The United States Men's Soccer Olympic team begins their quest for qualifcation to next summer's Olympic Tournament with a match against Canada in Kansas City tonight (NBC Universo, 8pm CDT). The US is trying to rebound from a stunning disappointment in the last cycle, where a late (and flukish) goal from El Salvador resulted in a draw that eliminated the US from the tournament before it even made it to London. Jurgen Klinsmann lamented the lost opportunity for that generation of American players, and for what it's worth, Mix Diskerud is the only regular contributor to the senior team these days.
This version of the Olympic qualifying team boasts 6 players from the successful U-20 team that made the quarterfinals in the U-20 campaign, 7 players getting regular and important minutes in MLS, and one player (Ethan Horvath) who has played in Champions League qualifying this year. Here's the roster and a few observations.
Roster By Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Charlie Horton (Leeds; Cleveland Ohio), Ethan Horvath (Molde; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Zack Steffen (Freiburg; Downington, Pa.).
DEFENDERS (5): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; Westcliff on Sea, England), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls; Clifton, N.J.), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact; Woodbury, Minn.), William Packwood (Unattached; Concord, Mass.), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids; Brighton, Colo.)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes; Northville, Mich.), Gboly Ariyibi (Chesterfield; Arlington, Va.), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake; Garden Grove, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham; Dallas, Texas), Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes; Sunnyvale, Calif.), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire; Milwaukee, Wis.), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; Gahanna, Ohio), Gedion Zelalem (Rangers; Bethesda, Md.).
FORWARDS (4): Alonso Hernandez (C.D. Juarez; El Paso, Texas), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart; Berlin, Germany), Jordan Morris (Stanford; Mercer Island, Wash.), Maki Tall (FC Sion; Washington, D.C.).
1. Notable absences: Olympic qualifying is not a FIFA-sanctioned tournament, so clubs do not have to release players for this tournament. Many on the roster are squad players, but in the case of Matt Miazga, Fatai Alashe, Marc Pelosi, Matt Polster, Will Trapp, and Eric Miller (who has already been recalled to Montreal), some horse trading was probably done to secure their services. Miazga, in particular, formed an excellent partnership in New Zealand with Carter-Vickers (son of former Dallas Maverick, Howard Carter), so thank you for letting him play, Red Bulls.
Olympic-eligible DeAndre Yedlin and Jon Anthony Brooks will be with the senior team or at home, but I think the defense should be just fine this tournament, and well, that game at the Rose Bowl is kind of important. The thinness of the attack is a little more worrisome. Rubio Rubin was not released by Utrecht, and we can only hope that the same can be said about Julian Green, who has gotten kind of lost in the shuffle after scoring the last goal for the United States in Brazil last summer. I think Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola would've been nice to have for this tournament, too. Hopefully, Jordan Morris is back to full speed after knee surgery this summer.
2. The goalkeepers are YOUNG: Perhaps, you could even say green. Steffen showed well in New Zealand, and I honestly don't know much about Horton. Horvath has held down the #1 job at Molde in Norway for the first several months of the season, but when you consider that the 1st team minutes of all of these guys combined don't add up to the respective experience of either Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid at this time in the last Olympic cycle, and it might give you pause. If you remember how the US was bounced from qualifying last time, you might want to invest in something inanimate to punch. Nevermind the fact that El Salvador should have had two players sent off in the 81st minute- that's CONCACAF. Hopefully, the young guys will be sound and not get sucker-punched too often.
3. The competition:
The US once again play Cuba, Canada, and a Central American team (Panama). They open with Canada, who won 2-0 against the Yanks back in 2012, and that's not nothing. Canada is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in their youth ranks as well, benefiting from the same USL expansion that we've enjoyed here in the States. A win against the Canucks would go a long way to relieving some of the pressure going into the 2nd game against Cuba which should be an easy win. More importantly, a 3rd game with 6 points in hand against a mysterious Central American team composed mainly of domestic pros, who might be highly
armed with weapons-grade elbows, fist, and teeth with a disinterested ref watching as they re-enact the zombie apocalyse motivated, would not be a must win to advance.
Much like last time, the US should advance to the elimination round of this tournament. Similarly, if we make it to game 3 of Group playe with less than 6 points, you're welcome to start freaking out a bit. If they make it out of the group, the game in Sandy, Utah to advance to the Olympics is on the same day as the Confederations Cup play-in game at the Rose Bowl. October 10th has potential to be a massively depressing day. Or he could be a great one- any tips for navigating LA light rail?