BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, September 30, 2011
With US Soccer likely to be introducing a fulltime Olympic team coach soon, let's look at what the team could look like as it begins to assemble in the months ahead.
Here is how the best 18-player team looks right now if it were to qualify for the Olympics under a strict U-23 age limit. Afterward we will look at the best overage selections available and the issue of getting players release for qualifying.
18 TICKETS TO LONDON
Pack Your Bag, Boys - London Calling
1) Bill Hamid (DC United) - goalkeeper
Hamid's 2011 season with DC United has been a remarkable success that currently has him playing behind Tim Howard on the US national team. Traditionally in the past, the US Olympic team has used one of its three overage spots on a goalkeeper but that won't be the case this year.
2) Timothy Chandler (FC Nurnberg) - right back, left back, right midfielder
Chandler has emerged as an up and coming star in the Bundesliga at right back but he can also play right wing and Jurgen Klinsmann has played him at left back recently. His speed and athleticism will make him very difficult to defend at the U-23 level.
3) Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek) - central midfielder, right midfielder
Diskerud will turn 21 years old in October but he has more first team minutes than any European-based player in the Olympic team pool. He is very experienced for such a young age and is a likely contender to be the team's captain.
4) Josh Gatt (Molde FK) - right midfielder, right back, left midfielder
Along with Timothy Chandler, Josh Gatt is one of the fastest rising young American players. Now a key player with Norwegian leading Molde FK, Gatt has explosive speed that makes him perhaps the fastest American player in the game.
5) Brek Shea (FC Dallas) - Left midfielder
Brek Shea has had a fantastic 2011 and he looks to be a big part of Jurgen Klinsmann's plans moving forward. As one of the best players in MLS, Shea could attract European interest this January. As of now, he is the starting left midfielder for the US Olympic team.
6) Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar) - Forward
Of all the players in the player pool for the US Olympic team, Altidore has more experience than anyone else by a large margin. As a veteran of the 2008 Beijing games, Altidore is a leader on this team and will unquestionably be the starting forward.
Nearly a Lock
7) Perry Kitchen (DC United) - Central defense, right back, defensive midfielder
Kitchen's rookie season for DC United has gone very well and he has shown that he can play both in central defense and at right back. Despite his versatility, Kitchen is likely a starter in central defense for the US Olympic team.
8) Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union) - midfield, forward
Freddy's Adu move to MLS and his strong play at the Gold cup has reaffirmed his position as an important part of the Olympic team. While the past three years have not been good ones for the former youth prodigy, things are now headed in the right direction. In 2008, the Olympic team's offense was built around Adu and if Adu continues to earn minutes, it could be the same in 2012.
9) Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls) - Forward
Despite only being 18 years old, Agudelo has enjoyed a strong 2011 that has put him on the US national team despite limited club success. Still, his international experience and natural talent will easily put him on the Olympic team.
Fairly Safe Bet
10) John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin) - central defender, left back
Brooks is one of the top prospects in the US system and the Olympics could be a breakout tournament for the German-born American. Last May, Brooks turned down a professional contract from Bayern Munich to sign a big four year deal with Hertha Berlin. He is listed as being on the first team but after missing most of the preseason with an Achilles injury, he is playing with the club's U-23 team. It is very possible his Bundesliga debut can come this season and he is still very young. He is eligible for the 2013 U20 World Cup team and the 2016 US U23 Olympic team.
11) Zarek Valentin (Chivas USA) - right back, left back, central defense
Zarek Valentin is yet another good rookie player in MLS. He is a better right back than left but his positional awareness and strong fundamentals allow him to play both sides. With the team being deep at right back, Valentin is a potential starter for the Olympic team at left back.
12) Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) - goalkeeper
Sean Johnson's 2011 MLS season began rough but he has recovered and he is now once again a top goalkeeper in MLS. He is likely to be Hamid's backup.
13) Danny Williams (Hoffenheim) -defensive midfielder, right back, left back
Williams recent callup to the US national team should easily put him on the fast track to the Olympic team. His versatility and Bundesliga experience make him a standout player at this level. Also, the Olympics will get Williams introduced into the US system quickly ahead of World Cup qualifying.
In A Battle
14) Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim) - left mid, right mid
While the starting wing positions on the Olympic team clearly belong to Shea and Gatt, Gyau is continuing to progress with Hoffenheim where he remains in the club's long-term plans. Gyau is one of the quickest players on the team and is very good on the ball.
15) Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund) - forward
Boyd is progressing nicely at Borussia Dortmund where he is a goal scoring machine at the club's U23 level. Boyd is now practicing regularly with the first team for the defending Bundesliga champion. He's a powerful central forward and his decision to play for the United States over his native Germany could be a huge help to the US team moving forward.
