After a year of delay imposed by COVID-19, the United States National Men’s Under-23 Team is finally on the verge of launching its Olympic adventure in earnest.
Concacaf is hosting their Olympic qualifying tournament in Guadalajara next month and on Monday, US head coach Jason Kreis and his team will launch a two-and-a-half-week preparation camp on site in the Mexican city.
The confederation published on Tuesday morning the preliminary lists of the eight participating nations, lists of up to 50 players per country from which the final teams of 20 players must be selected 10 days before the start of the tournament. Two binationals immediately sparked a conversation in the context of MLS – one on both lists of its countries and the other on its neighbors.
LA Galaxy native Efra Alvarez has been named to the U.S. and Mexico preliminary rosters, a rarity in those situations, while Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola has been banned from both the Canadian and U.S. rosters. Kreis touched on both scenarios in a conversation with MLSsoccer.com.
Ayo is a player with health issues, which is why he was not in our squad. So we believe he is unable to train or play at the moment, the coach said, declining to provide further details on the details Akinola is facing.
Watch: Ayo Akinola scores on USMNT debut against El Salvador in December
The US-Canadian-Nigerian forward also missed Canada’s January camp with an undisclosed injury and was reportedly unable to fully train in the early days of TFC’s preseason, which started in Toronto February 18. Akinola has represented the United States at the international youth level, but numerous reports suggest he is considering his options after a sustained recruiting push from the Reds.
Meanwhile, Alvarez recently represented Mexico in the youth competition, but was invited to the USMNT’s December camp and is clearly a priority target for Kreis and senior coach Gregg Berhalter. The 18-year-old playmaker is expected to file a one-time change to represent the United States in Olympic action, which would definitely tie him back to the country of his birth.
Efras a player that we worked with in December, and to be frank with you, I hadn’t seen a lot of Efra, because I don’t think he was really a regular and consistent player in MLS. And so, working with him for a week and seeing him in and around the rest of the players on the full national team was eye-opening, Kreis said.
Gregg and I think he’s a player with some potential and tools that no one else in the national team probably has. And so it becomes very, very interesting for us, he continued. And so we want to give him the opportunity to be part of our national team program in the future. That being said, we want to let him know that, but then we have to take a step back and say that this is a very personal decision for someone, and so we don’t want to put undue pressure on you. We just want to let you know how much we value you, how much we think your potential could be in our program. So the decision is left to Efra, but no pressure will be put on him from the perspective of the US Men’s National Team.
The US preliminary roster also included seven overseas-based players, including Brenden Aaronson and Bryan Reynolds, which raises some eyebrows given the historic difficulties in convincing foreign clubs to release players for Olympic competition, which does not fall under FIFA’s mandatory publication protocols.
Kreis said conversations with the clubs are ongoing and that he and USMNT general manager Brian McBride contacted these overseas clubs early on in order to give everyone involved plenty of time to think. to their decisions and react to others. He says he’s optimistic about his hopes for good news on that front, but doesn’t see it as a key factor in the teams’ hopes of breaking 12-year Olympic qualifying drought programs.
I’m always going to hope we get more yes than no, he said, but I’d also be pretty pragmatic – and I think a good characteristic of coaches is to be realistic and say, even without a lot. yes, I still think that this group and this hen will be very capable of qualifying for the Olympics.
The US U-23s will open the Group A match against Costa Rica at Estadio Jalisco on March 18, then face the Dominican Republic on March 21 at Estadio Akron before concluding the group game against Mexico on March 24. . The top two from Group A and Group B advance to the semi-final and the two teams that win these matches will represent the region at the Tokyo Summer Games.
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