With Olympic qualifiers quickly approaching for the United States U-23s, coach Jason Kreis has clearly stated the expectations facing his team, and sees an opportunity to right wrongs of the past with a successful tournament.
"The objective and the goal is clear, to qualify for the Olympics," Kreis told US Soccer after announcing the Olympic qualifying roster. "It’s been a few cycles now since we’ve done that. So we look at this as a terrific opportunity to fix things, to correct things. We believe as a country that the US should be qualifying for the Olympics every single time. So, it’s an opportunity for us to set the record straight."
Kreis and company will aim to be the first US men's side competing at the Olympics since 2008, after missing out at the final hurdle in 2016 with a semifinal defeat to Honduras, and failing to progress out of the group stages in 2012. This time around, the task does not seem particularly easy: the US U-23 squad will face rivals Mexico, Costa Rica, and Dominican Republic in the group stage, with eyes on one of two Olympic berths out of North America.
While the opponents will be tough, the schedule will be equally demanding as the entire tournament takes place in a 12-day stretch.
"When it comes to the fact that we’ve got such a small roster with only 17 field players and three goalkeepers, it can make things difficult if we have any injuries or suspensions, we could have a big challenge in front of us," Kreis said. "And the final piece is three games in the first nine or 10 days to advance out of your round and then another three days later you gotta play again to qualify for the Olympics. It’s a lot of games in a short period of time."
That said, Kreis feels his side is prepared after having trained together on multiple occasions and building chemistry in the year since he was named the latest head coach of the team.
"I think that the biggest strength is that we’ve been able to be together now," Kreis said. "This will be our sixth time together with the group so I think we’ve got a real firm understanding of how we want to play and what we want to be."
The US begins its quest to qualify for the Olympics against Costa Rica on March 20.