The 2015 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship kicks off on October 1st with eight teams, including the United States, competing for two spots in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
The U.S. is in Group A along with Panama, Cuba and Canada. Group B consists of Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Haiti. The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals.
The two teams that progress to the finals automatically qualify for the Olympics and the winner of the third place game will face Colombia in a playoff match, with the winner advancing to Rio 2016.
All rosters for the qualifying matches consists solely of U-23 players (the Olympics allows each team to have two players over the age of 23, the qualifying tournament doesn't).
This Olympic Qualifying tournament essentially serves as the U-23 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Although unlike the Gold Cup, in this qualification tournament there are only two groups each consisting of four teams.
The tournament is hosted by the U.S. and the USMNT will play two matches at Sporting Park and one at Commerce Park. The USMNT will be looking for redemption, after its failure to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics under former head coach Caleb Porter.
Current head coach, and former MetroStar, Tab Ramos should be confident in a squad that consists of many players who receive regular playing time for their club teams.
Group Stage Matches: U.S. v. Canada (October 1st), U.S. v. Cuba (October 3rd), U.S. v. Panama (October 6th)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Charlie Horton (Leeds; Cleveland Ohio), Ethan Horvath (Molde; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Zack Steffen (Freiburg; Downington, Pa.).
DEFENDERS (5): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; Westcliff on Sea, England), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls; Clifton, N.J.), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact; Woodbury, Minn.), William Packwood (Unattached; Concord, Mass.), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids; Brighton, Colo.)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes; Northville, Mich.), Gboly Ariyibi (Chesterfield; Arlington, Va.), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake; Garden Grove, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham; Dallas, Texas), Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes; Sunnyvale, Calif.), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire; Milwaukee, Wis.), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; Gahanna, Ohio), Gedion Zelalem (Rangers; Bethesda, Md.).
FORWARDS (4): Alonso Hernandez (C.D. Juarez; El Paso, Texas), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart; Berlin, Germany), Jordan Morris (Stanford; Mercer Island, Wash.), Maki Tall (FC Sion; Washington, D.C.).
While the roster features many talented players, the team is not at full strength. This qualification tournament doesn't occur during a FIFA break and therefore clubs are not required to release their players. This is likely the reason that U-23 regulars such as Rubio Rubin and Shane O'Neill aren't on the roster.
The U.S. has a relatively easy group and should defeat Cuba and a Canadian side that primarily consists of USL and NASL players as well as MLS reserves. The match against Panama will likely prove to be the most difficult of the group stage.
Almost the entire Panamanian team plays in Panamanian domestic league and while the team may not have many big names, it defeated Honduras twice in August before losing 5-0 to Mexico on September 6th. So while Panama may provide a stern test for the U.S., the U-23 Panamanian side isn't nearly as formidable as its senior national team.
Players to Watch:
Matt Miazga: Miazga has been one of the best center-backs in MLS and will look to continue his dominance. He was a defensive leader for the U-20 team at the World Cup this past summer and has been reportedly garnering interest from several European clubs including Swansea City.
Jordan Morris: Morris already has six caps for the senior national team and has four goals in eight U-23 appearances. He'll be expected to be the team's main goal scorer and without Rubio Rubin, Morris' performance will be key to the offensive success of the team.
Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath is starting to look like he has the potential to be the next great USMNT goalkepper. Horvath has been having an excellent season for Norwegian club Molde.
He has 4 shutouts in 12 league appearances, and recently helped Molde to a 3-1 victory over Fenerbache in the Europa League.
Horvath will anchor a defense that should be excellent. Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers formed an excellent partnership at the U-20 World Cup. Vickers is only 17, but looks poised for a bright future at Tottenham and is used to playing against older players.
Outside-backs Eric Miller and Dillon Serna are likely to start alongside Vickers and Miazga. Both have made a handful of substitute appearances this season for their respective MLS clubs.
The USMNT is expected to advance to the tournament final and secure a berth in the 2016 Olympics. However as seen with the senior national team, nothing should be taken for granted.
A possible match against Honduras or Costa Rica in the knockout rounds could cause the U.S. problems. However, at the very least this team should finish third and then face Colombia in a playoff match.