It’s roster prediction time!

The United States qualified for the Olympics for the first time in forever and the tournament is sneaking up on us real quick. It takes place this summer in Paris, running from the end of July to mid-August.

Let’s recap how we got here and what the parameters for the team are:

  • The US qualified by winning the 2022 Concacaf U-20 Championship a couple of summers back. Hilariously, Mexico did not.
  • The Olympics is mostly a U-23 tournament, which means the birth date cut-off is January 1, 2001.
  • All teams that qualified for the Olympics are allowed to bring three overage players.
  • Club teams are not compelled by FIFA to release players for the Olympics, which are officially classed as a youth event, so don’t expect to see the best in the world. Or the best on the US roster.

The Olympics are a great and fun tournament, but also a weird one because of the cold war between FIFA and the IOC. The short version is that, on the men’s side, FIFA very much does not want to boost something that could conceivably compete with the World Cup in terms of prestige. So they’ve instead attempted to denude it, and if you ask a certain subset of fans/players/coaches/team executives, they’d tell you the U-20 World Cup is actually a more important tournament in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of projecting the future success of various national teams, they’re probably right. In terms of prestige and the ability to capture hearts, minds and eyeballs? Well, the Olympics are the Olympics. There’s a reason FIFA goes out of its way, as an organization, to try to keep it from competing with the World Cup.

I feel like all of that is important to understand. Now, let’s take a look at the roster situation facing head coach Marko Mitrović. Bear in mind rosters are limited to 18 players with two goalkeepers, which means that positional versatility will be paramount.


Roster projection

  • Gaga Slonina (KAS Eupen on loan from Chelsea)
  • Patrick Schulte (Columbus Crew)

Also in the mix

  • Chris Brady (Chicago Fire FC)

This one’s pretty easy. Slonina’s had a pretty good year as a still-teenaged shot-stopper in the Belgian top flight, while Schulte’s the most comfortable of any of the available ‘keepers in distribution. Plus, he wins things.

Brady’s the obvious choice should either not be available. And it seems pretty unlikely the US brain trust would use an overage player here.

Left Back

Roster projection

  • John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls)
  • Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United)

Also in the mix

  • Jonathan Gómez (CD Mirandés)

Tolkin’s been a regular with this group and is finally getting a chance to play actual soccer this year at the club level. He’s wildly experienced for a 21-year-old with nearly 11,000 pro minutes, and he’s shown the ability to add value both with and against the ball.

Wiley is an obvious choice at back-up here for his attacking ability, plus his usefulness as a true left winger (or even as an inverted right winger in a pinch). Honestly, he might even start – he’s that good going forward.

Gómez has been a regular with this group and it wouldn’t be shocking if he got into the mix.

Also, bear in mind Kristoffer Lund is age-eligible. However, my understanding of FIFA’s bylaws is he’s cap-tied to Denmark at the U-23 age group, and is only eligible for the US at the full national team level.

Given the three good choices here (four if you count former Atlanta homegrown George Bello), I will be aghast if an overage player is tapped at this spot.

Center Back

Roster projection

  • Maximilian Dietz (Greuther Fürth)
  • Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
  • Mark McKenzie (Genk)

Also in the mix

  • George Campbell (CF Montréal)
  • Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy)
  • Jonathan Tomkinson (Bradford City)

I will be aghast if we don’t take two overage players here. No offense to Campbell, Dietz or Neal, all three of whom have good futures. None of that trio are ready to play significant minutes for a team with medal hopes in Paris.

If we presume Tim Ream, Chris Richards, Miles Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers are the top four on the USMNT depth chart, and thus the four who will be called in for this summer’s Copa América, and that none of the four will be asked to also play in the Olympics, that rules them out.

I have Walker Zimmerman (if he can ever get healthy) and Mark McKenzie as the next two on the current US CB depth chart. There is, I suppose, a chance one or neither would be released, but 1) MLS teams almost always play nice with the US program, so I’d be shocked if Zimmerman was prevented from going should he be called, and 2) Genk are a selling club and the Olympics are a hell of a shop window, so I bet they’d play nice with McKenzie, should he be called.

I also quite like the potential pairing: Zimmerman is aerially dominant, which covers for a relative McKenzie weakness, while McKenzie is a very good-bordering-on-excellent distributor, which Zimmerman is not.

Auston Trusty (Sheffield United) could be a good shout here given his Philadelphia Union-centric history with McKenzie, though I would not count on him being released to participate. If the US are forced to go deeper into the overage player pool… maybe Seattle’s Jackson Ragen?

Anyway, two overaged players and Dietz is my prediction here, though that could change if Campbell starts tearing it up (he’s been good so far for Montréal, not great) or if Neal comes back from injury and wins a starting job for the Galaxy.

Right Back

Roster projection

  • Bryan Reynolds (KVC Westerlo)

Also in the mix

  • Nathan Harriel (Philadelphia Union)

Reynolds is the obvious choice. Though I suppose you could now make a case for calling him up to the full national team for Copa América – he is the best attacking right back in the pool behind the injured Sergiño Dest – which would necessitate going in a different direction here.

Harriel would likely be that different direction, though it’s worth noting Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach) is also age-eligible. I think Scally’s more likely to be part of the Copa América squad, though.

