Ok soccer fans – so the US Men play this Saturday at 4 pm on ESPN News vs Costa Rica in LA. And yes its just MLS US players vs not a complete roster for Costa Rica- no reason to watch right? Well actually if you are interested in seeing the US Under 23s qualify and play in the Olympics this Summer – many of the players playing on Saturday will be the players trying to get the US Qualified in March vs Mexico, Costa Rica and Domican Republic. The US needs to finish top 2 to advance – something they haven’t done since 2008 when Michael Bradley, Altidore, Edu, Adu, Holden, Davies, Feilhaber, Parkhurst, and Guzan. This roster has a bunch of U23s that would hopefully help us qualify – including Reggie Cannon, Walker Zimmerman, Sam Vines in the back, Jackson Yueill at Dmid, Justen Glad, Christian Cappis, Julian Araujo in the middle and Jonathan Lewis and newcomer Jesus Ferreira up top. And hopefully Matt Turner in the 2nd half between the pipes. These guys along with perhaps Carter-Vickers will be responsible for getting the US in the Olympics so hopefully Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Gio Reyna and more can join from Europe this summer. Speaking of Gio Reyna – son of Claudio Reyna – Captain America Man City mid back in the day is now coming off the bench for Dortmund – he became the youngest US Player to play in Germany 2 weeks ago beating Pulisic’s record by about 5 months. Certainly worth watching on Saturday !! Plenty of stories on the https://theoleballcoach.com/ for this one.
National Team Roster Ready to Face Costa Rica on Saturday on ESPN News DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; Caps/Goals):
DEFENDERS (8): Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 10/0), Chase Gasper (Minnesota United FC; 0/0), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 16/3), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 11/2)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Christian Cappis (Hobro/DEN; 0/0), Bryang Kayo (Unattached; 0/0), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 13/2), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas; 0/0), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes; 6/0)
US LADIES – Tonight 8:30 pm – Fox Soccer + Can Watch online if you have Fox Sports 1 Access
The US Ladies took a while to get going – but finally put 4 goals in vs Haiti Tuesday night on FS2. Sad to see such a small crowd on hand in the 20K arena in Houston but CONCACAF doesn’t know how to market in the US to actual US fans. Hopefully we will have more there tonight and of course Monday night on Fox Sports 1 when we face leader Costa Rica in the game that really matters. I thought the US ladies looked like they hadn’t played since the World Cup – which for the most part is true. The team will need to play better up front if it wants to outscore Costa Rica Mon night for sure. Of course the Defense was solid as normal with hardly a shot on goal (except for the corner kick goal that I thought should have counted). Anyway it will be good to see the ladies clean some things up as some new players have stepped including Williams on the left wing good for an assist and a goal on the night. (Again thank you Fox Sports for stepping up to cover these games at all – tough to fit them in when the contract was finalized Monday – Bravo and well done!!) Cool story on Krieger and Harris Power Couple Role Models for the Future and their Superbowl Commercial – Ali and Ashlyn US Ladies in Bud Commercial
US Ladies Olympic Qualifying
|Fri Jan. 31||Panama*||8:30 p.m. ET||Fox Soccer + TUDN||BBVA Stadium; Houston, Texas|
|Mon Feb. 3||Costa Rica*||8:30 p.m. ET||Fox Sports 1||BBVA Stadium; Houston, Texas|
2020 Oly Q Standings
GAMES THIS WEEK
As for Big games this weekend the biggest is of course the Madrid Derby Saturday at 10 am on beIN Sport and Fubo TV with Real Madrid hosting Atletico Madrid. Everyone thought Atletico would be challenging for the top but its Real on top again as Zidane continues to work his magic for the Madridistas. Plenty of stories on the https://theoleballcoach.com/ for this one. Before the Derby in Spain the EPL kicks off with Chelsea (minus Pulisic) traveling to 3rd place Leicester City. I will be rooting for the Blues – for a 1-0 win – I don’t like to see them score without Pulisic on the pitch (sorry). Liverpool hosts Southhampton at 10 am and Man United will host Wolverhampton at 12:30 pm on either NBC or NBCSN. RB Liepzig and US mid/Defender Tyler Adams will try to defend their slender lead at the top of the Bundesliga vs Borussia M’gladbach and US defender Johnson at 12:30 Sat on Fox Sports 2. Sunday has a battle for top 4 as Tottenham hosts Man City at 11:30 am on NBCSN in the EPL, Inter will travel to Udinese on ESPN News & desportes at 2:45 pm, while Barcelona will host Levante on beIN Sports.
