Hey! That's Good To Know: Men's Olympic Qualifying

The “2020” CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship begins this week – for the USA, specifically, at 5:30 PM ET Thursday, March 18. When it comes to the Olympics, though, men’s soccer has some asterisks next to it. If you’ve got questions, we've got (some of the) answers.

So we’re starting Olympic qualification this week?
Indeed – it’s the 2020 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.

You mean 2021, right?
Nah, they’re still calling it that. The tournament was originally scheduled for late March 2020 in Guadalajara, but it was postponed after <everything> went sideways.

Are the women qualifying, too?
They already did – last February, in fact, before the global pandemic began.

So if it’s an 8-team tournament, how does the actual qualification work?
We’re in Group A, alongside Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico (who we play in that order). Canada, El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras are in Group B; the top two teams from each group will advance to the semifinals, with the two victors qualifying for Tokyo. There’s a final match, of course, but it’s largely for bragging rights.

I know the U.S. women’s team has brought home the gold more than once – but have the men ever even medaled? Have they ever even gone to the Olympics?
First, the women – yes, our team has taken the gold four of the six times women’s soccer has been an event at the Olympics. The men have medaled – kind of? Two teams representing America – Christian Brothers College and St. Rose Parish – won the silver and gold, respectively, in 1904. Read the Wikipedia page if you want to better understand this; we’re not sure we do, though.

Anyway, a U.S. men’s soccer team has not gone to the Olympics since 2008 – we fell short of qualification to both the 2012 and 2016 Games.

So what happened in 2008?
Coach Piotr Nowak took a roster that included an 18-year-old Jozy Altidore, a 21-year-old Michael Bradley, a 19-year-old Freddy Adu and a 36-year-old Brian McBride to Beijing. They defeated Japan 1-0, drew Holland 2-2, and then lost 2-1 to eventual silver medalists Nigeria. That four points was not enough to advance from the group.

That 2008 roster also featured Benny Feilhaber – hear some of his stories firsthand in our AOTV feature from last year.

So what’s the deal with the rosters anyway? And why was a 36-year-old Brian McBride there?
Since 1992, men’s soccer at the Olympics has been a U23 tournament. There were a handful of reasons this was instituted, including the USSR finding a way around the rule that players be “amateurs.”

However, a team can send as many as three players over age 23 – hence McBride’s inclusion. Nowak also took a then-24-year-old Michael Parkhurst. The qualifying tournament is U23 only, but this year it’ll be a “U24” to account for the delay.

We’re stacked with talented players 23 and under, right? Shouldn’t qualification be a breeze?
The answer to the first question is “hell yes.” However, this tournament takes place before the March FIFA window begins, so clubs are under no obligation to release players for international duty – so even asking them to is a non-starter. Instead, Coach Jason Kreis will bring a roster largely consisting of young talent from the MLS, which doesn’t begin play until next month.

We will likely see Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest etc. in the MNT’s friendlies at the end of the month, however. [UPDATE: Weston was not called in – he's going to use the international window to get back to full strength following a few knocks.]

So: who will we see play?
Find Coach Kreis’ full roster below. It includes a few young up-and-comers like Jesús Ferreira, Jonathan Lewis and Sebastian Soto – all of whom bagged braces in recent MNT friendlies. Of the 20 callups, Jackson Yueill has the most senior team caps (9).

Will we qualify? If we don’t, is it just another in a long line of U.S. men’s soccer failures?
Our first match against Costa Rica is immense, given that we’ll be the heavy favorites versus the Dominican Republic. That CRC squad is full of talented, young domestic league players, many of whom play club ball together for Alajuelense.

Six points in the first two matches would almost certainly book our ticket to the semifinals, and render the matchup with Mexico of lesser importance. Four points? It’d get dicey. Less than that, and we’re almost certainly going to have to sit out the Olympics yet again.

While that would no doubt suck, keep those roster limitations in perspective – so many of our younger guys are making waves in Europe. A few months back, it looked like Kreis would be able to bring players like Philadelphia’s Brenden Aaronson and Mark Mackenzie, and Orlando’s Daryl Dike – all three are now doing amazing things abroad. (On the small chance you haven’t seen Dike’s belter from last week, well, here you go.)

Regardless, the future: It is bright.


Goalkeepers: Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)

Midfielders: Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Hassani Dotson (Minnesota United), Ulysses Llanez (Heerenveen), Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montreal), Andrés Perea (Orlando City), Sebastian Saucedo (UNAM Pumas), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)

Forwards: Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Benji Michel (Orlando City), Sebastian Soto (Norwich City)

Our schedule (all games on FS1)
Costa Rica – Thursday 3/18, 5:30 PM ET

Dominican Republic – Sunday 3/21, 7 PM ET

Mexico – Wednesday 3/24, 9:30 PM ET

Semifinals – Sunday, March 28

Final – Tuesday, March 30

March 14, 2021