By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Mar 16, 2020) US Soccer Players – Qualifying for the Summer Olympics is on US Soccer's to-do list for 2020. While soccer often doesn't get the respect it deserves at the Summer Games, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have for years tinkered with the men's tournament to make it relevant to teams.
While the global coronavirus outbreak has put this summer's Olympics in serious doubt, the US is hoping to qualify should things stabilize in the coming weeks. Since 2000, the United States has only qualified for one Olympics, the 2008 Beijing Games, with a squad that featured future senior USMNT stars Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.
Concacaf said it "is committed to working with key stakeholders to consider options on how and when to reconvene these competitions and any new decision will be communicated in due course."
This time around, the USMNT faces a difficult qualifying group for the Tokyo Olympics, drawn against rivals Mexico and Costa Rica. The teams join the Dominican Republic in Group A, while Honduras are the top seed in Group B along with Canada, El Salvador, and Haiti.
The Olympic soccer tournament runs as an Under-23 competition – something that began with the Barcelona Games in 1992 – so as not to rival the World Cup. Spain won the tournament at home that summer and featured future stars and future coaches Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique.
For the United States, the Olympics are seen as an opportunity to test young players in a pressure-filled tournament situation with a prestigious medal on the line. American fans can't forget how the USA's Cinderella run helped them finish fourth at the 2000 Sydney Games. At the same time, the women's tournament – open to pros – has seen the USWNT capture four gold medals in six tournaments since the first at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
How important is it to qualify for the Tokyo Games? Head coach Jason Kreis said it's key to the future growth of American soccer and the National Team.
"They (US Soccer) have looked at these past couple of cycles and look at that as a failure. So, it's something that we want to correct, and we want to correct it together," he told USSoccer.com. "I'm really pleased about that and really, really look at this as a tremendous opportunity. I think that this is a huge opportunity that stands in front of us and it's a chance for us to have positive rhetoric around something on the men's side of US Soccer right now."
The Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship, which was originally scheduled to take place in Mexico starting March 20, is now delayed for 30 days. The Americans, who had been training in Guadalajara, features a roster made up mostly of MLS-based players with a sprinkling of young talent under contract with foreign clubs.
There remain some question marks in regards to various positions, including who will start in goal. Kreis, a former MLS star and a successful coach with Real Salt Lake, called up three goalkeepers for the tournament: Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union), J.T. Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes) and David Ochoa (RSL). He said the starting job remains up for grabs.
"I really think all three of the goalkeepers have some sets of skills that are quite nice. All three of them have some deficiencies. I think it's very typical though," he said. "I mean we're talking about young goalkeepers and everybody knows that young goalkeepers can oftentimes struggle with making some mistakes and can struggle with some leadership and communication."
With the fields players, Kreis has a talented bunch at his disposal. Among the standouts are defenders Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas) and Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Wein) as well as striker Ulysses Lllanez (Wolfsburg). Cannon played for the US at last year's Gold Cup, while Palmer-Brown snapped up the Golden Ball as tournament MVP at the 2017 Concacaf U-20 championship. Lllanez earned his first senior cap last month against Costa Rica, where he also scored a goal in the 1-0 win.
"(Lllanez) basically made our roster through being in the January camp," Kries said. "So, we see a player there that we feel could really, really help us in a number of different areas."
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Remembering Fred Shields, a soccer role model for Harrison, NJ
- Q&A with Red Bulls midfielder Alex Muyl
- Five things that changed MLS
- Familiar expectations for MLS in the Champions League
Logo courtesy of the IOC