USWNT’s far-flung Olympic qualifier vs. Haiti is yet another indictment of CONCACAF Leander Schaerlaeckens Yahoo Sports
Who has Most to Gain on Saturday vs Costa Rica – Matt Doyle
US Plans for Qualifying for 2020 Olympics with Jason Kreis – Doug McIntyre Yahoo sports
Atletico vs Real Madrid Derby Preview
Zidane leaves Bale out of squad for Atletico but dismisses departure
Relentless Real Madrid a reminder of what might have been for Atletico
Klopp plays down record-breaking Reds as title looms near
Preview: Leicester City v. Chelsea
Report: Cavani to stay at PSG after Atletico Madrid transfer falls through
Armchair Analyst: The US men’s national team lineup(s) I want to see vs. Costa Rica
January 31, 20209:45AM ESTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer
First off, let’s take US men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter at his word:The roster he’s called for Saturday’s friendly against a similarly young and short-handed Costa Rica has 13 Olympic-eligible players out of the 22 total. I don’t think all of them will see playing time, but I do hope that Berhalter goes with the idea of creating useful combinations – seeing how two or even three players at crucial spots work together in concert as a way of building chemistry ahead of Olympic qualifying, which takes place in March down in Guadalajara.At the same time, reliable veterans like Aaron Long, Sebastian Lletget, Paul Arriola and Gyasi Zardes aren’t here to just get tossed into the trash. Forget Olympic qualifying – World Cup qualifying itself starts in nine months, and chances are all four of those guys (and a few other of the non-Olympic eligibles on this roster) will play major roles.So Berhalter’s got to use this game for two different purposes. To that end, here are the two different lineups I’d like to play each half:
Doyle’s First Half
Gaspers //Zimmerman//Long //Cannon
Some bullet points:
- Lletget and Zardes deserve to start. They earned it with their 2019 performances – right up to and including that big, dominant win over Canada to end the year. As of now Lletget’s the No. 10 and Zardes is the 9, and it’s up to guys like Paxton Pomykal, Richie Ledezma, Josh Sargent and others to beat them out.I want to see the Long/Walker Zimmerman Given the way Matt Miazga has backslid over the past eight months and given John Brooks’ propensity for injury, Long and Zimmerman can expect to play a lot of minutes together.Chase Gasperis “young” in that last year he was a rookie, but is actually too old to be eligible for Olympic qualifying. I still want to see him for 45 minutes, though.You could talk me into Bill Hamid or Matt Turner starting over Sean Johnson. I’m sanguine about all of that.
- And here’s what I’d like to see for the second half:
Vines Glad McKensie Cannon
- I’ve kept the starting wingers and No. 10 out there because I want to make sure Jesus Ferreiragets a fair shot at proving he can do the No. 9 job at this level. Let’s see him with what I think would be considered this camp’s version of the starters.Reggie Cannon and Jackson Yueill are the two U-23 eligibles at this camp who are the closest to being full-time members of the USMNT (I’d argue Cannon is already there). They need to show veteran leadership and poise, and to stand out the way, for example, Lletget did at this time last year. So they’re going 90.Christian Cappis and Brandon Servania are both long-term No. 6s who have spent most of their careers thus far playing as No. 8s. I’m fine with giving one half to each/either, and if Yueill struggles I wouldn’t hate seeing each/either given a shot to play his regista role.I need to see Justen Glad & Mark McKenzie together for a half. Almost every other U23 eligible CB – Cameron Carter-Vickers, Auston Trusty, Miles Robinson, etc. – is a question mark for the qualifying tournament for one reason or another.Getting to see Jonathan Lewis and Sam Vines work together on both sides of the ball is potentially illuminating.These are five of the six subs that are usually allowed in friendlies. I’m happy going in whatever direction – Brenden Aaronson at the No. 10, Uly Llanez on one of the wings, some sort of switch in goal – that Berhalter decides for the final sub.And so here we are. The nightmarish 2010s are over and hopefully a better decade has begun. It’ll start for real with Olympic qualifying in March, but we can get a big taste of how that’s going to go from what we see on Saturday.
