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Olympic qualifying is a ‘tremendous opportunity’ for U.S. to bring positive energy to USMNT

Coach Jason Kreis excited about team’s depth and experience ahead of first qualifying match

The current group of United States men’s national team Under-23 players attempting to qualify for the Olympics was about eleven years old when men last represented the US in the 2008 tournament.

Coach Jason Kreis sees this as a “tremendous opportunity to put the flag down and say we are moving in a positive direction.”

“It may not be happening as fast as everyone wanted it too, but I think we have a real plan in place,” Kreis said on a conference call from Guadalajara, Mexico. “I see this as just an opportunity for us to change some of the rhetoric right now.”

The group of 20 players born after January 1, 1997, will compete in Olympic qualifying starting March 20. They convened with U.S. coaches and staff Monday in Mexico ahead of a March 13 friendly against Haiti. Fifteen players play for Major League Soccer clubs, including FC Dallas Homegrown players Paxton Pomykal and Reggie Cannon, who headline the selection of players.

While Pomykal’s inclusion was questionable due to an injury that forced him to withdraw from USMNT’s January camp earlier this year, Cannon will join the group as an experienced leader. Cannon mostly recently broke into the senior national team. The 21-year-old was the youngest member of senior national team coach Gregg Berhalter’s leadership council during January friendlies. He has one assist and 11 first team caps internationally.

“With Reggie, I was surprised to see what a leader he is within that group. This is a leader that I feel like leads with both his actions–he is extremely competitive in every training session–as well as with his word. He is a communicator and he really cares about his teammates,” Kreis said. “He will be one of the players that we will lean on for leadership.”

Cannon is part of a deep and uncharacteristically experienced defensive group of under-23 players. Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad leads the group with 110 games played. Defenders Chris Gloster and Erik Palmer-Brown have featured in first team games in Europe.

“The expectation–or sort of the norm–would be that most players aren’t getting a lot of first team matches,” Kreis said. “We have a different situation here. We have a plethora of central defenders that are getting a lot of first team matches as well as our outside backs in the same situation. So, I really feel like it’s one of the strongest and deepest areas of this team.”

Gloster, Palmer-Brown, Richard Ledezma, and Ulysses Llanez are the only players featured from European teams.

“For the five camps that we have done over 2019, the European clubs have been very good about releasing the players in the FIFA window,” Kreis said. “For the most part I think the European clubs want to be cooperative. They want to showcase their players at different levels.”

U.S. senior team regulars Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest and Josh Sargent are technically age eligible. With the combination of their European club’s discretion and World Cup qualifying at the end of the year, none of those players were expected to feature on the Olympic qualifying roster. Kreis was asked about the hypothetical conversations with European and MLS teams regarding players not getting released for qualifying should the U.S. succeed in grabbing a spot in the Olympics:

“We are only focused on qualification,” Kreis said. “None of those conversations have happened yet and I don’t want to even think about any of that stuff until we get our job done here.”

The United States faces Costa Rica on March 20 to start the qualifying process at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara.

Full U.S. Olympic Qualifying Roster

Goalkeepers: Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Chris Gloster (PSV Eindhoven), Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Wien)

Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), Hassani Dotson (Minnesota United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)

Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg), Sebastian Saucedo (Pumas UNAM)

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