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The implications of a delayed Olympics for the U-23s

A healthy list of players could now be ineligible if rules aren’t amended.

Soccer: International Friendly Soccer-Brazil at USA Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Summer Olympics, which were set to begin July 24th in Tokyo, have now been postponed until sometime in 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Because of the postponement, many questions will arise over how the rules will be shifted to the new date of the Summer Games, particularly in men’s soccer.

Currently, the men’s soccer competition is restricted to a U-23 team with up to 3 players over the age of 23 being allowed on the team. However, Olympic qualification did not allow the 3 overage players, leaving anyone eligible to play on the U-23s as the player pool from which a team could be selected. This year, all players born after January 1, 1997 were in the eligible player pool.

With the Olympics now moving to 2021, the biggest question is whether those players who were born in 1997 will still be eligible, as they would have been this summer, or if FIFA will mandate they age out and shift the eligible pool to players born after January 1, 1998. For the United States U-23s, that could mean an important group of players would not be eligible to compete in next summer’s Olympics.

Here is a list of the players that would be ineligible to compete next year in the Olympics should FIFA keep the U-23 rule in place:

Mukwelle Akale
Drake Callender
Cameron Carter-Vickers
Hassani Dotson
Kyle Duncan
Jeremy Ebobisse
Justen Glad
Andrew Gutman
Niko Hämäläinen
Aaron Herrera
Derrick Jones
Jonathan Klinsmann
Brooks Lennon
Jonathan Lewis
Cameron Lindley
JT Marcinkowski
Benji Michel
Erik Palmer-Brown
Keaton Parks
Antonee Robinson
Miles Robinson
Emmanuel Sabbi
Sebastian Saucedo
Auston Trusty
Justin Vom Steeg
Eryk Williamson
Jackson Yueill
Gedion Zelalem

Quite a bit of experience would be missing should this group be deemed too old to compete in Olympic qualifying and the Olympics as part of the eligible pool, with several players from that group having caps, and even starts, with the USMNT. Many others are established starters on their respective club teams. However, it will be on FIFA to determine if players that would have been eligible as a U-23 player for this year’s Olympics will still be eligible next year. While it’s an IOC-run tournament, the eligibility rules are set by FIFA (who do not want the Olympics on the men’s side to overshadow the World Cup).

If FIFA allows players born in 1997 to play in the delayed 2020 Olympics in Japan, U.S. U-23 head coach Jason Kreis will be able to call upon some of that experience whenever CONCACAF Olympic qualifying is rescheduled. It would also mean that should the team qualify, he could use his overage slots for other players that he thinks would round out the roster. If FIFA decides to continue to make it U-23, eliminating those players born in 1997, Kreis will have to look at the younger players to step up and lead the team to qualification. There’s also the reality that next summer will be incredibly busy, with a rescheduled Euro 2020 and Copa América joining the FIFA Club World Cup and the CONCACAF Gold Cup in creating a busy schedule that will stretch player pools thin.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues, it’s still too early to think about what the roster will look like should the U-23s join the USWNT in the Olympics. Still, FIFA should be considering what to do about the U-23 rule for this Olympics, as for several players, the opportunity to represent their country at the quadrennial tournament hangs in the balance.