Aaron Long seeks consistency to lead by example for USMNT and New York Red Bulls
9:18 AM ET Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
CARSON, Calif. — Aaron Long has experienced no shortage of life-altering events this offseason.He got engaged in Maui to his fiancée, Elise, and also took a trip to Japan, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji, while sampling the local cuisine and some kimonos. As for getting around, that was made easier by the fact that one of his traveling companions spoke some Japanese. “‘Three beers,’ was a common phrase for sure,” Long said. “But it was probably my favorite vacation I’ve taken thus far.”But the itch to get back on the field needed to be scratched, as the memory of New York Red Bulls’ playoff defeat to the Philadelphia Union lingered.”It’s good to clear your head. You want to let your body heal,” Long said. “But you want to start training again. You start getting fit, then you want to start touching the ball. It’s just a gradual process that makes you hungry and just want to get back into things.”Long has been doing just that for the last several weeks, taking part in the U.S. men’s national team’s annual January camp. Meanwhile, transfer speculation from overseas has resurfaced, with ESPN sources confirming a Sky Sports report that the Red Bulls rejected an offer from West Ham United to take the defender on loan.Long, 27, declined to address his club situation and, while there is a sense the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year has progressed as much as he could in New York, he also seems at peace with the possibility of remaining with the MLS side.”There’s plenty more for me to achieve at the level I’m at now, for sure,” he said. “While I’m here, I have to set my goals as high as I can set them.”Staying at Red Bull arena will see demands increase on the Oak Hills, California, native, especially in the leadership department. The Red Bulls have lost club icons Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles, and ESPN sources confirmed a report from The Athletic that defender Kemar Lawrence is set to join Belgian side Anderlecht.Such departures seem like an annual occurrence with the Red Bulls. Three years ago, Dax McCarty was traded; the following season Sacha Kljestan got dealt. That does not mean the challenge facing Long should be minimized, though.”I know that I’m one of those guys that’s definitely gonna have to fill some big shoes and take even more of a leadership role on the team,” he said at the U.S. team hotel. “I guess when I get there, I’ll see how big those shoes are and what I need to do and kind of assess that situation. But I know what’s coming and I know that big things are going to be asked of me for sure.”That is already the case with the national team. Manager Gregg Berhalter has assembled a side with 13 Olympic-eligible players and said on Thursday that the lineup for Saturday’s friendly against Costa Rica (LIVE on ESPNEWS, 3:55 p.m. ET) will be “a mix” of youngsters and more veteran types.Long, as a member of Berhalter’s leadership council, is among those asked to help bring the young charges along. The fact that this is his second camp has made things easier.”You’re problem-solving as a group now instead of seeing everything for the first time, and everyone having their own opinions,” he said. “It’s a little bit easier this camp. And I think that the returning guys from last January to this January have done a good job [of] coming together and having a clear picture for the younger guys.”Taking on a leadership role is not something that has come naturally to Long. During his first season with the Red Bulls, then-manager Jesse Marsch almost made him wear a microphone in a bid to get the player to be more vocal and a better organizer on the field.”Marsch didn’t [do that], thankfully,” Long said. “I probably was not talking as much as I needed to at the time, but that example just shows that there’s this learning curve for sure, and I wasn’t always an outspoken guy.”Long prefers to lead by example — maybe with a quiet word here and there — and that means his play needs to be among the best in the side. He admits he was not consistent with the Red Bulls last season and that the trait is as elusive as it is desirable.”I think just your mindset going into games is: What does success for you look like on the day? Is it winning on the day? Is it stopping Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] on the day? Every game there’s a different task and different things are asked of you, and I think how you’re able to change your game, to help your team win, is going to determine how good you were on the day,” Long said.That quest for consistency will resume with the U.S. on Saturday. Unlike last year, there is only the one friendly to cap off the January camp and that has added a sense of urgency when it comes to playing time.”Everyone’s been fighting for a spot,” Long said. “There’s no next week.”It sounds like the approach that will carry him through the season.
