U.S. coach Jason Kreis learned only Thursday that fans will be allowed at 25% capacity to attend Olympic men's soccer qualifying in Guadalajara, Mexico, where the Americans open against Costa Rica on March 18 after a one-year delay.
“It seems a little bit odd timing," he said of the decision, “because we knew there are difficulties of having fans come from the United States with only one week notice. But when we look at it from the bright side and say let’s get it out there ASAP and let’s get some of our fans down here to support us, we’ll hopefully be able to jump though that hoop and make that happen.”
Norwich forward Sebastian Soto and midfielders Johnny Cardoso of Internacional, Ulysses Llanez of Heerenveen and Sebastian Saucedo of Pumas headed a 20-man U.S. roster.
The delay has U.S. coaches and training staff trying to work their players back into shape.
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia
“We have a lot less match fitness,” Kreis said. “I feel like we’ve kind of entered this training period starting on March 1 with a lot of players that haven’t played a match since last year I think October, a lot of these guys.”
Sixteen players are from Major League Soccer, a reflection of FIFA rules that do not require teams to release players for Olympic qualifying or the Olympics, which this year is limited to players 24 years old and under.
Among the top U.S. players not included were Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna, Josh Sargent, Sergiño Dest, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson, Matthew Hoppe, Owen Otasowie, Yunas Musah and Nicholas Gioacchini.
The U.S. is trying to qualify after missing the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. The senior U.S. national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“I just think it’s important for U.S. Soccer to continue to lay down markers -- under 17, under 20, under 23, we need to continue to lay down markers that we are a dominant team in this region,” Kreis said. “And so, yeah, I do believe that this is an important moment for us to continue on that path, to continue to change people’s opinions about our national team programs.”
Kreis cut 11 players from his training camp roster, including three Atlanta players whose clubs refused to release them: defenders George Bello and Miles Robinson, and forward Brooks Lennon.
Also cut Thursday were: Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender; defenders Marco Farfan of Los Angeles and Austin Trusty of Colorado; midfielders Frankie Amaya of Cincinnati, Cole Bassett of Colorado, Tanner Tessmann of Dallas and Eryk Williamson of Portland; and Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi.
Twelve of the players were on the roster that was to have competed in the qualifying tournament in March 2020 before the delay caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic: Ullanez and Saucedo; goalkeepers Matt Freese, JT Marcinkowski and David Ochoa; defenders Justen Glad and Aaron Herrera; midfielders Hassani Dotson, Djordje Mihailovic, and Jackson Yueill; and forwards Jesus Ferreira and Jonathan Lewis.
The eight on the roster last year who are not now included defenders Reggie Cannon (Portugal’s Boavista), Chris Gloster (the Netherlands’ PSV Eindhoven), Mark McKenzie (Belgium’s Genk) and Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Vienna), and midfielder Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), who are with European clubs.
PSV Eindhoven midfielder Richie Ledezma tore an ACL in December and Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal is recovering from hip surgery in September to repair his labrum. Portland forward Jeremy Ebobisse was dropped after Kreis concluded during a January training camp that he was more of a central player, where he was behind on the depth chart, and not a winger.
Three players are with Salt Lake, and two each from Colorado, Orlando and San Jose.
Eleven players have appeared for the senior U.S. national team but for a total of 37 appearances. The group is topped by Yueill with nine, followed by Lewis (seven), Mihailovic (six), Llanez and Sam Vines (three apiece), Cardoso, Ferreira and Soto (two each), and Julian Araujo, Herrera and Andrés Perea (one apiece).
Kreis said he may use different goalkeepers in the first two matches and said he may emphasize MLS experience, which would give Ochoa an edge.
Llanez and Saucedo were listed as midfielders instead of forwards.
The U.S. is in Group A of the North and Central American and Caribbean qualifying tournament. The Americans play the Dominican Republic on March 21 and complete Group A on March 24 against host Mexico. The other CONCACAF group includes Canada, El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras.
The top two teams in each group advance, and the semifinal winners on March 28 qualify for the Olympics.
Following the pandemic-caused postponement, FIFA kept the same eligibility rules that were first established, saying players must be born after Jan. 1, 1997.
For the 16 nations reaching the Olympics, each may include three players over the age limit.
CONCACAF qualifiers will join Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, Ivory Coast, Japan, New Zealand, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Spain. The tournament will be played from July 21 to Aug. 7 in Tokyo, Kashima, Miyagi, Saitama, Sapporo and Yokohama.
Goalkeepers: Matt Freese (Philadelphia), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose), David Ochoa (Salt Lake)
Defenders: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Justen Glad (Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera (Salt Lake), Henry Kessler (New England), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago), Sam Vines (Colorado)
Midfielders: Johnny Cardoso (Internacional, Brazil), Hassani Dotson (Minnesota), Ulysses Llanez (Heerenveen, Netherlands), Djordje Mihailovic (Montreal), Andrés Perea (Orlando), Sebastian Saucedo (Pumas, Mexico), Jackson Yueill (San Jose)
Forwards: Jesus Ferreira (Dallas), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado), Benji Michel (Orlando), Sebastian Soto (Norwich, England).