Editor’s note: The Fanpost of the Week article has come a bit late, but this one by our very own Justin Moran (aka kick swish) was great at breaking down the potential options for Olympic qualifying. The United States U-23s could go in a variety of ways!
When Jason Kreis named his 20-man roster for Olympic qualifying in March 2020, he named 15 players from MLS, 4 from Europe (Erik Palmer-Brown, Chris Gloster, Richy Ledezma, and Uly Llanez), and one from Mexico (Sebastian Saucedo). It’s generally understood that most European clubs aren’t willing to release players who get any sort of regular minutes for this competition.
Now, obviously the U-23 pool has changed quite a bit in the last 10 months. For one thing, Mark McKenzie, Reggie Cannon, and Brenden Aaronson have left MLS for Europe. But there’s been lots of other movement as well. If I had to guess who Jason Kreis is looking at now, my guess is it would be something like this:
Players in red are currently injured (at least I think James Sands is hurt), and blue are dual-national battles (Efrain Alvarez would need to file a one-time switch to play for the US, and Ayo Akinola is/was in Canada’s January camp). You’ll notice only two players on this list come from outside MLS: Sebastian Saucedo at UNAM Pumas in Liga MX, and Erik Palmer-Brown at Austria Wien. I assume both are available because their clubs released them last year, and their club situations haven’t changed much since then.
However, before we just settle on this list, I sometimes find it helpful to zoom way out and take a macro-look at the pool. Here’s a deeper depth chart. Defenders:
And the rest:
Whew. That’s a lot of players. I grayed out players who I’m pretty confident would not be released by their clubs. Even with those guys removed, though, we still have a lot of interesting options. And if you’ve stuck with me this far, congratulations: this is where it gets fun. Let’s talk about some specific players who could be brought in for qualifying.
Joe Gallardo - Winger
Gallardo was a US U-17 hero, scoring 14 goals in 17 games between 2013 and 2015 while in the Monterrey youth system. However, his club career never really took off, as he left Monterrey for Orlando City’s academy, eventually signing a deal with their B team in USL, before leaving for SIMA Aguilas in USL League Two (4th division). That was his lowest point, as in 2019, he signed with Richmond Kickers of USL League One (3rd division), and displayed the talent that he’d shown so well with the U17s.
As a result of his 2019 season, he moved up to Real Monarchs in the USL Championship (2nd division), and in this transfer window, he become a top target for multiple clubs in Liga MX, eventually signing a multi-year deal with Queretaro, who had finished 4th, 12th, and 17th out of 18 in the last 3 seasons. This year Queretaro are off to a strong start in Liga MX, winning 2 of their first 3 games, and Gallardo has been a late-game sub in 2 of those 3 as well.
Alejandro Zendejas - Winger
Alex Zendejas is an FC Dallas academy product, who signed a homegrown deal with FCD before moving to Chivas in Liga MX. His last US camp was with the U20’s in 2016, and he was called into Mexico U21 camp in 2017. He never broke through at Chivas, but in 2020 had a successful loan to Necaxa, scoring 3 times in 15 games and earning a Mexico U23 callup. In 2021, Necaxa brought Zendejas on a permanent deal, and since signing on he has 1 goal in 3 games so far this year. Check em out:
Jose Gallegos - Winger
You’ve probably heard of Jose Gallegos by now. The 19-year-old was playing high school soccer before being signed by San Antonio FC in the USL Championship. He’s already made 39 appearances for San Antonio, scoring 4 goals and generally humiliating defenders. He hasn’t completely put together his skillset, and needs to work on finishing and his final pass, but his ability on the ball is unreal. He was called into the US U20’s in March before everything was shutdown due to covid, and there’s no reason he can’t compete for a spot with our best domestic U23’s.
Noah Powder - Left Back
We have a problem at left back. Our top options are Antonee Robinson (definitely unavailable for this tournament), Chris Gloster (hopefully he moves from PSV and is unavailable for this tournament), and George Bello (hopefully the starter for this tournament). Then there’s Sam Vines, who is a defensive stalwart but limited going forward. I’ve been scouring the player pool for a talented domestic U23 attacking left back, and who did I come across but Noah Powder!
The 22-year-old has been plying his trade in USL since 2016, first with Red Bulls II before moving on to Orange County SC, Real Monarchs, and in 2021 was signed to an RSL first-team contract. He has 8 caps and 2 goals for the Trinidad U20’s, and just yesterday was called up to Trinidad’s full national team for the friendly with the USMNT to cap off January camp, so we’ll get a chance to see him in person. I don’t know if he would take the call-up, but he’s definitely worth a shot.
The wingers are the exciting ones, but there are several other players who could potentially feature and be upgrades over some of our MLS depth options:
- CB Michael Edwards, 20 - been in the Wolfsburg youth system and with Wolfsburg II, rumored to move stateside. Either way he could be available.
- LB Chris Gloster, 20 - doesn’t look like he’s in the plans for PSV. Hopefully he moves to another European club (rumors say SondersjkyE in Denmark), but if doesn’t find a landing spot abroad, he could be available.
- CM Alex Mendez, 20 - plays for Jong Ajax in the Eerste Divisie, but I think Ajax could spare him for the tournament if covid protocols wouldn’t keep him out of action for too long.
- CM Bryang Kayo, 18 - made headlines when he jumped straight to Wolfsburg’s second team upon joining them, not their U19s. Was in January camp with the U23s, could be back in March.
- AM/W Caden Clark, 17 - you all know Caden, he scored a couple bangers with the Red Bulls in 2020. Wasn’t called up in December or January, but is an option in March.
- AM Hassan Ayari, 18 - the Tunisian dual-national scored a brace in his first appearance with the Sheffield United U23’s not long ago.
- AM/W Efrain Alvarez, 18 - very little needs to be said about Efra, except that it would require a one-time switch for him to play for us.
- ST Johan Gomez, 19 - the FC Dallas academy product moved to FC Porto and has experienced a rapid rise there, from playing with the U19’s to the B team bench, to playing (and scoring) for the B team.
That’s it, that’s all I got. What do you think of these players, and who would you take to Olympic qualifying?