Armchair Analyst: Who has the most to gain for USMNT vs. Costa Rica
January 28, 20202:45PM ESTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer
If you have followed the US men’s national team even casually for the past five, 10 or 15 years — or even longer — then you probably know the drill with January camp, colloquially nicknamed “Camp Cupcake” amongst the fans because it always ends with a friendly or two against usually overwhelmed, less-than-full-strength opponents.The reason those teams were/are less than full strength is the same reason the US themselves always are: the entire month of January is not an international date. In fact there are no international dates at all from mid-November until the end of February, which means that clubs are under no obligation to release players (and thus don’t). That means January camp has traditionally been the domain of preseason MLS players and a select few based in Scandinavia, with the occasional dash of out-of-contract players (hello, Bryang Kayo!) or European-based youth players (greetings, Uly Llanez!) sprinkled in.This is all by way of saying that Saturday’s friendly against a similarly short-handed Costa Rica is, uh, not exactly a live-or-die affair.That is not the same thing as saying that Saturday’s game has no stakes. Costa Rica are rivals, and by definition every game against a rival has stakes. Beyond that, Concacaf Olympic qualifiers will be held in March, and just as with this camp, teams are not required to release their players for the duration of Olympic qualifiers. That means guys like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent, Sergino Dest and Tim Weah, who are all Olympic-eligible, are all massive question marks (to be honest I’d be surprised if we saw a single one of them released for the tournament). That in turn means there are spots up for grabs.I’m not going to say that the US “absolutely have to qualify for the Olympics.” What I’ll say is that it’d be a massive failure — the first of Gregg Berhalter’s tenure, to be honest — if the US didn’t. And while Jason Kreis is the head coach of the U-23s, he’s Berhalter’s guy and it’d be under Berhalter’s watch that it’s happening.To that end, this is not the standard January USMNT roster. Instead this roster skews young, and in fact more than half of the rostered players this weekend (13 of the 22) are age-eligible for Olympic qualifying. Three of them (Kayo, Llanez and LA Galaxy right back Julian Araujo) are actually age-eligible for 2024 Olympic qualifying, which should give you an idea of how deeply Berhalter is looking into the potential depth chart.
So yeah, it’s Camp Cupcake. But at the same time this is all very, very big.
Let’s take a look at who’s got the most at stake:
It’s probably too much to say that Jackson Yueill was the breakout USMNT performer of 2019, but simply saying that he overdelivered on expectations undersells it. Yueill looked the part of a proper, international-caliber regista against Uruguay in a friendly played in third gear back in September, then was a central part of the US team that absolutely dusted Canada in November’s Concacaf Nations League game — one that was played at something close to World Cup Qualifier-level intensity. He was very, very good:the exception of right back Reggie Cannon, Yueill is the U-23 in this camp who’s closest to being a significant part of the full USMNT. He’s also someone who might stay in a starting role even if/when Adams and McKennie are available, since you could very easily play those two guys as pressing 8s and Yueill as a regista behind them in a three-man midfield.Which, taken as a whole, means that Yueill has the most to lose as a bad showing means that guys like Christian Cappis and Brandon Servania, both of whom are in this camp, could close the gap on him. Yueill also arguably has the most to gain, as a commanding performance could cement him as a leader for the Olympic qualifying group no matter who else is/isn’t available.
Pulisic and Weah. Nick Taitague mostly healthy for the first time in forever, and said to be close to the Schalke first team after spending the month with them. Gio Reyna, having debuted for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, and Indy Vassilev, having debuted for Aston Villa in the EPL.Richie Ledezma, Paxton Pomykal and Brenden Aaronson — guys who I think are central midfielders, but who are often played out wide. Llanez ripping it up with Wolfsburg’s kids. Bofo Saucedo starting for UNAM Pumas in Liga MX.That’s the competition for Jonathan Lewis, who has always produced when given a chance but has reached the “put up or shut up” phase of his career when it comes to winning a starting job. He has the ability to do it:He’s also saying all the right things — talking specifically this winter about how he needs to improve upon the defensive side of the ball (he does) and be a two-way impact player.He certainly has the tools to make it a reality. He could do himself a big favor if he brought that to bear this weekend.
