NEW YORK — USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will be looking toward Olympic soccer qualifying when the senior national team plays Costa Rica on Saturday in an exhibition at Carson, California.
Thirteen of the 22 players on the American roster are eligible for Olympic qualifying, which is limited to players under 23. The U.S. men failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and they are in a difficult qualifying group that includes Mexico and Costa Rica.
“It’ll be nice to give them an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd in a real international game,” Berhalter said during a telephone conference call on Monday.
Twelve players have no previous international experience. The U.S. has used 74 players in 30 matches since the 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, and 36 players have made debuts: 24 under interim coach Dave Sarachan and 12 under Berhalter, who was hired in December 2018.
“We think this age group is talented for the Olympic age group and we’re excited to see how they navigate through the qualification process and then eventually build the group for the Olympics” Berhalter said.
Olympic qualifying runs from March 20-30 and the U.S. will be coached by Jason Kreis. Since clubs are not required to release players to under-23 teams, top Americans Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest are not likely to be available. Major League Soccer starts Feb. 29, and its coaches may be reluctant to provide players.
“We’re going to need a lot of cooperation from Major League Soccer, and I know that’s difficult given the early stage of their season,” Berhalter said.
If the U.S. does qualify for the Olympics, it would be able to add three players over the age limit. But clubs could decline to release players.
“It would be nice to field our strongest team in the Olympics. We’re just not sure that’s going to happen,” Berhalter said.
Veterans on the roster this weekend include forwards Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola, defender Aaron Long and midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid could make his first appearance since a June 2018 exhibition at Ireland.
On other topics:
-Berhalter did not sound overly concerned about Pulisic’s adductor injury. The Chelsea midfielder has not played since Jan. 1 and is not likely to return until Feb. 17 at the earliest. “He played a lot of games in a short period of time over Christmas,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player playing at an extremely competitive level and it takes a physical toll on your body. And him coming to terms with that is something that’s normal for the process of adapting.”
-On the best position for Adams, who has appeared at right back and right wing for RB Leipzig: “We see him primarily as a central midfielder. We always have seen him as a central midfielder. But we know that when we when we need to be flexible, he can play that position, as well. We think right now the right back position is filled with depth, and he’ll be most suited in our system in central midfield.”
-On the possibility of Long transferring from the New York Red Bulls to West Ham: “It obviously could be a potential big change in where he’s competing and what level he’s playing at. … That would be a step up for him.”
-Jesus Ferreira, a Colombian-born forward who received U.S. citizenship last month, may not be eligible to play this weekend pending the completion of paperwork.