While the U.S. men's national team is gathering for a pair of friendlies with an eye on preparations for this summer's Gold Cup, squads two rungs down the ladder are casting their eyes on the future as well.
The USA U-23 and U-20 national teams have kicked off training camps in Spain, with the U-23s congregating for the first time this cycle ahead of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics, while the U-20s are in their final preparations for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. The U-23s are hoping to snap a stretch of futility. It's staggering to think that the USA hasn't featured in an Olympic tournament on the men's side since 2008, but that's the reality of the situation. A team set to feature the likes of Tim Weah and Josh Sargent will look to put that in the past and rebuild the bridge for youth sides and their development on the international stage.
The USA U-20s have had better fortune in recent years, with consecutive quarterfinal finishes on the World Cup stage in 2015 and 2017. They will face France on March 22 and Japan on March 25 at Pinatar Arena in Spain in the final matches before facing Nigeria, Ukraine and Qatar at the U-20 World Cup.
“With competition against two quality opponents, it’s one more opportunity for us to build a strong core and one more chance for the players to leave a good impression in order to be considered for the final 21-player roster," U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos said. "Japan always has highly skilled youth teams and France is always a World Cup contender.”
If there's a name to watch on the U-20s, it's Konrad de la Fuente, the 17-year-old Florida native who is currently rising in the ranks at Barcelona's academy. It's his first U-20 camp, but he could make a lasting impression and earn a place on the final roster with his play in the next week. He and Ulysses Llanez will also be age-eligible for the 2021 U-20 World Cup. For this year's competition, players born Jan. 1, 1999 or later are eligible to feature.
The U-23s, meanwhile, feature a number of intriguing elements entering friendlies vs. Egypt on March 22 and the Netherlands on March 24. First off, there's the matter of the coach. With little fanfare, former Real Salt Lake, NYCFC and Orlando City coach Jason Kreis has taken charge and will guide the team, in addition to his duties as part of Inter Miami CF's technical staff.
“Jason’s qualities and experience made him stand out as the best candidate to lead our U-23 men’s national team in this important cycle towards the 2020 Olympics,” USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart said in a statement. “The U-23s are a significant part of our program, and Jason is an experienced head coach with significant success both in league and Concacaf competitions. His knowledge of the player pool is impressive, and we are confident in his ability to implement the style of play we are building with the senior MNT and throughout our national teams."
In terms of the players he'll oversee at the start of his tenure, there's Weah and Sargent, who were not called into the senior team with the purpose of getting games with the U-23s. Players like Djordje Mihailovic and Jeremy Ebobisse, who featured in Gregg Berhalter's January camp, will also take part, along with with Schalke's Haji Wright.
Here are the two squads that are currently congregated in Spain:
USA U-23 SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
DEFENDERS: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers), Jack Maher (Indiana), Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United), Donovan Pines (D.C. United), Lucas Pos (FC Lausanne-Sport), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
MIDFIELDERS: Derrick Jones (Philadelphia Union), Cameron Lindley (Orlando City SC), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Keaton Parks (New York City FC), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
FORWARDS: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Josh Perez (LAFC), Emmanuel Sabbi (Hobro IK), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Tim Weah (Celtic FC), Haji Wright (Schalke)
USA U-20 SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: C.J. Dos Santos (Benfica), Trey Muse (Seattle Sounders)
DEFENDERS: Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew), Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting Kansas City), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich)
MIDFIELDERS: Frankie Amaya (FC Cincinnati), Christian Cappis (Hobro); Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Juan Pablo Torres (New York City FC)
FORWARDS: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Jonathan Amon (Nordsjaelland), Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona), Ulysses Llanez (Unattached), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96)