For each of the past two years RSL have been significantly better with Justen Glad on the field than off of it. He has the size and speed, and as of 2019 seemed finally to add a bunch of the strength necessary to play CB against even the best center forwards in the league (though Zlatan owned him, to be fair).But for each of the past two years RSL’s head coaches – first Mike Petke and then Freddy Juarez – benched Glad in the playoffs.He’s still just 22. For context: He will be younger at this point in the 2026 World Cup cycle than Aaron Long is right now, so there is still plenty of time for Glad to mature into a USMNT starter.This is his shot to prove he should be an Olympic qualifying starter, though. Cameron Carter-Vickers’ career going into a tailspin, Chris Richards failing to break through into anything higher than the German third tier and up-and-down seasons from most of his age-group competition in MLS (including the guy who’s next on the list) have this door wide open for Glad.
That door is wide open for the Union‘s Mark McKenzie as well. He’s two full years younger than Glad, and thus much less experienced — Glad has over 10,000 career minutes across all competitions while McKenzie is shy of 3,000. He’s also not, I don’t think, as athletic as Glad or Miles Robinson (who’s not in this camp — more on that in a second), and his defensive instinct still need polishing.The difference is that McKenzie’s often asked to be a line-breaking passer of the ball for Philly, and he often delivers. He was asked the same by Tab Ramos with the U-20s, and he usually delivered there as well. He is able to see and hit passes that cause real stress on the opposition’s shape, and that’s the kind of distribution from the back Berhalter seems to want to weaponize.For what it’s worth I would expect Robinson to have one of the starting CB jobs on lock. Though even that’s not guaranteed, especially since Atlanta United are under no obligation to release him and probably won’t be eager to if they’re in the midst of a CCL run.
Sam Vines snuck under the radar and into Colorado’s lineup by the middle of spring last year, and stayed there right through the end of the season by playing no-frills, mistake-free soccer. He is one of two young left backs on this roster, though the other – Minnesota United‘s Chase Gasper – is too old to be eligible for Olympic qualifying. So in this game, if Vines gets onto the field, he’ll be competing against himself and trying to show that he can add value in Berhalter’s system.I have few concerns he’ll manage that on the defensive side of the ball. The big questions come in possession, where Berhalter justifiably asks his fullbacks to be more than just “mistake free.” In the modern back four the fullbacks have to be, at the very least, competent at meaningful ball progression. If they turn out to be less than that, opponents will see it as an exploitable weakness they can target to starve the midfield and frontline of any sort of service (if you want an example of this, go re-watch Canada’s 2-0 home win over the US in the Nations League, and how often and effectively they targeted Daniel Lovitz).Vines is never going to be a Dest-level possession hub, but it would be a major boost for both the U-23s and potentially for the full USMNT if he could go out there and show that, at the very least, he can work nearly as well on the left as Cannon and Nick Lima did on the right in 2019.
Other things to keep an eye on:
- Sebastian Lletget: He’s literally never played a bad game for the USMNT, and usually plays very, very well. He’s also going to have to fight for his life to lock down and hold onto a starting spot given the young midfield talent coming up.
- Jesus Ferreira: The latest dual-national to commit to the US, Ferreira’s maybe a No. 9, maybe a winger, maybe a No. 10, and probably a second forward. Too bad the US don’t use a two-man front line. I’m curious to see where and how he plays.
- Walker Zimmerman: Can he match consistency to his physical gifts? If so he has a chance to solidify his place on the CB depth chart.
- Matt Turner: His shot-stopping has been otherworldly the past two years in MLS, and there’s a good chance this weekend will see him debut. If and when that happens, he will be asked to play with his feet. I am intrigued.