Work To Do
16) Fabian Hurzeler (Bayern Munich) - left midfielder, forward, central midfielder
The past few months have been good for Fabian Hurzeler. The 18 year old has finally made his Regionalliga debut for Bayern Munich's U23 team where he should continue to see minutes the rest of the year. It is very possible that Hurzeler will earn a professional contract this year with the Bundesliga giants and his ability to play several midfield positions along with forward is a great asset for this US U-23 team. He would be the youngest player on the US Olympic team but his play in the US U20 January camp showed he has top-notch skills. He still needs to file his one-time switch with FIFA to play for the US but the indications are that he will do that to play for the US Olympic team.
17) Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union) - defensive midfielder, central defender
Okugo is still battling for regular playing time at Philadelphia but he still is one of the more promising young defensive midfielders in the US system.
18) Ethan White (DC United) - central defender
Despite falling out of favor with the last U20 team, White has enjoyed a good rookie season with DC United where he has been a regular starter.
Obviously issues of getting players released for qualifying is always a problem for the US. The qualifying tournament is not a FIFA international date and clubs are not required to release players.
Still, this shouldn't be as big of a problem as many people think. On this list, nine out of 18 players are from MLS and there should be no problem with clubs releasing these players.
Of the nine European-based players, four play on U23 teams at Bundesliga clubs. While some of these players may get promoted to the first team, it is unlikely they will rise to the level of being an integral part of the team success. If US Soccer presses, securing these players release is likely.
Danny Williams is an interesting case because as of right now, he is only seeing occasional minutes with Hoffenheim's first team. If the situation is the same in March, the club maybe willing to let him go to qualifying so that he can play consistently for a few weeks.
Josh Gatt and Mikkel Diskerud are important players for their Norwegian teams but Diskerud is on record saying that he has already negotiated his release for Olympic qualifying. Gatt's release could be very tricky but not impossible. Molde did not release Gatt for US U20 World Cup qualifying but they let him play for the US U-20s for a pair of friendlies in May. So it is unclear but there is a history of Molde working with the US team.
In the end of the day, Jozy Altidore and Timothy Chandler are the only two players who are highly unlikely to be released. Chander's absence will hurt at right back but the team is deep at that position. Altidore's omission hurts the most but Agudelo has international experience and should be able to succeed at the U-23 international level.
Four years ago, US Soccer struck a deal with West Ham United to release Jonathan Spector for Olympic qualifying. It is well known that Olympic qualifying all comes down to one must-win game in the semifinals of the CONCACAF tournament. In the deal with West Ham, US Soccer did not call up Spector for a friendly during an international window and, in return, West Ham allowed Spector to play for the Olympic qualifying team in the semifinal game only.
There aren't any indications yet that US Soccer will strike a similar deal this cycle but it would be wise to consider it for Gatt, Chandler, or Altidore.
If the US team does qualify, they will be allowed to make three overage (over 23) selections to the roster. In the past, one has usually gone to a goalkeeper and another has gone to a central defender. Goalkeeper isn't necessary this year but one will certainly have to go to central defense.
Also, another will have to go to central midfield as the team's options are not as deep this cycle.
Finally, a third should go to a player who can play a number of different positions. With a small 18-man roster, a versatile player is of extreme importance.
Getting players released from clubs is always tricky as clubs are not required to release overage players. So many factors have to be considered.
That said, here are three overage selections that make the most sense.
Fabian Johnson (Hoffenhem) for Amobi Okugo
Johnson has yet to suit up for the United States but he is an excellent pick to be an overage selection. He was on the 2009 Germany U21 team that won the European Championship and has played at levels higher than the Olympics. Most importantly, Johnson can play all across the midfield and fullback at either side. Having Johnson on the Olympic team benefits US Soccer because it's clear that Johnson is going to be part of the US national team moving forward. The Olympic tournament will get him integrated into the US system heading into World Cup qualifying. It is an issue as to whether or not Hoffenheim would release Johnson but if Klinsmann negotiates hard, it is possible.
Clarence Goodson (Brondby) for Ethan White
Goodson is a solid veteran that understands the game well. Central defense is a position where the Olympic team needs a leader and Goodson, who is captain of Brondby, is the best choice to provide that.
Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona) for Fabian Hurzeler
Despite only being 24 years old, Michael Bradley is one of the most experienced American players. He has played in the World Cup, Confederations Cup, Olympics, Bundesliga, Eredivisie, Premier League, and now Serie A. While getting overage players for the Olympics to be released by their club is always a challenge, the late start of Serie A could be advantageous in that regard. Removing Hurzeler is difficult but he is very young and will be eligible for the 2013 U20 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
OTHER PLAYERS IN THE MIX
Teal Bunbury, Alfredo Morales, Rich Balchan, Luis Gil, Ernest Nungary, Moises Orozco, Kelyn Rowe, Jack McInerney, Sebastien Ibeagha, Jann George, Andrew Wooten, Jerome Kiesewetter, Cody Cropper, Sean Cunningham, Michael Stephens, Bobby Wood, Adrian Ruelas, Omar Salgado, Mobi Fehr, Villyan Bijev, Marc Pelosi, Juan Ocegueda, Will Packwood, Gale Agbossoumonde, Sebastian Lletget, Conor Doyle, Zak MacMath, Kofi Sarkodie, Ike Opara.