Christian Pulisic: “I think the Olympics is something that is of course a massive honor and to represent your country and in Olympics would be amazing.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Talk about putting the cart in front of the horse.
The United States hasn’t qualified for the Tokyo Olympics just yet, but reporters are asking American players if they want to play and coaches about what players should go.
The U.S. Under-23 national team is in position to reach the Summer Games by defeating either Honduras or Canada in the semifinals of the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Guadalajara, Mexico Sunday night.
When the question of whether they would like to participate in the Olympics if the USA qualified, players of course said yes – with a caveat.
“I think the Olympics is something that is of course a massive honor and to represent your country and in Olympics would be amazing,” U.S. men’s international midfielder Christian Pulisic said during a Wednesday Zoom call with the media. “Fully supporting the guys qualifying now as well. I mean. It’s something I’ve thought about and I’ve wanted to play. Obviously, I can’t control exactly what goes on and what is best for me at the time and what’s best for the team at the time.”
Midfielder Yunus Musah, who announced last week he was going to play with the U.S. men’s national team and not, for example, England, had similar sentiments.
“I’m just trying to do my best for the U.S. whenever I’m required to do so,” he said. “If that’s the Olympic [team], then I’ll be more than happy to plan and be involved in it.”
Besides Pulisic, several Under-23 players are performing at a high level with some of the best European clubs and/or leagues,, such as Weston McKennie (Juventus), Sergino Dest (Barcelona), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) and Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), among others.
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter stressed the team had to qualify first. Then comes a lot of thinking which players would be best suited and negotiations with their respective clubs.
“The first thing is we’re not there yet,” he said. “So, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I don’t want to jinx anything. But the other side of is I’m not the one to answer that question or want to answer that question or the players clubs because we have to sit then have conversations with these clubs.”
The USMNT program already has a full calendar this year with Concacaf Nations League, the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying, which begins in September.
Now, U.S. Soccer certainly wouldn’t be against the U-23 side joining the U.S. women’s national team in Japan this summer but securing players – U-23’s and three overage players – makes for an intriguing challenge and negotiations with European clubs.
Berhalter feared he would be asking too much of the clubs.
“So, what do you think, guys, you want to release your players to the Olympics?” he said as though he was talking to team technical directors and coaches.
“And what are they going to say? Right? I mean, it’s an uphill battle that we’re fighting. If we’re in a perfect world, I would love there would nothing more I’d like to see that our best group compete in the Olympics. It would be amazing. I’m just not sure that’s going to happen. I’m not sure that the clubs are going to allow the players to go.”
In a separate press conference after the U-23’s defeat to Mexico Wednesday night, head coach Jason Kreis was asked what players he would use at the Tokyo Summer games.
“I … don’t know the answer to how many players are in Europe will be in the Olympics,” he said. “I mean it’s just to say that if we get to the Olympics, we’re going to do everything we can to put our best team together to go after success there. So, yes, ultimately we’re going to hope that there’ll be some European-based players that will be available. And ultimately, there will also be a lot of these guys in the roster as well.”
The U.S. men last qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.