Gregg Berhalter: Jackson Yueill, Reggie Cannon & other USMNT mainstays likely for Olympic qualifying
January 25, 20201:02PM EST Ian QuillenContributor
With the US national team facing two high-profile European friendlies in the March international while the U-23 squad aims at qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokoyo, manager Gregg Berhalter and his staff have a difficult balance to juggleSpeaking with Tony Meola of SiriusXM FC this week, Berhalter revealed that the USMNT’s priority over that stretch will be reaching the Olympics for the first time since 2008, at least in terms of players who are likely to be released for the Concacaf qualifying tournament.Making the 2020 Olympics is vital for @ussoccer! “I think it’s going to be very challenging to get players like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie released for qualifying because it falls outside the current FIFA window,” Berhalter said. “But players who have been mainstays for the US national team like Jackson Yueill and Reggie Cannon, we’re going to want them to go through that qualifying process and help the team qualify.It’s an important event to participate in, and we want to qualify.”The US have a difficult road if they are to return to the tournament where they last finished ninth at the 2008 games. They begin the Concacaf qualifying tournament in a group with Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, with the top two finishers reaching the semifinals.Only winners of those subsequent semifinal matches — Scheduled for March 30 — will represent Concacaf in the 16-team Olympic tournament in July and August.Group play of Concacaf’s Olympic tournament begins before the March window opens. The senior US team will play friendlies at the Netherlands on March 26 and at Wales on March 30.
AC Milan, USMNT’s Antonee Robinson can’t complete Deadline Day transfer
January 31, 2020, 3:23 PM EST
United States men’s national team defender Antonee Robinson won’t be joining seven-time European champion AC Milan after all.
A day after the rather surprising news broke that the Italian titans had agreed to purchase the speedy left back from English second-tier struggler Wigan Athletic, the deal fell apart at the final hurdle, Wigan announced on Deadline Day.
Robinson had traveled to on Milan Friday morning in anticipation of the move. He had taken his physical. However, “further medical tests with the Italian authorities were required, which were subject to a 72-hour deadline,” Wigan’s statement read. With Italy’s transfer window closing at 8 p.m. local time [2 p.m. ET], there wasn’t enough time to get the deal across the line.
The last-minute collapse has to be hugely disappointing for the Liverpool-born Robinson, who has American citizenship through his father. Milan’s haul of European titles is second only to Real Madrid’s. But the club has fallen on relatively tough times in recent years, and is currently eighth in Serie A. Wigan, meantime, sits 22nd in the 24-team Championship and is in danger of being relegated to the country’s third division.
Robinson has earned six caps with the USMNT, all of them in 2018. He has spent most of the last two years with the U.S. under-23 squad that in March will attempt to break the country’s 12-year Olympic drought by qualifying for this summer’s Games in Tokyo.
2020 Olympics: Inside Jason Kreis’ plan to qualify the U.S. men for the first time in 12 years
January 30, 2020, 10:36 AM EST
United States under-23 national team coach Jason Kreis is hoping to qualify the Americans for an Olympics for the first time since 2008. (Jose Breton/Getty)
Jason Kreis is well aware of the challenge he faces in getting his United States under-23 mean’s national team to this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.
After all, the U.S. has not taken part in the Summer Games since way back in 2008, where a team led by future World Cup players such as Michael Bradley and Stuart Holden failed to make it past the group stage in Beijing.
“The way I view it is that it makes my job easier,” Kreis told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview, amid three-plus weeks of working with many of his players during the senior team’s annual January training camp. “We know that this isn’t easy. We know that there’s been failure before. So we should have a little extra energy, a little extra something to prove. I like that situation for us.”
Kreis will get a preview of March’s all-important CONCACAF qualifying tournament opener against Costa Rica on Saturday in Carson, California, where a senior team heavy on U-23 players will meet a similarly young Ticos side in a friendly. No fewer than 13 of the 22 players remaining on USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter’s January camp roster are eligible for the March squad.
To hear Kreis tell it, the experience of working alongside established senior internationals such as Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget and Aaron Long this month has been vital preparation for the games that count.
Still, the path to Tokyo 2020 promises to be anything but smooth. The qualifying tournament was held on American soil the last two Olympic cycles, and the 2012 and 2016 teams still failed. This year’s event is in Guadalajara, Mexico.
In addition to the first match against Costa Rica, the U.S. also plays the hosts and Dominican Republic in Group A. Only the top two nations will advance to the do-or-die semifinals, meaning one of CONCACAF’s three traditional powers will miss out.
Looked at another way, however, the draw isn’t that bad. Should the U.S. survive the first round, they’d avoid the big boys in the semis, with a win over Canada, El Salvador, Haiti or Honduras enough to send them to Japan.
