U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann, left, has stressed the importance of bridging the gap between the senior national team and the youth set-up. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The U.S. Under-23 side failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics was a massive embarrassment for U.S. Soccer, and it's one that Jurgen Klinsmann does not want to see happen again in 2016.
As such, U.S. Soccer will be gathering an Under-21 team together for a camp next week to commence 2016 Olympic preparations, Klinsmann said in comments regarding youth soccer and development released by U.S. Soccer on Thursday.
"Next week with the first Under-21 group getting gathered together, which is basically our future Olympic team -- we want to make sure that we start the process early enough that we learn out of mistakes from the past that the last cycle didn't go to London 2012. So we have to qualify for Rio de Janeiro, again Brazil, in 2016, so that's why we start that process already next week."
In the 2012 cycle, a highly touted group of U-23 players, coached by then-Akron and current Portland Timbers manager Caleb Porter, failed to reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament -- held on U.S. soil -- which is what was needed to punch their ticket to London. The USA smoked Cuba 6-0 in their group opener and appeared to be on its way, but a shock 2-0 loss to Canada was followed by a draw with El Salvador, in which the Americans conceded a fateful equalizer in the dying seconds. Regional rival Mexico went onto win the regional tournament, and, eventually, Olympic gold.
Klinsmann referred to the lack of continuity through the years that U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF in general has in comparison to continents around the world, hoping to bridge the gap between youth set-up and senior team with the creation of the U-21 side..
"It's something where CONCACAF definitely lags behind Europe and South America. Because there's no Under-21 CONCACAF championship. Maybe there's no Under-21 World Cup, but in Europe theres an Under-21 European championship. These kids go non-stop. There's an Under-18 European championship, an Under-19 European championship. They keep going with every age group, and we lose basically that connection, we lose the competition that other nations have.
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"We decided to bring in now already this Under-21 group, basically the group that was last year at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey and other ones that kind of come up on the horizon. ... Their focus should be, 'Man, I want to go to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.'"
Klinsmann did not say who would be coaching the U-21 group. The current U.S. U-20 national team, which features some potential Olympic candidates, is currently participating in the high-profile Dallas Cup youth tournament, where it has reached the semifinals under the guidance of U-20 coach and senior national team assistant Tab Ramos.