Breaking down the U.S. U-23 provisional roster for Olympic qualifying
February 22, 2021
CONCACAF TODAY released the provisional rosters for the upcoming U-23 Olympic qualifying tournament and included in the release was roster selected by U.S. head coach Jason Kreis. His roster contains 48 names and will be the basis from which names his 20-player roster for the tournament – in a format that consists of 17 field players, and three goalkeepers.
The provisional roster was mostly predictable and it includes many recent call-ups from December and January – and it dips heavily into what would have been the 2021 U-20 team. In total 14 players of the 48 were eligible for what would have been the U-20 team this year. In that respect, these players are all eligible for the 2024 U-23 Olympic team as well.
One important note, the roster is non-binding but don't expect any other additions.
It’s a young, but experienced roster compared with previous editions. Below is the roster as well as some of my thoughts.
Drake Callender, Matt Freese, Jonathan Klinsmann, JT Marcinkowski, David Ochoa, Brady Scott
Julian Araujo, George Bello, Kyle Duncan, Marco Farfan, Justen Glad, Chris Gloster, Aaron Herrera, Aboubacar Keita, Henry Kessler, Mauricio Pineda, Donovan Pines, Bryan Reynolds, Miles Robinson, James Sands, Auston Trusty, Sam Vines
Brenden Aaronson, Efrain Alvarez, Frankie Amaya, Cole Bassett, Gianluca Busio, Caden Clark, Johnny Cardoso, Hassani Dotson, Djordje Mihailovic, Keaton Parks, Andres Perea, Brandon Servania, Tanner Tessmann, Eryk Williamson, Jackson Yueill
Cade Cowell, Konrad de la Fuente, Jeremy Ebobisse, Jesus Ferreira, Brooks Lennon, Jonathan Lewis, Uly Llanez, Benji Michel, Ricardo Pepi, Sebastian Saucedo, Sebastian Soto
While the roster was predictable, what it does tell, however, the degree at which there might be cooperative releases from European teams because clubs are not required to release players for this tournament – or any other youth tournament, even if it is in an international window. With that respect, it looks like there was probably quite a bit of resistance. That makes sense given tight quarantine restrictions throughout most of the world right now.
On a positive note, most of the eight players named to this roster from non-MLS clubs (Servania, Llanez, Gloster, de la Fuente, Reynolds, Soto, Saucedo, Cardoso) probably have a high degree of getting released just to be named to this roster. If Kreis wants them, there is probably a good chance.
One notable exception is Brenden Aaronson who is on the ascent at Salzburg and turned in a huge outing on Sunday that moved Salzburg six points clear of the table. Combined with suspensions to Mohamed Camara and Sekou Koita along with an injury to Noah Oakfor, Salzburg is short on players at the moment. It’s hard to see Aaronson leaving the club – even for the portion of this tournament in the international window due to the challenges of getting back to Europe.
Who is not on the roster?
While no one was expecting to ever have the likes of Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent, and Timothy Weah at any point this cycle, there were some players based abroad that are notable absences due to release issues.
Luca de la Torre and Erik Palmer-Brown are well-experienced young players who play for mid-table clubs outside of the big five leagues in Europe who have played well. There are also players like Nicholas Gioacchini and Daryl Dike who are at midtable second-tier clubs who have been at recent camps. Kreis also did not included Alan Sonora who plays for Independiente although that might have been either a release issue or the fact he has never been called up to play for the United States at any level – unlike his holder brother Joel.
In terms of domestic-based players. Kreis covered all of his bases. Ayo Akinola isn’t on this roster but as Charles Boehm at MLS Soccer reported, the Canadian-American has health issues. Probably the most surprising omission on the domestic-based front is Philadelphia's Anthony Fontana who was very sharp in limited minutes in 2020 and who will help fill the void left by Brenden Aaronson sale to Salzburg.
Schedule moving forward
Kreis is likely going to have a camp in Mexico starting next week in the beginning of March. That camp will probably consist of around 25 players and then that will be narrowed down to a final 20-player roster around the 14th of March.
Right now, Kreis probably has a pretty good idea on who will be the core of his team and who has a realistic chance of making it.
Significant drop since 2020
A little over one year ago, the U.S. U-23 team was in Mexico for qualifying. That roster was named but the competition was suspended before it started due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, this U.S. U-23 team has lost a lot of its talent from the one that was in Mexico a year ago.
Brenden Aaronson, Richard Ledezma, and Paxton Pomykal were the heart of the play-making midfield. The latter two are injured while Aaronson is likely not going to be released. In addition, central defense has taken a huge blow as Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie are regular starters for clubs that are likely not interested in agreeing to a release. Then at right back, Reggie Cannon is now at Boavista which is in a tough relegation battle.
That is a huge loss in key players. On top of that, Daryl Dike was not on the team last year but was probably thought of as joining the fold in 2021. His loan to Barnsley eliminates that possibility.
The talent that has replaced those players is still pretty good. The possible addition of Konrad de la Fuente who is not playing much for Barcelona would address a big hole at the wing position. The improvement of Tanner Tessmann, Eryk Williamson, Maruicio Pineda, Henry Kessler has been a huge help. Other players like Sam Vines, Julian Araujo, and JT Marcinkowski took the next step in their development.
Still, the squad does not seem to be as talented as last year.
Can it qualify?
It will be tough to qualify and there are a lot of things working against this U.S. team. Release issues, the loss of key players from 2020, and most importantly, the early preseason status of the MLS season are all working against this team. On top of that, only two teams qualify from this region as opposed to four that qualify from CONCACAF for the U-17 and U-20 World Cups. It is a tough tournament to qualify and the margin of error is very small.
The U.S. still probably has to be considered one of the favorites given the edge of talent but getting this team sharp in the camp leading up to the tournament will be the decisive factor if it can succeed or not. Not to mention, it will need luck along the way.
The U.S. U-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2012 and 2016 and this team has more talent but still a lot of holes and not much preparation.
Who will make the 20-player roster? Based on the preliminary roster, I’ll give it another shot.
Goalkeepers (3): Scott, Marcinkowski, Freese
Defenders (6): Araujo, Herrera, Glad, Pineda, Kessler, Vines
Midfielders (6): Yueill, Perea, Tessmann, Williamson, Saucedo, Mihailovic
Forwards/wingers (5): De la Fuente, Lewis, Ferreira, Soto, Ebobisse
A few notes on the prediction:
I predict the following:
Atlanta United will not release Miles Robinson or George Bello.
Uly Llanez will be passed over in favor of Konrad de la Fuente.
Cardoso will not be released due to the local tournaments in Brazil