“Going into the draw I was thinking that it would be nice to be in Mexico’s group,” said Kreis, who pointed out that the U.S. would get an extra day of rest if they reach the decisive match.
The bigger question concerns the makeup of his roster. Some of the most prominent American players — Christian Pulisic, Westin McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest — almost certainly won’t be released by their European clubs, which are only required to let players join senior national teams. Complicating matters is the fact that the first game of the tournament falls three days before FIFA’s March fixture window opens.
Still, U.S. Soccer will attempt to convince the employers of Euro-based youngsters who have yet to break into their clubs’ first teams — think Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards, Ajax’s Alex Mendez and PSV Eindhoven’s Richie Ledezma — to let them go.
Kreis expects the majority of the MLS players currently in camp to be involved in March. But he also confirmed that domestic teams have been less cooperative than in the past.
“I think that’s fair to say for sure,” Kreis said. “We’re hopeful that the MLS teams understand that we’re still growing our sport. And part of growing our sport is having our national teams do well.”
If they do manage to end 12 years of Olympic futility come March, then Kreis, Berhalter and new USMNT general manager Brian McBride will try to sell the likes of Pulisic’s Chelsea and Adams’ RB Leipzig on the value having their Americans on a global stage, in an event watched by tens of millions of Americans and many more about the world.
“I believe that the guys we’re talking about are going to want to represent their country in the Olympics,” Kreis said. “First, we have to get there. But if the players want to play in it, and can exert some influence on their clubs, then hopefully we can all work together to make that happen. Because I think we can have a really, really exciting team.”
USWNT’s Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris hit the Super Bowl as trailblazing role models ready for the future
Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are living their best lives – together.Fresh off winning the 2019 World Cup in France together as members of the U.S. women’s national team, the couple married in a picturesque wedding that was splashed across the pages of Vogue magazine.They haven’t enjoyed a honeymoon yet – they had to go straight into a USWNT camp and are now with the team vying for a berth into the 2020 Olympics – but it’s been something of a whirlwind fairytale since the pair went public about their relationship back in March.Now, as a married couple and as individuals, Harris and Krieger are blazing a trail as role models and voices that in the past were often ignored. They’ve been vocal advocates for equal pay for women and they’ve quickly become one of the country’s most high-profile same-sex couples, particularly in the world of sports. And it’s all made them more popular than ever.“Ali and I talk about this all the time in terms of visibility and what culture means to us,” Harris tells Yahoo Sports in an exclusive interview. “When I think back to my childhood, we didn’t have people who looked like us when we opened magazines or watched advertisements.“We’re super proud of what we stand for and that companies and brands are getting behind that and are willing to be part of that cultural change. For such a long time, we didn’t have a place, but now we do and we’re being celebrated and it’s really rewarding.”
Harris and Krieger: USWNT power couple
The brands lining up to work with Harris and Krieger include Budweiser, which prominently features the couple toward the end of a new ad slated to run during Sunday’s Super Bowl, the most visible platform in American sports. A teaser video designed to gin up anticipation for the ad also featured them.Yet when the pair first met at a USWNT camp in 2010 and fell in love, they didn’t share their relationship beyond close friends and family for fear it would impact their status on their teams, both club and country, or alienate potential sponsors. “That was the mindset – it wasn’t, ‘Let’s keep this away from the public,’” Krieger says. “It was more, ‘Let’s make sure we aren’t losing our jobs because we don’t know how people are going to react.’ It wasn’t as if we were hiding.”Over the years, however, things changed. There were the changes that happened outside of the bubble Harris and Krieger created for themselves. More and more prominent figures were coming out, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to mke gay marriage legal, and public sentiment increasingly became more accepting.But then there were the changing attitudes of Krieger and Harris themselves. “We are private people and we want to keep something at the end of the day just for ourselves, but also we want to create this change,” Krieger says. “We want to have families and young kids and adults understand that this is also normal life – two women can be together, two men can be together. You’re two humans who love each other and are living this beautiful life together and are successful, so there’s nothing wrong with that.”Over the years, they sought advice from close friends, like past and present USWNT players Abby Wambach, Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe. They spoke to their agents at Wasserman. Ultimately, they revealed their relationship when the timing felt right for them. “When I think back, I’m a little disappointed in myself that I waited this long,” Harris says, “because I have kids come up to me and they have families who look like me and Ali. Or older people say, ‘Hey, you saved our lives and we’re finally able to start living an authentic life.’ I know what it feels like to only give a part of me to someone.“I wish I had felt I was in a safe space to do this a long time ago.”The timing has seemingly worked out for the pair, even if it’s much later than they would’ve liked.After they won a World Cup together as a newly out couple, brands eager to attach themselves to strong, powerful women especially took notice of Krieger and Harris.After years of having to try to advocate for better investment in female athletes and women’s soccer on their own, the assist from brands like Budweiser, which has become the flagship backer of the National Women’s Soccer League, is a game-changer.“We can only do so much, but we need companies to invest in what we’re trying to create,” Harris says. “We can only take it so far. We show up, we do our job and we’re the best version of ourselves.”
