By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – The United States men’s under-23 soccer team are aiming to make up for past disappointments, coach Jason Kreis said on Monday as his squad gathered in Mexico for a training camp ahead of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
With the U.S. women having already earned their spot at this year’s rescheduled Tokyo Games, the men will try to do the same and qualify for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Olympics if they can reach the final of the March 18-30 competition.
“I see it as opportunity, I presented it to the guys that we have a chance to sort of not rewrite history but take a major step forward,” said Kreis, during a media call from Guadalajara.
“I don’t think any of us should feel any real onus about what has happened four years, eight years ago, none of us were part of that.
“What it is for me is just kind of right some wrongs.”
The U.S. open against Costa Rica on March 18, then face the Dominican Republic on March 21 before wrapping up Group A play against arch-rivals Mexico on March 24.
Group B includes Canada, Honduras, Haiti and El Salvador.
The top two in each group advance to the semi-finals with the winners of those two contests securing tickets to Tokyo.
Originally scheduled for last year, the qualifying tournament was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result the U.S. squad will have a very different look from the one that might have been selected.
Most of the 31 players called up this time were taken from Major League Soccer rosters with only five based outside the U.S.
Eight players from the 20-man squad named last year are not in Guadalajara.
Another notable absentee is 18-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy standout midfielder Efrain Alvarez, who is eligible to play for both Mexico and the U.S. and according to Kreis is not yet ready to commit to one national team.
Galaxy’s Jonathan Klinsmann, son of former Germany international and World Cup winner Juergen, is one of four goalkeepers in the squad looking to earn Olympic spots.
“The team feels different in a lot of ways,” said Kreis, who will trim his squad to 20 players by March 15. “There’s a host of players that weren’t available this year that were available last year.
“Ultimately it looks a little different from the top end perspective perhaps. At the end of the day I still feel very good about the talent level we have.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)