On Monday Jason Kreis announced his roster for the US Under-23 men’s national team group that will take part in the Guadalajara-based training camp leading up to Concacaf’s Olympic qualifying tournament later this month. And, as is often the case, players who weren’t on the list were central discussion points in his afternoon media availability.
The Five Stripes contingent were apparently a late-breaking loss over the weekend, with Atlanta electing to keep hold of them as they prepare to open their season with a Concacaf Champions League visit to Costa Rica's Alajuelense on Apr. 6.
“Atlanta was an interesting situation. There's two to three players, I would say, who have been very, very big contributors for us,” said Kreis. “We've been working for the past couple of weeks on trying to come to a solution that would be beneficial for both parties. Obviously, as I said, these were going to be big, big players for us this qualification process.
“Atlanta wanted to keep the players because they’re in Concacaf Champions League. There were also concerns of COVID stuff, so we thought we had moved to a solution that was going to work, and over the weekend we found out that Atlanta ultimately decided to not make those players available to us. So unfortunate situation for us, unfortunate situation for the players, but ultimately, as a former MLS coach I think we have to respect their decision.”
Asked whether the ATLUTD players would still be considered for a place in Tokyo should the US qualify, Kreis didn’t make a definitive declaration but admitted that the current situation “introduce[s] doubt into this consideration, where it shouldn't really have been.” Robinson may be the biggest loss, as the center back was widely expected to start for the US U-23s.
“He was great in [January] camp, he was really, really good. So I was super, super excited to hopefully have him in this qualification process,” said Kreis of the 2019 MLS Best XI honoree. “To not have him, I think, is a pretty big blow to us. But I do think that we've got four center backs right behind him in [Justen] Glad, [Henry] Kessler, [Mauricio] Pineda and [Auston] Trusty that have all gotten significant minutes and significant experience at the very highest level in the US in the past year. So we believe that we've still got a deep enough and strong enough group.”
Also not in the US Olympic picture this month: LA Galaxy dual-national homegrown Efrain Alvarez, who was named on the preliminary rosters of both Mexico and the United States but would’ve had to file a permanent one-time switch of eligibility to join Kreis’ group.
“Efrain’s a player that we were working with and talking with about making, as we said from the beginning, a very, very difficult personal decision. He decided to not make that decision yet,” said the coach. “He’s decided that he wasn’t ready to [commit] to one team or another, which puts us in a very hopeful position. Again, we continue to let Efrain know that we support him, that we would like him to be a part of the US men’s national team programs. But ultimately we understand that this is a very personal and deep decision. We want to respect that.”
Another prominent name missing from this week’s group is Portland Timbers striker Jeremy Ebobisse.
“Coach’s selection,” said Kreis. “We know that they're going to end up with a roster with probably two No. 9s. He's a player that I felt in the past was a player that could play winger and also play 9, but through working with him in the January camp I walked away from that camp feeling very strongly that he is a No. 9. For us at the moment we have two No. 9s that we prefer. So that's the decision.”
Also of note: San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski, who appears to be a leading contender to start for the US, is in the latter stages of recovery from an ankle injury sustained near the end of January camp. He’s currently on a “slightly modified training program,” and Kreis expects that “we shouldn't have any hiccups” in terms of his match fitness.
Kreis and his staff will cut down their roster to 20 players, three of them required to be goalkeepers, at the end of next week as they count down to their Group A opener vs. Costa Rica on March 18.