Defensive Midfield

Roster projection

  • Tanner Tessmann (Venezia FC)
  • Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew)
  • Lennard Maloney (1. FC Heidenheim)

Also in the mix

  • Josh Atencio (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • Obed Vargas (Seattle Sounders FC)
  • Daniel Edelman (New York Red Bulls)

Tessmann’s been excellent this year in leading Venezia’s push for promotion to Serie A. I love him as a game manager and midfield organizer from deep, and I’m willing to live with the occasionally slow feet we’ve seen from him defensively (this is more of an issue in terms of digging the ball out of scrums rather than just purely getting rinsed 1v1).

Morris is a different profile – he’s not as comfortable on the ball in traffic and doesn’t quite have the same passing chops, but he’s got greater defensive range and the ability to win the ball in a scrum. Obviously, these guys could play together in a double pivot as well.

Note Johnny Cardoso is also age-eligible, but I’ll go ahead and bet the ranch he’ll be with the full national team at Copa América instead.

Know who won’t be? Lennard Maloney. I’m using our third overage spot here on the German-American, who’s had a couple of strong years at Heidenheim after never quite breaking through with Borussia Dortmund. He’s had time at d-mid, center back and right back, and can be this team’s part-time starter/primary backup at all three spots.

Central Midfield

Roster projection

  • Gianluca Busio (Venezia FC)
  • Jack McGlynn (Philadelphia Union)

Also in the mix

  • Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids)
  • Owen Wolff (Austin FC)
  • Benjamin Cremaschi (Inter Miami CF)
  • Indiana Vassilev (St. Louis CITY SC)

Busio, like Tessmann, has played a central role for a Venezia side pushing for promotion to Serie A, and like Tessmann he’s been a core part of the U-23 team over the past few camps. The Sporting KC product is probably the first name on the list for pure central midfielders.

McGlynn is probably second. I actually think he’ll be better in the US’s ball-dominant system than in the Union’s more high-octane attack.

Bassett’s been excellent so far with the Rapids and if I was picking the roster right now, I’d bring him. But he wasn’t a part of the previous U-23 camp, so it’s hard to project him here. Same for Wolff.

Cremaschi will definitely get minutes for Miami now he’s off the injured list, and we’ve seen him with the U-23s before. I’m just not sure what he brings differentiates him from the other options. And Vassilev’s inclusion, to me, would be a wild card.

Bear in mind both Tessmann and Morris, as well as one of the wingers I’m bringing, can all play as 8s in the typical US 4-3-3 (as we saw in their 2-2 draw at France last month), so there is plenty of depth and versatility in this group even if it looks thin at first glance.

Yunus Musah is age-eligible, but will obviously be at Copa América instead.


Roster projection

  • Diego Luna (Real Salt Lake)
  • Brian Gutiérrez (Chicago Fire FC)
  • Kevin Paredes (VfL Wolfsburg)

Also in the mix

  • Cade Cowell (Chivas de Guadalajara)
  • Paxten Aaronson (Vitesse Arnhem)
  • Esmir Bajraktarevic (New England Revolution)
  • Griffin Yow (KVC Westerlo)
  • Bernard Kamungo (FC Dallas)
  • Taylor Booth (FC Utrecht)

Luna’s versatility – he can play on the right, on the left, as a false 9 (as he did at the U-20 World Cup), as a No. 8 and as a No. 10 – makes him an easy choice here, as does his skill-set. He’s the purest playmaker among these guys.

Gutiérrez is kind of the same, though a little more direct in transition and a little less secure on the ball in traffic. Paredes, meanwhile, has earned regular Bundesliga minutes as a pressing winger and sometimes midfielder. He hasn’t yet been super productive, but my guess is he’d be very comfortable creating danger with the U-23s.

Cowell hasn’t been able to produce consistently for Chivas, which isn’t great. Aaronson has yet to be consistently productive as a pro, which is the same for Bajraktarevic. Yow – a super-direct winger who could also be a deep back-up at right back – is making a nice push. Kamungo, sadly, isn’t.

Booth might be the centerpiece of the attack if he were healthy, but he picked up an injury to start the year, came back for a dozen games, then picked up another knee injury in mid-February and has been shut down since then. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be at anything close to full sharpness this summer.

Note that Gio Reyna is age-eligible, as is Malik Tillman. Like Musah and Johnny, though, both will 1000% be with the full national team at Copa América (and Tillman, to my understanding, is cap-tied with Germany at the youth level).

Center Forward

Roster projection

  • Ricardo Pepi (PSV Eindhoven)
  • Duncan McGuire (Orlando City SC)

Also in the mix

  • Johan Gomez (Eintracht Braunschweig)

Know what we learned from the last USMNT camp, in which the US beat Jamaica and Mexico to win the Nations League?

Ricardo Pepi is no higher than third on the No. 9 depth chart. We learned that when, in the final, Haji Wright started and went 66 minutes, while Folarin Balogun came off the bench for the final 24.

Pepi watched the whole thing from the sidelines. So yeah, he’s behind those two guys in the pecking order, and in all likelihood, he’s behind Josh Sargent as well.

So the choice for Pepi: bring him to Copa América over a better player (all three of Wright, Balogun and Sargent should be there) and have him get sporadic minutes. Or bring him to the Olympics and have him lead the line.

It’s a comically easy choice, as is the one to bring McGuire as the other center forward.

Balogun is age-eligible, but my understanding is he's cap-tied to England at the U-23 level.

Final Squad (for now!)

  • GK: Slonina, Schulte
  • LB: Tolkin, Wiley
  • CB: Zimmerman, McKenzie, Dietz
  • RB: Reynolds
  • DM: Maloney, Tessmann, Morris
  • CM: Busio, McGlynn
  • W: Luna, Gutiérrez, Paredes
  • FW: Pepi, McGuire