The U-23 team
What could a top U.S. U-23 team look like in 2020? A medal contender
With qualifying possibly starting in 2019, is not too early to start taking a look at what the U.S. U-23 team could look like ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the player pool right now
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedWhile there won’t be any meaningful games for U.S. Soccer on the men’s side in 2018, the following year will see a ton of activity at all levels. There will be the Gold Cup, potentially the Copa America, the U-20 World Cup, and possibly U-23 Olympic qualifying.
April 26, 2018
April 26, 2018
When it comes to the U-23 team, it is a good barometer for the future. Part of the reason why the U.S. national team is sitting Russia out is because of the “Missing Years” generation. A stalled development among players born 1990-1994. Those players should be in their prime but that generation has produced few national team players compared with previous generations.
Players in the Missing Years generations have struggled en mass at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 levels. Then during a time when they should be the core of the national team, they have continued to struggle. But with the U-23 team, the fact that it hasn’t qualified for the last two Olympics was the final indicator of the problems with the Missing Years generation as both these U-23 teams in 2012 and 2015 were comprised of players from these years.
Looking ahead to the team that will attempt to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, there is room for optimism. With the U-23 Olympic team based on a four year cycle and the U-20 teams based on a two year cycle, each Olympic team is largely comprised of the two previous U-20 teams. The key is that the older of the U-20 teams inside of the U-23 team has to take the lead.
In the failure of the 2012 Olympic team, that team was built mostly on the older 2009 U-20 group as well as contributions from the younger 2011 U-20 group. Similarly with the 2016 U-23 team, the team was built mostly on the 2013 U-20 team along with contributions from the younger 2015 U-20 team. It should be of little surprise that the 2009 and 2013 U-20 teams did not produce much talent, giving little hope to the U-23 teams.
For 2020, the U-23 team will consist primarily of players who were part of the 2017 U-20 team while also incorporating the better players from the 2019 U-20 team. This should already bode well for the team’s prospects as the 2017 U-20 team were World Cup quarterfinalists and won the U-20 CONCACAF title for the first time in team history – despite missing many top players. Also, the 2019 U-20 team looks strong at the start of its cycle. The bottom line is that this U-23 core is significantly more accomplished at the start of its cycle than previous teams.
When looking at the potential roster, there are a few important things to consider.
- The 2020 Olympics games start much earlier than other recent summer games. The games in Tokyo will open on July 24 but the soccer tournament typically begins a few days earlier. The final will take place around August 9. So the entire tournament will take place before the start of most European seasons.
- Clubs are not required to release players for the Olympics or Olympic qualifying. But with the tournament not conflicting with seasons, there is a much stronger likelihood that top players will be able to play.
- Olympic qualifying rosters in the past in CONCACAF have been 20 players including two goalkeepers. The roster for the Olympics is only 18 players with two goalkeepers. With such small rosters, versatility is a huge bonus for players.
- Historically, there are three overage players allowed for the Olympics but not for qualifying.
The bottom line is that a top American team could be very strong in Tokyo.
Potential 2018 Olympic team
Here is a best case scenario for what the roster could look like for the U-23 team if all the top players participate with no overage players.
1) Brady Scott
2) Jonathan Klinsmann
In the mix: Trey Muse, JT Marcinkowski, CJ Dos Santos
The skinny: Brady Scott is the current U-20 goalkeeper and seems to be the top of his age group. Jonathan Klinsmann is at Hertha Berlin and performed well for the 2017 U-20 team. An overage selection is almost certain to be used for this position should the team qualify.
3) Cameron Carter-Vickers
4) Erik Palmer-Brown
5) Justen Glad
6) Reggie Cannon
7) Antonee Robinson
8) Marco Farfan
In the mix: Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Matthew Real, Kyle Duncan, Sergino Dest, Manny Perez, George Bello, Danny Acosta
The skinny: This is a very good group of players and is the core of the team. There is only one right back listed but Brooks Lennon and Tyler Adams can provide cover for Reggie Cannon. Meanwhile, the central defense trio of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Justen Glad features three players with a lot of professional and international experience.
9) Weston McKennie
10) Tyler Adams
11) Keaton Parks
12) Christian Pulisic
13) Andrew Carleton
14) Nick Taitague
15) Jonathan Amon
16) Brooks Lennon
In the mix: Chris Durkin, Cameron Lindley, Djordje Mihailovic, Paxton Pomykal, Luca de la Torre, Anthony Fontana, Chris Goslin, Chris Gloster, George Acosta, Jackson Yueill
The skinny: Many of the names here are obvious. Pulisic, McKennie, and Adams are full national team players now. Meanwhile Parks, Amon, Taitague, and Carleton are top prospects despite not having significant professional minutes. Brooks Lennon had a good year in 2017 with the U-20 team and Real Salt Lake. He is a very good crosser and provides cover at right back.
17) Tim Weah
18) Josh Sargent
In the mix: Brandon Vazquez, Emmanuel Sabbi, Jeremy Ebobisse, Zyen Jones, Mason Toye, Haji Wright
The skinny: Right now there is a lot riding on Tim Weah and Josh Sargent. Despite limited professional minutes both are the top forward prospects and there is not a lot of depth. Behind them are a lot of question marks which could be problematic in qualifying if Sargent and Weah are not available.
This brings us to the three over age selections should the team qualify for the Olympics. Two overage picks are actually easy.
One will certainly be used as the team’s starting goalkeeper and will probably be one of the full U.S. national team goalkeepers – Zack Steffen, Alex Bono, or Bill Hamid.
A second over age selection will most likely go to the forward positions and replace a winger player like Taitague, Amon, or Lennon.
The final overage position will probably depend on what European clubs are willing to release players and perhaps add a top players. Would Newcastle United allow DeAndre Yedlin to play at right back? Would Anderlecht allow Kenny Saief to go? It is way too early to know.
To get to the Olympics, the team has to qualify. While that was tough in previous cycles, at least this team will be built from strong U-20 teams.
While qualifying typically consists of mostly domestically based players, history has shown that some European teams do cooperate. It is safe to say that if a player like Pulsic or McKennie is starting for a big team, he’s not going to be released. But reserve, youth, or bench players typically go. Scandinavian teams typically have cooperated in releasing players as having players play internationally helps increase their transfer value.
Where does that leave players like Keaton Parks, Tim Weah, and Josh Sargent who don’t play first team soccer regularly? If qualifying were right now, all three would likely be released. But a lot will change over the next year so we will leave them off.
There is also the possibility that U.S Soccer reaches deals with European teams to release players for the critical games late in qualifying. In 2008, Jonathan Spector was released by West Ham just to play the crucial determining semifinal. In 2015, Ethan Horvath joined the team for the knockout stages.
With mostly a domestic roster, here is what qualifying might look like.
1) Brady Scott
2) Jonathan Klinsmann
3) Justen Glad
4) Auston Trusty
5) Mark McKenzie
6) Miles Robinson
7) Reggie Cannon
8) Brooks Lennon
9) Marco Farfan
10) Matthew Real
11) Tyler Adams
12) Chris Durkin
13) Luca de la Torre
14) Cameron Lindley
15) Chris Goslin
16) Paxton Pomykal
17) Andrew Carleton
18) Jonathan Amon
19) Brandon Vazquez
20) Emmanuel Sabbi