The United States men’s U-23 team has failed to capture the imagination so far in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying, but their pair of wins has delivered some standout performers.
Jason Kreis’ men were arguably second-best in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica to begin the tournament In Mexico (READ: Three things learned), the same Los Ticos team who would later lose 3-0 to El Tri — and then struggled for an hour before turning to familiar faces in a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic (READ: Three more things).
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There’s still time to work out the kinks before the all-important semifinals, where Kreis’ men will need to beat Group B’s first- or second-place side depending on whether they perform at their best and beat Mexico in Wednesday’s final group stage match.
But here are the players who’ve stood out in the Yanks’ 2-0 start. And yes, three of the four are on the score sheet but in the words of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from “The Wire,” they earned these mentions like a… midfielders.
Hassani Dotson, Minnesota United
Those of us who haven’t caught a ton of Loons action the past couple of years and wondered why the name Hassani Dotson kept coming up now have a good understanding of why.
He’s looked confident if not cocky, and that swagger combined with a unique physical skill set and plenty of good on-field reading to produce moments like this thread, where he turns in a congested area and keeps himself available to spring an attack and play a role further up the pitch.
The second video is even better, going man amongst boys versus two Ticos before showing vision and touch to spring a would-be goal.
part 2 pic.twitter.com/9rnf4JAT3S
— Joseph Lowery (@joeclowery) March 19, 2021
Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes
Played 270 of 360 minutes in CONCACAF Nations League, going the distance in 7-0 and 4-0 wins over Cuba and a 4-1 defeat of Canada. Gregg Berhalter left him on the bench in favor of Michael Bradley and Cristian Roldan in the fourth game and that was a 2-0 loss in Canada.
Whether that’s coincidence or truth, every one of Yueill’s nine full USMNT caps are written all over on the grass during this tournament. He looks well above the fray and both deservingly and fittingly broke the Yanks through versus Dominican Republic.
Djordje Mihailovic, Chicago Fire
This one also feels a bit like cheating, although he doesn’t have the same level of USMNT impact in his back pocket that lives in Yueill.
Mihailovic has played 71 MLS matches with seven goals and 11 assists at age 22, and the playmaking plays the kind of balls that give lesser-experienced players fits.
But there’s no denying the six-times capped Mihailovic is delivering in the final third, posting a goal and two assists in the final 17 minutes on Sunday.
Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake
Unquestionably the Yanks’ best center back, the RSL stud did have a bad giveaway against Costa Rica but was instrumental in so many moments that saved a goal.
- Sam Vines, Colorado Rapids — Has looked quite good going forward but defensive duties few and far between.
- David Ochoa, Real Salt Lake — A ton of saves in the opener against Costa Rica, but a couple dodgy moments, too.
Bonus question: If the Yanks fail to qualify, will this be about personnel choices?
Kreis was extremely limited in his choices due to the sheer number of American players who would not be released by their European clubs outside of the normal FIFA window. There were some injuries as well, with Paxton Pomykal and Ayo Akinola amongst the MLS youngsters unfit for the squad.
But it’s been difficult not to watch this side, especially against the Dominican Republic, and wonder how there could not be a more productive bunch culled from MLS?
Consider the following possible U-23 (*U-24) lineup that could’ve been assembled without including anyone on Kreis’ squad list. We obviously don’t know fitness and availability issues for all of them, but do you think they’re certainly inferior?
Let’s start with Miles Robinson, Eryk Williamson, Frankie Amaya, and Ulysses Llanez, all players trimmed from the 31 players called into camp earlier this month.
Now look to Kyle Duncan, Jaylin Lindsey, and Gianluca Busio, all in the right age range and among the top-rated American-born players in MLS last season.
Then there’s Keaton Parks and Chris Mueller, who joins Robinson and Amaya as having plenty of experience. And how about Chris Gloster, clearly available having signed for NYCFC from PSV on Monday.
We’ll use a little bit of a cheat, moving Gloster inside and shifting Lindsey from right back to left in order to fill out a back line, but we’d like to see this team mix it up with the current bunch.
Alternate MLS-based U.S. U-23 team
Duncan — Robinson — Gloster — Lindsey
Parks — Williamson
Mueller — Busio — Amaya
*Matt Freese is the one U.S. U-23 goalkeeper on the roster and not to play In this tournament, but feel free to plug in Jonathan Klinsmann or some other young buck at this spot.