Five things to know as USMNT’s U-23s aim to qualify for Olympics

The United States men’s national team’s depth will be on full display when the club’s U-23 side attempts to qualify for this summer’s Olympics beginning Thursday in Mexico.

[ MORE: How to watch Olympic qualifying ]

But the Yanks will also be fighting history, having made just one Olympics in the last 21 years.

It’s going to be fun, for sure, but also tense. And here’s what you need to know about Jason Kreis’ red, white, and blue players heading south of the border.

1. History looms over the proceedings

The United States men have failed to quality for three of the last four Olympics, a tournament which has been viewed as the foundation for several strong national team runs around the world.

The Yanks finished just off the podium in 2000 and spun that into… nothing in 2004 and a group stage exit in 2008 before failing to make it out of qualifying in 2012 and 2016.

Some notable coaches failed this test, including Caleb Porter and Andi Herzog.

Kreis is headed to Inter Miami to help show Phil Neville the ways of Major League Soccer after this, but it’s not difficult to see his star rising a bit higher if he leads the U.S. not only to the tournament but deep into it.

2. The U.S. are heavy favorites to qualify and contend in Japan, but it takes just one slip to deny “Golden Generation” that chance.

There’s a pretty screwy facet of qualification here.

The U.S. can beat Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Mexico decisively in the Group A matches Thursday, Sunday, and March 24, but losing the March 28 semifinal to their Group B opponents would render all of those wins useless.

So before we find out which three players above 24 years old can make Kreis’ side, and which of the big group of players still with their clubs can join the squad in Japan — we’re talking names like Reyna, Richards, Aaronson, Musah, Weah, etc. — the Yanks have to somehow manage not to have an off day (at least one specific off day).

3. The Olympics will be the jump-off for at least one future star.

If you want to know a bit about what Olympic can success can signal about a career, look no further than 2012 and 2016.

  • Serge Gnabry rode six goals with Germany into a breakout season with Werder Bremen after the 2016 Summer Games.
  • Heung-min Son was coming off his first Premier League season in 2016, which saw four goals and an assist in 1,103 minutes. His second? Fourteen and eight in 2,066.
  • Mohamed Salah’s three goals at the 2012 tournament took Egypt to the quarterfinals, where they lost to Japan. Four days later, he made his Basel debut.

So it’s in the dreams of every U.S. player to use the Games as a springboard to something huge, whether Johnny Cardoso of Internacional or Hassani Dotson of Minnesota United.

When you consider that Brazil got to these Olympics with Matheus Cunha and Reinier, Spain with Dani Olmo and Dani Ceballos, France with Dayot Upamecano and Houssem Aouar, and Germany with Florian Neuhaus, and Italy couldn’t do it…

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