Rio or Bust: U.S. U-23’s Look to Qualify for Olympics for First Time Since 2008

by DENY GALLAGHER

This week, the United States Olympic Team will begin their quest to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 2008.

By now the players on the squad are known and many of them highly touted, making qualifying for this tournament a necessity for Andi Hertzog’s side.

So that begs the question: how do the Americans qualify?

For starters, there are two groups in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The United States have a favorable seat in group A, facing Canada, Cuba, and Panama. Two teams from each group move on to the semifinals, where the two finalists punch their ticket to Rio. If the United States is not a finalist, the Americans will have to finish third to have a chance at qualification. Placing third in this tournament will put Hertzog’s side in a one-game playoff in March against Colombia in Rio.

Based off of his success on the senior level, one would be led to believe that Jordan Morris will lead the team on the attack. Morris will more than likely be partnered up top with Jerome Kiesewetter of VfB Stuttgart. Fans should also keep an eye on Maki Tall, who had a promising start to the U-20 World Cup before falling victim to a broken toe that kept him out for the remainder of the tournament.

On paper, it appears that the midfield will be the primary strength of this squad. Hertzog will have his option as names like Emerson Hyndman, Gideon Zelalem, Luis Gil, and Marc Pelosi headline the group. Zelalem in particular has been extraordinary at the club level, starting in all seven appearances at Rangers and tallying five assists in that stretch.

The insertion of the U-20’s will be an interesting storyline to watch. In the 1-0 loss in England, Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga got the start, while Cameron Carter-Vickers came on as a substitute later in the match. The pair are two of the six starlets getting the call up to the Olympic level from the U-20 side. Each of these players have potential to be terrific additions if given the opportunity. If they live up to expectations, there will be no telling how good this Olympic Squad could be.

The U-23’s have enjoyed tremendous success in 2015, highlighted by a third place finish at The 2015 Toulon Tournament. While that result was meaningful, this team will be defined by their performance in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Here is one last look at the roster:

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.).

The United States campaign will begin on Thursday against Canada at 9PM and can be seen on NBC Universio.


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