Going into the week, I thought by now the U.S. under-23 roster for upcoming Olympic qualifying would be public. U.S. manager Caleb Porter had hoped to unveil the 20-man selection by now, I’m sure.
After last week’s 2-0 win over Mexico in Dallas (the latest chapter in “Dos a Cero!”), I pulled Porter aside to ask about it. I was surprised when he said with all certainty and just hint of eager anticipation, “Soon.” As in, just a few days?
“I’d sure like to,” he told me.
Now U.S. Soccer says they’ll have something to tell us early next week. So what’s the hold-up, and is it something to worry about?
I can tell you exactly what’s going on. Well, I should probably backpedal and say, it’s what I suspect is happening – I talked to folks at U.S. Soccer earlier today, and all they could say is that early next week looks good for the announcement.
But I’ve seen all this play out before. In fact, it happened just like this four years ago, as U.S. Soccer negotiated with West Ham for the limited services of one Jonathan Spector. (Things went back and forth and, in the end, the Americans got Spector for one match. One vital match, but just one.)
So I’d bet my prized collection of graham cracker art that what’s going on is some old fashioned horse trading. And the major problem here for U.S. Soccer: they don’t have a horse. Or any hay, for that matter.
“Uh, can we interest you in a set of mint condition U.S. Soccer media guides? We got plenty of them!”
See, the hardest part of this process is asking for the release of players when clubs have absolutely zero obligation to let them go. This is far different than a World Cup qualifier on an official FIFA fixture date, when clubs are compelled to release their players. But that’s why U.S. Soccer works so hard to establish relationships with the clubs. It’s why U.S. Soccer doesn’t always play hardball on these FIFA dates; players who could rightfully be plucked on official fixture dates are sometimes left in place.
But that’s pretty much all U.S. Soccer brings to this particular swap meet: a little bit of earned good will.
So, let’s say Porter makes a call to FC Nuremberg, where promising, age-eligible, nifty Nick of a fullback Tim Chandler has become a lineup fixture. Chances that Nuremberg, currently 9th in the Bundesliga table and still within striking distance of 6th and a Europa League slot, will agree to release a starter for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying? Not great. Roughly the same chances of that swell Michelle Williams asking around about “that new NBC soccer website guy” and whether he’s, you know, “attached?”
Or what about Porter dialing up to inquire about dandy Danny Williams, a starter at Hoffenheim? Same deal. Ain’t gonna happen.
Terrence Boyd, who made his full U.S. national team debut in last week’s 1-0 win at Italy? Different deal. That’s because Boyd is a reservist for Borussia Dortmund. There might even be a bit of value in this for the Bundesliga leader. So, don’t be shocked if Boyd, who was originally on the under-23 roster for Porter’s camp in Dallas, appears on the under-23 roster when it is unveiled.
There are other one-sided horse trade targets out there, too. (All in Europe; I don’t believe there will be any issue for MLS players, not for qualifying, at least.)
So that’s what is going on. Porter and pals are doing what they can to assemble the strongest roster possible. They know exactly who they want; the deal is getting them in the face of precious little leverage.
By the way, the roster is due March 20. When U.S. Soccer does unfurl this 20-man-banner next week, days before the deadline, it will be stamped “tentative.” They’ll hold off actually turning in the official roster to CONCACAF until it’s actually due. No real reason to do otherwise.