Rebuilding the U-23 U.S. Men’s National Team, is it something that U.S. Soccer is serious about?

by Thomas Deschaine (@uskeeper)

With both the U.S. Men’s National Team summer Concacaf tournaments in the rearview mirror and with the 2024 Summer Olympics nearly a year away and it’s time for the U-23 U.S. Men’s National Team to focus on how they build a team for a deep run in the tournament. The U-23 USMNT qualified for the 2024 Olympics by winning the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship played last June and July
It will be a great opportunity to incorporate some of the USMNT players who have already been part of the senior team along with some of the U-20 players who help that team qualify and play at the 2023 U-20 World Cup into building a quality and competitive Olympic roster, which will hopefully build and identify players needed to grow the depth and experience heading into the  2026 FIFA World Cup.

U-23 Manager

It all starts with hiring a manager and moving away from last cycle’s manager Jason Kreis, who failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics (played in the summer of 2021) and who was also part of the current coaching staff of the USMNT.  The logical candidate for the job should be B.J. Callaghan, who led the USMNT for the past month and a half to a Nations League trophy but failed to advance to the Gold Cup Final

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – JULY 02: United States interim head coach B.J. Callaghan (light polo) flanked by assistants Jason Kreis and Marko Mitrović prior to a Group A – 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup match against Trinidad and Tobago at Bank of America Stadium on July 02, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by John Dorton/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The last four U-23 managers (Piotr Nowak-2008, Clive Charles-2000, Bruce Arena-1996 & Lothar Osiander-1992) who coached at the Olympics were already working with U.S. Soccer at the time they were hired to coach the Olympic teams. Whoever the next U-23 manager ends up being they help build the framework necessary to ensure the team’s success now and going forward at the Olympics.

U-23 Olympic History

The 1992 Summer Olympics was the first time an under-the-age-of-23 limit was set for the soccer team participants, since that time the U-23 USMNT has qualified for five of the nine tournaments but had not qualified for the three previous tournaments in 2012, 2016 & 2020. The U-23 team’s best finish was 4th place at the 2000 Olympics in Australia which featured players Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, John O’Brien, and Josh Wolff, along with overage players Jeff Agoos, Brad Friedel, and Frankie Hejduk.  

U-23 Camps & Preparation

It’s expected that the U-23 USMNT will be conducting camps with Friendlies during the regular FIFA International windows in September, October, and November, which will likely be followed by three other possible 2024 camps in January (Mostly MLS players), March & June before heading to Paris in mid-July.

Tournament Possibilities 

Preparation by the U-23 team has been lacking in the past for qualifying and in preparation for heading to the Olympics. There are at least two opportunities available for the U-23 team between now and next summer’s Olympics. First is the 2023 Pan American Games, which they also qualified for by winning the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. The tournament takes place this fall from October 20th through November 5th, in Santiago, Chile.  The USA has participated in the Pan American game 12 other times and has only finished first once to win the gold medal in 1991 when held in Havana, Cuba, and featured players, Mike Burns, Brad Friedel, Cobi Jones, Kasey Keller, Alexi Lalas, Joe-Max Moore, and Claudio Reyna. 

The second is the Maurice Revello Tournament previously known as the Toulon Tournament which will be played next spring in France. This youth tournament takes place annually and generally is a U-22 tournament.  The US has appeared 10 times at this tournament, most recently in 2015 in which they finished 3rd featuring a 20-year-old Jordan Morris. The US also finished 3rd back in 1989 with featured players Jeff Agoos, Marcelo Balboa, Kasey Keller, Juergen Sommer, and Eric Wynalda. 

USMNT U-23s starting eleven

Expectations & Possibilities

The Olympics hasn’t been a tournament where the USMNT has excelled. Since the Olympics went to a Group Stage format followed by the knockout stage in 1960 the US has only advanced to the knockout stage once in 2000 when the US advanced to the semifinals and finished 4th.

Since the Olympics isn’t a tournament where clubs are required to release players don’t expect to see many or any big-name USMNT players on the roster, those players will likely be playing in the 2024 Copa America tournament earlier that summer or not be released at all. 

Winning the gold medal for the U-23 USMNT at the Olympics won’t likely translate to any successes or failures for the senior team, but it will provide needed tournament experience for the players involved. If the U-23 USMNT is able to make it to the knockout stage that would be a win for the federation.