US men feel expectations ahead of Olympic soccer qualifying

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United States forward Ulysses Llanez (19) walks off the field during the second half of an international friendly soccer match against Costa Rica in Carson, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. The U.S. won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

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DALLAS (AP) – Knowing the United States men missed out on the 2012 and 2016 Olympic soccer tournament and the 2018 World Cup, American under-23 team coach Jason Kreis understands the expectations going into qualifying for this summer’s Olympics in Japan.

“U.S. Soccer thinks it’s very important for us to qualify for this Olympics,” he said during a conference call Monday. “They have looked at these these past couple of cycles and look at that as a failure. And so it’s something that we want to correct.”

Kreis leads the under-23 team into the qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico, where it plays Costa Rica on March 20, the Dominican Republic three days later and Mexico on March 26.

Group B includes Canada, El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras, and the top two teams in each group advance to the semifinals on March 30. The semifinal winners represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at the 16-nation men’s Olympic tournament, to be played at Saitama, Tokyo and Yokohama from July 23 to Aug. 8.

“There’s been a lot of a lot of doubting in the past, I don’t know, let’s call it two years,” Kreis said. “I look at this and just say this is a tremendous opportunity for us to really put a flag down and say we are moving in a positive direction. It may not be happening as fast as everybody wants it to. But I think we have got a real plan in place, and we’ve got some real terrific leadership in place that’s leading us to a very good spot. I see this as just an opportunity for us to change a little bit of the rhetoric right now.”

Olympic men’s soccer qualifying is limited to players under 23 at the start of 2020, part of FIFA regulations designed to protect the marketing of its own World Cup. In addition, clubs are not required to release players for Olympic qualifying or the tournament in Japan.

“Of course, there’s clubs around the world and in MLS that denied the request for the players. But we always knew that was going to happen,” Kreis said.

The U.S. Soccer Federation said there was no way it would be able to use top young players such as Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent, Sergiño Dest and Gio Reyna.

Many second-tier players also are missing from the 20-man roster, a group that includes defenders Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson and Miles Robinson; midfielders Chris Durkin, Alex Mendez, Keaton Parks and Brandon Servania; and forwards Konrad de la Fuente, Brooks Lennon, Sebastian Soto and Indiana Vassilev.

Kreis refused to detail which absences were due to club refusals or injuries.

His roster includes 15 selections from MLS, forward Sebastian Saucedo of Mexico’s Pumas and four Europe-based players: PSV Eindhoven defender Chris Gloster and midfielder Richie Ledezma, Austria Vienna defender Erik Palmer-Brown and striker Ulysses Llanez of Germany’s Wolfsburg.

“We think we’ve got some real quality. We think we’ve got some real depth. We’ve got versatility,” Kreis said. “And we have the necessary experience to accomplish our objectives.”

The U.S. team already is in Mexico and plays Haiti in an exhibition on March 13. Kreis hopes the coronavirus outbreak does not impact the tournament.

“Actually, tonight the medical staff is going to be presenting to the entire staff as well as the players to give us some education around best practices for their illness prevention,” he said.

The roster:

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

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

Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia), Hassani Dotson (Minnesota), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago), Paxton Pomykal (Dallas), Jackson Yueill (San Jose)

Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland), Jesús Ferreira (Dallas), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg, Germany), Sebastian Saucedo (Pumas, Mexico)

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