Olympic analysis

Analysis: Mitrovic names 25 to final pre-Olympic camp

ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks down the U.S. Olympic team's final camp before departing for Paris in July. ASN will be in France this summer for the Olympics and has been covering the team in detail all cycle. Here is our report. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 29, 2024
12:00 PM

ON WEDNESDAY, United States Olympic team manager Marko Mitrovic announced his roster for the June camp that will conclude with a friendly against Japan on June 11 in Kansas City. This is the team’s fourth and final camp before the start of Olympic preparations and is the last chance for Mitrovic to look at players before he names his final roster in July.

For this camp, Mitrovic named a big roster of 25 players. It also included the first overage call-up with Walker Zimmerman making the list, which is a huge indication he will make the final team.

But assuming two more overage players get named and the age-eligible players all come from this camp, that means up to nine players in this roster will be cut to make the final 18-player Olympic team.  With a final roster that small, there are a lot of tough decisions and this camp will be very important in deciding who makes the final team.

Here is the roster along with some key thoughts.


The Roster


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

DEFENDERS (7): Nathan Harriel (Philadelphia Union; Oldsmar, Fla.), Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy; Lakewood, Calif.), Bryan Reynolds (KVC Westerlo/BEL; Fort Worth, Texas), John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls; Chatham, N.J.), Jonathan Tomkinson (Norwich City/ENG; Plano, Texas), Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United FC; Atlanta, Ga.), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; Lawrenceville, Ga.)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids; Littleton, Colo.), 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.), Rokas Pukstas (Hajduk Split/CRO; Stillwater, Okla.), Tanner Tessmann (Venezia/ITA; Birmingham, Ala.)

FORWARDS (9): Paxten Aaronson (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER; Medford, N.J.), Esmir Bajraktarevic (New England Revolution; Appleton, Wisc.), Taylor Booth (Utrecht/NED; Eden, Utah), Cade Cowell (Guadalajara/MEX; Ceres, Calif.), Damion Downs (Köln/GER; Schwebenried, Germany), Johan Gomez (Eintracht Braunschweig/GER; Keller, Texas), Duncan McGuire (Orlando City SC; Omaha, Neb.), Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg/GER; South Riding, Va.), Griffin Yow (KVC Westerlo/BEL; Clifton, Va.)


Overage focus


Walker Zimmerman is the first overage player to be involved with the team and his selection is obvious now that he has returned from injury. It was always obvious that Mitrovic was going to have to bolster the team’s central defense with overage picks. The age-eligible U-23 pool is very thin in central defense in MLS or first and second divisions in Europe.

When you exclude the five players who are currently in camp with the full USMNT, the options become even more limited. As most people know now, club releases for the Olympics are voluntary. Zimmerman is a player who has a lot of USMNT experience, is familiar with just about every player at this camp, and is in a situation where Nashville will let him go.

But why is Zimmerman the only overage player selected?

It wouldn’t be surprising if the remaining two options are currently with the USMNT. In Gregg Berhalter’s recent interview with the Washington Post, it was mentioned Miles Robinson and Auston Trusty as options. Zimmerman is almost certainly going after being named to this team. Robinson is probably a stronger candidate than Trusty right now given that he has chemistry with Zimmerman, and his release is more likely. If Trusty was a very strong Olympic candidate, his absence from this camp doesn’t make sense.

In terms of what is needed, look for another overage central defender and perhaps a versatile attacker.


4 Olympic debuts


Four age-eligible players were called up to their first camp with the Olympic team. The fact that these players are earning looks this late in the cycle probably reflects well on their part. It’s a tough barrier to break into any team this late and this is a legit opportunity for all four. If they play well at this camp, they could be Paris bound.

Here’s a look at how they got here.

Damion Downs: The FC Koln forward battled a concussion this season which saw him miss several months. But he also scored two game-winning goals during an intense Bundesliga relegation battle. In the end, Koln were relegated but Downs emerged as the team’s top forward off the bench. The 2.Bundesliga could give him a stage to contribute more, but will Koln trust him in a promotion race? He’s talented but raw. His strength is being big and physical, but his weakness is that he can drift out of games and struggles at times to get touches. Downs is a German-American and has been called up to one USYNT in the past.

 For Downs, his main competition is Duncan McGuire who is well established in this team and who is looking for a summer transfer from Orlando City. Paperwork errors saw his January move to Blackburn fall through. But Downs also faces competition from Johan Gomez who plays for Eintracht Braunschweig of the 2.Bundesliga and has been involved in every camp. There is also a high likelihood of an overage forward is also named. Downs has a lot of competition, but still has an opportunity.

Jalen Neal: Neal has long been viewed as the best of an albeit weak generation of centerbacks. Last summer, the LA Galaxy refused to release him to the U-20 World Cup. Then in late July 2023, he was sidelined due to a sports hernia and suffered setbacks in his recovery. He is now back for the Galaxy and while he has shown some rust, he is on the path to getting back to his pre-injury level. While the chances are high Mitrovic takes two overage central defenders, he will need to take at least one age-eligible centerback. With Maximillian Dietz out with an injury, Neal compares very favorably to other options like Jonathan Tomkinson or George Campbell.

Rokas Pukstas: The Hajduk Split attacking midfielder finishes his second season as a regular starter for the Croatian club. This season he had seven goals and one assist. He’s well-liked by U.S. Soccer, enough to the point where they kept a roster spot open for him at the 2023 U-20 World Cup and allowed him to arrive after the group stages of the tournament.

He’s effective but still raw as a player and doesn’t get a lot of touches. He also scores a lot of goals from headers and is a good finisher, not necessarily a great creator aside from set pieces. He deserves a look but faces tough competition from players like Paxten Aaronson, Gianluca Busio, and maybe Diego Luna (who is not at this camp). He is also very young, at 19 years old.

