Win and in: USMNT U-23s can secure Olympic return, revenge vs. Honduras
4,608 days have passed since the USMNT under-23s last took the field in Olympic competition, but that could all change on Sunday when the not-so-baby Yanks face Honduras (6 pm ET) in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Despite a series of underwhelming and lackluster performances in the group stage, Jason Kreis saw his side qualify for the win-and-you’re-in showdown with victories over Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic before losing to Mexico in the finale. Sunday’s one-off fixture for qualification comes on the heels of tragic disappointments in 2012 (out in the group stage) and 2016 (beaten by Honduras in the semifinals).
Instead of the constant Mexico-USMNT duopoly that many would have you believe exists in CONCACAF, it’s Honduras who represented the confederation at the last three World Cups — twice in place of the Americans and once ahead of the Mexicans. No matter which group they found themselves drawn into, the USMNT was always going to have to beat at least one of Mexico or Honduras to qualify.
CONCACAF Olympic qualifying
Of the 20 players on the 2016 roster, only five — starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen, sometimes-starting forward Jordan Morris, reserve defender Matt Miazga, no longer-reserve midfielder Wil Trapp and backup goalkeeper Ethan Horvath — have gone on to have sustained careers with the senior team.
The hope is always that the U-23 team will find success in its own competitions, which will better prepare those players for the jump to senior level. Looking at the current squad attempting to qualify for the Tokyo Games, it’s dishearteningly difficult to find even a handful of players you could expect to break into Gregg Berhalter’s squad.
That is, of course, in large part due to the fact that current USMNT-ers Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest, Josh Sargent, Daryl Dike, Chris Richards and Bryan Reynolds are all eligible and would be included if not for achieving senior-team status quite so early in their respective careers. However, should the USMNT U-23s qualify on Sunday, a handful of the aforementioned stars are likely to be chosen in the tournament squad.