The USWNT testing their relationship
But before they became the winningest power couple in sports and clinked beers in a Super Bowl ad, Krieger was going through perhaps the most difficult moment of her professional career – and it wasn’t easy on her relationship with Harris either.Not long after the 2016 Olympics, where the USWNT bombed out of the quarterfinal stage, coach Jill Ellis sought regenerate the team by eliminating veterans in favor of grooming up-and-comers. Krieger, a center back and right back, was one of those cuts.
“I really went through it. I got fired,” Krieger tells Yahoo Sports. “And that was difficult to go through because I knew my worth and I knew I deserved to be there but I didn’t really have a reason of why.”
Ashlyn Harris and Ali Kriger won the World Cup together for a second time last summer in France. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
“I’m thinking to myself, I’m still good enough to be there. What did I do wrong?” she adds. “I had to go through it without closure. It’s like leaving a relationship and not understanding why you broke up.”For two years, Krieger didn’t even get a call-up to a USWNT camp to try to prove she belonged. For all she knew, her time representing the United States was over.But as hard as it was, Harris was still part of the USWNT as a backup goalkeeper and Krieger needed to compartmentalize her feelings to be a supportive girlfriend.“I detached the emotion and I was committed to supporting her,” Krieger says. “She’d drag my ass out of bed, no matter how tired and upset I was, and said, ‘You’re gonna be kicking balls with me’ or whatever it was.“Ash was my rock through that whole experience, and it was really s—ty for us. Our relationship took a hit because of how upset and sad I was, but we pushed each other, we pulled each other up, and we supported each other.”Together, they made sure Krieger would be prepared if her second chance ever arrived with the USWNT – and it did, unexpectedly in the USWNT’s final camp before Ellis had to pick her World Cup roster. Krieger admits the call-up was as out of the blue as it seemed for fans and journalists – but she was ready for it, thanks in part to her then-fiancée, Harris.Everyone knows how the story ends by now: Krieger ultimately did make the World Cup roster, and together Krieger and Harris lifted their second World Cup trophy together after winning in 2015.But Krieger’s experience being cut from the team wasn’t entirely negative. It helped her and Harris envision their lives after soccer. After all, the USWNT players know their soccer careers are temporary and they still have the rest of their lives together.Krieger began doing work as a studio analyst for BeIN Sports and Major League Soccer, she launched her own youth soccer camp program called AKFC, and she completed coach license courses.
“It was an opportunity for her to figure out a little more of herself and what life was going to be like outside the national team,” Harris says. “Was it hard for her? Yeah, but she was still fine. She was doing all these things and she was thriving because people like her, with her mental strength, she’s going to be OK.”For now, the couple is focused on getting through CONCACAF qualifying for the Olympics, where the USWNT beat Haiti to open the campaign Tuesday and faces Panama on Friday. After that, they will try to make the Olympic roster and then attempt to do what no team has ever done by winning a gold medal after winning a World Cup. A honeymoon for the couple will come sometime after that, when it can truly be stress-free, Krieger says. Where the pair ends up longer-term after they hang up their cleats is still up in the air, but everything they’ve been up to – playing soccer, being spokeswomen, and so on – will help them get there.“Everything we do is building a future,” Harris says. “To me, the possibilities are endless.”
Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.
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