Gaga Slonina: This is actually his first camp but he was called up to the March camp only to withdraw because of an injury. At this point, it seems very likely that Slonina and Patrick Schulte are the top two keepers for the Olympic team. Slonina had a tough season on loan from Chelsea to Eupen. The team’s relegation wasn’t his fault, but he was part of it. Watching his confidence at this camp will be key.


Luna among tough omissions


With this team having only four camps and this being the team’s final camp, this is not a camp players want to miss if they have any hope of making the Olympic team. The player pool right now is mostly healthy. Greuther Furth defender Maximillian Dietz is injured, but Neal’s return and the use of overage players made him a bubble player.

Here is a look at some notable players who are out – not including U-23 players in camp with the senior USMNT.

Diego Luna: The Real Salt Lake attacking mid/winger is by far the most notable omission. While he started off the season slowly, he has been playing very well as of late as RSL has climbed the standings of the Western Conference. He is versatile, scrappy, and a creator, and his current form make his absence surprising.

Chris Brady: The Chicago Fire goalkeeper is frankly just behind Patrick Schulte and Gaga Slonina right now.

Brian Gutierrez: The Chicago Fire attacking mid/winger just hasn’t been in the mix for Mitrovic after the first camp. Mitrovic knows Gutierrez well from his days as a Fire assistant and Gutierrez just hasn’t been part of the team’s plans.

Quinn Sullivan: The versatile Philadelphia Union attacker/midfielder has had a good start to the 2024 season and he's made some important strides in his game. But he hasn't been with the team at all this cycle and it just seems like Mitrovic has him behind many others. 

Obed Vargas: One of the players who is attempting to play up a cycle, Vargas has been playing well for Seattle lately but looks more like an option with the U.S. U-20 team, for now.

Bernard Kamungo: The FC Dallas winger ended 2023 in great form and had a very good start to the U.S. U-23 cycle. But his form has been off to start 2024 and the winger pool is competitive.

Dan Edelman: The 2023 U.S. U-20 World Cup captain made his U.S. U-23 debut in March but is not part of this camp. He’s competing with Aidan Morris and Tanner Tessmann, which is not easy.

Josh Atencio: Another defensive midfielder, but the Seattle Sounder has a lot of competition for a spot.


Cremaschi & Bajraktarevic playing up


Two players are on this team who are attempting to play up a cycle. This means they are also eligible for the 2025 U-20 World Cup and the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. It’s a tough hurdle to make a U-23 team up a cycle, but Benja Cremaschi and Esmir Bajraktarevic have been there for most of this cycle. Unsurprisingly, Mitrovic knows both players very well from his previous job as the U.S. U-19 head coach.  

Here is a look at both players:

Esmir Bajraktarevic: The crafty winger is one of the top American teenagers in MLS but is stuck on a Revolution team that is off to a disastrous start amid with reports of player unhappiness. It’s been hard for him to stand out with the Revs. To make the Olympic team, he will have to beat out most of a long list that includes Cremaschi, Pardes, Yow, Aaronson, Booth, and Luna.

Benja Cremaschi: The Inter Miami attacking midfielder missed time with his club and the Olympic team due to a sports hernia operation. But he was part of the Olympic team for the first two camps. Playing alongside Messi, Suarez, and Busquets will help any player but Cremaschi is coming off a solid performance in an away win over Vancouver where Miami didn’t have its older stars. He is going to have to beat out tough players to make the team, but it looks like Mitrovic rates Cremaschi as well.


Bassett and Booth return


Two players who return from the team after a period away are Cole Bassett and Taylor Booth. Both players are in position to fight for a roster spot on the Olympic team.

Taylor Booth was part of the team’s first two camps but was not part of the team in March due to a knee injury he suffered in February. He has returned to Utrecht the past month. His form hasn’t been as strong as it was preinjury (where he had five goals in two games before the injury) but this camp will give him an opportunity to compete. He’s not a lock, but he is a strong candidate.

Meanwhile, Cole Bassett is a player who was part of the November camp but then left off the USMNT January camp and March Olympic camps. But his form for Colorado has been outstanding to start the season (5 goals, 3 assists, 1347 minutes). You can’t ignore a player who enters camp red hot. We’ve seen this with Griffin Yow on this Olympic team as he is now a favorite to go to Paris.

The rosters for major youth tournaments are often about who is in the best form in the months leading into a major tournament. Bassett might have a chance if he can translate his form with Colorado into this camp.


Lots of competition, few locks


In terms of this roster, there is a lot of competition. There just aren’t many locks. Some players seem very likely to go.

Tanner Tessmann, Gianluca Busio, Patrick Schulte, Aidan Morris, Gaga Slonina, Kevin Paredes, and Paxten Aaronson are as close to locks as you might expect. Even then, there are strange things that can happen. For example, if Gio Reyna is allowed to play at the Olympics, then that could change things for Aaronson or Busio.

Bryan Reynolds has a very good chance of going given his consistent involvement and Nathan Harriel has been apart of every single camp – showing a useful versatility off the bench.

Unless the roster gets expanded (and in 2021, the Olympic roster was increased from 18 to 22 just three weeks before the start of the tournament), then 18 players brings an entirely different dynamic. Coaches have their starting XI but then the backups must be versatile because there is not enough roster space to have a one-for-one backup at every position.  

There are 25 players on this roster. There are two more overage players who will join and there are a few other age eligible players on the USMNT who might be allowed to play in the Olympics. There seems to be a lot up for grabs right now.

This camp is going to decide a lot.

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