The United States is making the 2016 Olympics a major priority, but qualifying for the event begins before the FIFA international window kicks in. So what kind of team will the Americans have available to them from the start of the CONCACAF U-23 Championship, which serves as the Olympic qualifying tournament? Jurgen Klinsmann is hoping it will be a very strong one, but that will take a lot of help from the players' clubs.
"The Olympic qualifiers start outside of the FIFA window and we badly need those players to qualify for Rio de Janeiro," Klinsmann said on U.S. Soccer.com. "Hopefully we get the support from all the clubs to get the players in. It’s going to be an extremely busy time period, we just hope we get all the players on board and get the job done."
The qualifying tournament begins on October 1 and the FIFA international window doesn't start until October 5. That means the U.S. may not have some of their best players like Gedion Zelalem, Rubio Rubin and Emerson Hyndman on the squad for their first two matches. But while teams are obligated to release players during international windows, they can willingly release players outside of them so it's possible that they oblige.
It's tough to guess whether Rangers will release Zelalem early. He just joined them on loan so his importance to the team is unclear. Rubin has been used off the bench for FC Utrecht so if his role remains the same, they could let him go, but he made some starts last season and if his place in the team grows then they may choose to hold onto him. Right now, Hyndman is with Fulham's U-21's so they'd probably release him as early as the U.S. asks for.
There is also the matter of the MLS players. There will be only one month left in the season at that point and playoff spots will be on the line so will the Columbus Crew let Wil Trapp go, or will Real Salt Lake allow Luis Gil to miss an extra match? U.S. Soccer and MLS have always worked together, but when a playoff spot clashes with Olympic qualifying, there's no telling whether MLS clubs will acquiesce to U.S. Soccer on their key players.
The U.S. missed out on qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, dealing the American youth program a big hit. In the wake of that, Jurgen Klinsmann made the U-23 age group a priority, starting a year-round U-23 team for the first time and assigning his top assistant, Andi Herzog to coach it. To qualify for Rio de Janiero is a major deal and while they can probably get through the first two matches, then bring in their best players during the FIFA window and qualify, that's hardly ideal.
Klinsmann and Co. will have a lot of negotiating to do in the next six weeks.