Eight CONCACAF Under-23 teams will determine their Olympic fates over the next two weeks, with the confederation's Olympic Qualifying Championship beginning on Thursday. At least two CONCACAF teams will book their place at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games through the tournament, which will be held at four different MLS stadiums – Sporting Park, StubHub Center, Dick's Sporting Goods Park and Rio Tinto Stadium – across the US.
HOW IT WORKS
The two-week, eight-team tournament starts with pool play, featuring two groups of four teams each. The top-two finishers in each group will advance to the semifinal round, with the two teams that qualify for the final automatically booking their trip to Rio. The winner of the third-place game will also have a shot at qualifying for the Olympics, advancing to a playoff against Colombia, the second-place team from CONMEBOL, in March.
The Mexicans have this Olympic thing figured out, winning the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament six times and taking home the gold medal at the 2012 London games. That history alone makes El Tri the tournament favorite, and their stable of Liga MX talent – including Pachuca’s Erick Gutierrez, who captained the CONCACAF U-20 Championship winning squad this January – and Houston Dynamo Designated Player Erick "Cubo" Torres certainly doesn't hurt.
The US, with home field advantage and eight MLS players, are a good bet to face off against Mexico in the title match.
The two Caribbean representatives are the tournament's biggest long shots, with Cuba and Haiti unlikely to make it out of Group A and B, respectively. Haiti have only qualified for the tournament once before (2008), but will bringing along forward Duckens Nazon, who scored both of the senior team’s goals in this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, and New England Revolution Homegrown midfielder Zachary Herivaux.
Cuba have been in the tournament four times in their history, including both of the last two competitions.
- Erick Gutierrez, Mexico: The midfielder is a key player for Liga MX giant Pachuca, captained the U-20 squad to the CONCACAF Championship title earlier this year and is reportedly being targeted by European squads, including Italy’s Udinese.
- Wil Trapp, US: Will has been a big part of Columbus Crew SC’s midfield for three years now, and is in the process of breaking through to the US senior national team.
- Michael Petrasso, Canada: The Toronto FC product has been a part of Queens Park Rangers since 2013 and was called up to the senior team in recent World Cup qualifiers against Belize. The winger has scored five goals for the U-17 and U-20 teams.
UNITED STATES OUTLOOK
The young Yanks, led by head coach Andi Herzog, are set up nicely for a successful run. The roster features six players who were part of the US U-20 team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand and eight players who were part of the U-23 team that placed third in the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France this June, the US’ highest-ever finish. They’re strong in the midfield with players like Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil, Trapp and Fulham's Emerson Hyndman, and forward Jordan Morris (image above), the Seattle Sounders academy product and Stanford star, has turned in some big performances of late for the senior team.
US Group Stage Schedule:
- US vs. Canada – Thursday, Oct. 1 – 9 pm ET – Sporting Park
- US vs. Cuba – Saturday, Oct. 3 – 5 pm ET – Sporting Park
- US vs. Panama – Tuesday, Oct. 6 – 9:30 pm ET – Dick's Sporting Goods Park
The Canadians, led by senior team head coach Benito Floro, will look to advance to the Olympics for the first time since 1984 with a squad featuring 12 players from MLS teams or their USL affiliates. Three players on the roster – Vancouver Whitecaps 2's Jackson Farmer, Petrasso and FC Edmonton’s Hanson Boakai – scored goals in their 2015 U-20 CONCACAF Championship campaign, a tournament in which they failed to advance out of their group. Can this group, comprised mostly of developmental players, take the next step?
Canada Group Stage Schedule:
- Canada vs. US – Thursday, Oct. 1 – 9 pm ET – Sporting Park
- Canada vs. Panama – Saturday, Oct. 3 – 2:30 pm ET – Sporting Park
- Canada vs. Cuba – Tuesday, Oct. 6 – 7:00 pm ET – Dick's Sporting Goods Park
United States: Since the advent of qualification tournament in 1960, the US have qualified seven of 14 times. Only Mexico have qualified more in that span, advancing to the games eight times. The Yanks have two qualifying tournament titles, winning the competition in 1988 and 1992, led by Brent Goulet’s six goals and Steve Snow’s eight in those years, respectively. The US failed to qualify last time out, with current Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter failing to guide the Americans out of the group stage in 2012.
Canada: Canada have qualified for the Olympics just once since the qualification tournament began; though they did participate in the 1976 games as the host nation. The ’84 tournament was contested among just three teams, Canada, Costa Rica and Cuba. Canada finished second, beating Cuba 3-0 on two goals from Mike Sweeney, and playing Costa Rica to two scoreless draws. They finished second one other time (1996) and third twice, most recently in 2008 when they lost 3-0 to the US in the semifinals.
Teams Qualified by Year
- 1960: Argentina, Peru, Brazil
- 1964: Mexico
- 1968: Mexico*, Guatemala, El Salvador
- 1972: Mexico, US
- 1976: Mexico, Canada*, Guatemala, Cuba
- 1980: Costa Rica, Cuba**
- 1984: US*, Canada, Costa Rica
- 1988: US, Guatemala***
- 1992: US, Mexico
- 1996: US*, Mexico
- 2000: US, Honduras
- 2004: Mexico, Costa Rica
- 2008: US, Honduras
- 2012: Mexico, Honduras
* Automatically qualified as host country of Olympic games
** Replaced US, who boycotted USSR games
*** Replaced Mexico, who were banned by FIFA