety of options at the No. 10 position as well as across the front line.

The No. 10 position will likely see Djordje Mihailovic start, as overagers typically are named to Olympic teams to start. Behind him, there will be Paxten Aaronson – who can also play as a winger.

The wingers will be important for this team. Paredes, Aaronson, Booth, and Yow will be the wing options. What is good for Mitrovic is that all four of these players have been in good form since January.  Yow, especially, has been one of the team’s most surprising breakout players.

A big factor in how this team plays, however, will be Duncan McGuire who is the lone center forward on the roster. McGuire plays differently on the Olympic team than he does with Orlando. Under Mitrovic, he drifts further back into the midfield and tries to hold the ball up to feed the wingers.

If Mitrovic wants to play without McGuire (as he has done occasionally this cycle), he will have to play with a “false nine” formation that would likely put one of the wingers (likely Aaronson) into the middle of the front nine.

Bringing just one No. 9, however, is a risk.

But other big way this team can attack is in set pieces where Zimmermann, Robinson, Harriel, McGuire, and Tessmann are all good in the air. This team must take advantage of this aerial potential in France.


Luna tops toughest cuts


Apart from the players not released, there were players who were simply not selected. On an 18-player roster, teams are built in a different way. Versatility is at a premium and backup positions often go to players who can fill a variety of roles.

This team saw some very difficult cuts.

Diego Luna was the toughest and most controversial cut. The Real Salt Lake creative playmaker was notified that he didn’t make the team last week despite being one of the most in-form players in the Olympic player-pool.

Jalen Neal was left off the team. The LA Galaxy central defender in one of the best age-eligible players at his position. But with Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman making the team as overage players, Neal lost out on the backup position in central defense. A big reason for this is likely because it went to Dietz, who can also provide cover in defensive midfield.

Cade Cowell: the Chivas winger had been in the mix most of the cycle and even scored a huge goal against France in a March friendly. But the winger lost out to Booth, Yow, Paredes, and Aaronson. But his absence is also surprising given that he can backup the center forward position.

Cole Bassett: The Colorado Rapids attacking midfielder is having a great season with his hometown club. But like Luna, also fell victim to a crowded position.

Daniel Edelman: the 2023 U.S. U-20 captain had a case to make the team given the denial of a release for Aidan Morris and Obed Vargas leaving the program. Edelman could have provided more of a defensive presence in the midfield.

Esmir Bajraktarevic: the Bosnian-American was one of the youngest players in the Olympic pool and is eligible for the next Olympics as well. The talented winger has shown glimpses of a high ceiling with New England but lost out to more established wingers. We will now see if he stays with the American program or leaves for Bosnia, who have been openly courting him.

Damion Downs: It’s not clear if this was a release issue or a cut, but the FC Cologne center forward did not make the team despite scoring two Bundesliga goals this past season when his club was relegated. His absence leaves the club short on center forwards.


Ties to MLS Academies


This roster, as expected, has a blended mix of players based abroad vs. players based domestically. But only Dietz has never been affiliated with an MLS team at any point in his career. Taylor Booth never signed for an MLS team but he spent significant time in MLS academies. Even among players who were not released, the ties remain strong with players such as Aidan Morris and Bryan Reynolds.

As MLS teams continue to invest in youth academies, they will be developing many of the nation’s top young players. Many will eventually move on, but MLS academies will be important to youth national teams.

With that in mind, one of the most noteworthy inclusions was Inter Miami teenager Benja Cremaschi who is the only player on the final roster who is playing up a cycle, meaning he is also eligible for the 2025 U-20 World Cup and the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Cremaschi played well under Mitrovic when Mitrovic was the head coach of the U.S. U-19 team and he was able to transition himself well into the U-23 team. It remains to be seen if this was the best use for Cremaschi, who will now miss out on U-20 World Cup qualifiers which are happening at the same time. He would have been a starter there, and he is likely a sub on the U-23 team.

But his is a huge sign of confidence that the federation and Mitrovic rate Cremaschi highly. Cremaschi has played with Argentina’s U-20 team in the past and has been playing very well for Inter Miami this season both with and without Lionel Messi in the lineup.

If Cremaschi can take advantage of this opportunity, he is in a good position moving forward as one of the top American teenagers in the game.


Bottom Line


Overall, there are strengths to this roster but there are also holes. Mitrovic upgraded the team’s central defense (the biggest weakness among the age-eligible pool) with veteran overage players. But will that even matter much if the midfield can’t defend well? That question is what will likely determine success and failure in France this summer.

Tessmann and McGuire are very important to this team and it is hard to see the team having any success unless both players play well. The backups at the defensive midfield and forward positions are non-existent and everything is relying on both players.

If both players have good tournaments, it’s very easy to see the U.S. team being a tough out.

It’s a coin-flip whether this team does well, but if the team succeeds, it can help build enthusiasm for the program after the senior team’s poor Copa showing and it could help more players enter the full national team player pool and compete for minutes there.

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