Tuesday, March 9, 2021

USMNT U-23 depth chart for men’s Concacaf Olympic qualifying

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You, dear reader, no doubt either watched or read about Tim Weah’s goal for Ligue 1-leading Lille in the Europa League on Thursday. You also probably know that Brenden Aaronson started for RB Salzburg in that same competition, as did Chris Richards for Hoffenheim. Sergino Dest, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie all started in the Champions League earlier in the week. Gio Reyna did not, but he’s a part of a Dortmund side that’s still very much alive. Same with Christian Pulisic and Chelsea, who play next week.

Josh Sargent’s Werder Bremen are not at that level, nor are Reggie Cannon’s Boavista, Mark McKenzie’s Genk, Matthew Hoppe’s Schalke, Antonee Robinson’s Fulham, Yunus Musah’s Valencia or Daryl Dike’s Barnsley. But all of those players are regulars — at the very least — for their respective sides.

And all of the players mentioned above have at least one thing in common: They are extremely unlikely to be released for Concacaf Olympic Qualifying, which is slated to be held next month. Check out the full schedule here.

The Olympics are mostly a U-23 tournament, and Olympic qualifying is exclusively a U-23 tournament (though this time around it’s kind of a U-24 event, since everything got pushed back from 2020 into 2021 because of the pandemic). That means players born January 1, 1997 or later are eligible, and every single one of those guys is in that age cohort.

But because the Olympics are technically considered to be a youth tournament by FIFA, no club is obligated to release players for it, or (obviously) for qualifying. Therefore the vast majority of European clubs, all of whom are in season, simply will not. No matter how nicely they’re asked.

That brings us to the point of this exercise: I’m laying out a United States U-23 depth chart for Olympic qualifying. This is not a pure “who are our best 23-and-under players?” type of list. This is “who are our best 23-and-under players who are likely to be released for the tournament next month?”

That pares things down a good bit, basically to MLS guys and a few overseas prospects who’ve yet to break into their respective first teams. As always, I’m trying to judge things by how I imagine the coaching staff — Jason Kreis is the U-23 boss, though I imagine he gets a good bit of direction from Gregg Berhalter — sees things, as well as club performances and a little bit of my own views sprinkled in.

Here we go:

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