Jordan Morris, Gedion Zelalem headline USA's U-23 Olympic qualifying team.
Despite being named to the preliminary United States roster for the CONCACAF Cup showdown against Mexico, Stanford forward Jordan Morris also made the U.S.’s squad for Olympic qualifying, announced Friday, and will presumably be with the U-23s instead of helping the senior team against El Tri at the Rose Bowl. Six players from the recent Under-20 World Cup are also on the list, including Gedion Zelalem and Emerson Hyndman.
Zack Steffen, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Maki Tall and Matt Miazga comprise the rest of the U-20 participants that will be eligible for the U.S.’s quest to qualify for just its second Olympic Games in the last four chances.
“There was a lot of competition for spots,” head coach Andi Herzog said in a press release. “Of course, a few players will be disappointed that they didn't make the roster, and I understand, but we can only have 20 players on the roster and only 17 field players, so they weren't easy decisions.”
Qualifying begins Oct. 1, when the U.S. plays Canada in Kansas City. The Americans finish group play against Cuba on Oct. 3 in Kansas City and against Panama on Oct. 6 in Denver, before potentially moving to Salt Lake City for the knockout rounds.
They failed to get out of the group stage in qualifying for the 2012 Olympics despite being favored to reach London.
Most of the current squad played together in the U-23s’ last camp before qualifiers, in which the U.S. lost to England, 1-0, before defeating Qatar, 2-0. Of the 20-man roster, 17 trained with the team during the last FIFA international window in England. It was Zelalem's first time with the U-23s after making his first U.S. appearances with the U-20s at the World Cup.
Previously presumed starting goalkeeper Cody Cropper is the most glaring absence. He picked up a knee injury that required surgery in early September, ruling him out for six weeks, which means he should easily be available for the Olympics next summer if the U.S. qualifies.
Forward Rubio Rubín, the U.S.’s joint-leading scorer at the U-20 World Cup alongside Hyndman, did not make the cut after playing in the England camp. Another forward, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Mario Rodríguez, was also left off the team despite starting both games during the last camp.
Probably Herzog’s biggest challenge in putting together a roster for a tournament in the U.S. during the fall is that the first two group matches fall outside the FIFA window. Teams were not required to release players for the start of the competition, making it less likely that European-based players would be called in.
“Because there are no FIFA dates for the first week of the tournament, there were challenges in getting players released,” Herzog said. “We had discussions with a lot of teams, and while some clubs didn't release their players, overall we received a lot of support, especially from MLS.”
Eight of the players came from Major League Soccer, while eight play in Europe. Two unattached players and Mexican-based forward Alonso Hernández round out the roster.
Other notable age-eligible players left off the U-23 roster for qualifiers include DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green and John Brooks. Yedlin and Brooks, however, are on Jurgen Klinsmann’s preliminary senior squad for the Oct. 10 playoff against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, which does fall on a FIFA date. That date coincides with the semifinal round of Olympic qualifying.
The CONCACAF tournament finalists–winners of the semifinals–qualify automatically for Rio 2016, while the third-placed team will play Colombia in March in a last-chance playoff.
Mexico, the defending Olympic gold medalist, is in Group B with Costa Rica, Haiti and Honduras. Houston Dynamo forward Erick "Cubo" Torres and former Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo are on Mexico's squad for the competition.
Here’s the full U.S. squad for the qualifiers:
GOALKEEPERS: Charlie Horton (unattached), Ethan Horvath (Molde), Zack Steffen (Freiburg)
DEFENDERS: Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact), Will Packwood (unattached), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids)
MIDFIELDERS: Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Gboly Ariyibi (Chesterfield), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Gedion Zelalem (Rangers)
FORWARDS: Alonso Hernández (C.D. Juarez), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Jordan Morris (Stanford University), Maki Tall (FC Sion)