Reggie Cannon, Ulysses Llanez headline U.S. U-23 roster for Olympic qualifying

USMNT starter Reggie Cannon headlines the U.S. under-23 team roster for CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament. (Matthew Ashton/Getty)

United States men’s national teamers Reggie Cannon, Ulysses Llanez, Paxton Pomykal and Jackson Yueill headline the U.S. under-23 squad that later this month will try to qualify the Americans for an Olympics for the first time since 2008.

U-23 coach Jason Kreis selected 20 players for CONCACAF’s men’s Olympic qualifying tournament, which will be held — pending any change because of the coronavirus outbreak — in Guadalajara, Mexico from March 20-April 1.

The U.S. will meet Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and the host nation in group play, with the top two finishers moving on to the regional semifinals. The winners of the two semis will advance to July’s Summer Games in Tokyo. Here’s the full squad:

  • Goalkeepers: Matt Freese, Philadelphia Union; JT Marcinkowski, San Jose Earthquakes; David Ochoa, Real Salt Lake

  • Defenders: Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas; Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake; Chris Gloster, PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands); Aaron Herrera, Real Salt Lake; Mark McKenzie, Philadelphia Union; Erik Palmer-Brown, Austria Wien (Austria);

  • Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson, Philadelphia Union; Hassani Dotson, Minnesota United; Richard Ledezma, PSV Eindhoven; Djordje Mihailovic, Chicago Fire; Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas; Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes 

  • Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse, Portland Timbers; Jesús Ferreira, FC Dallas; Jonathan Lewis, Colorado Rapids; Ulysses Llanez, Wolfsburg (Germany); Sebastian Saucedo, Pumas (Mexico)

“With a lot of games in a short amount of time, we will need the contributions of all 20 players on this roster to achieve our ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo,” Kreis said in a press release.

Cannon, 21, has been USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter’s first-choice right back since last summer’s Gold Cup. Yueill has also emerged as a regular starter within Berhalter’s group, Llanez scored the winning goal last month in his debut with the senior side, a year-opening 1-0 friendly victory over Costa Rica. The 18-year-old Wolfsburg youth team prospect is one of four European-based players Kreis was able to secure releases for ahead of the U-23 tourney. Three invitees who did not participate in the January camp, Ebobisse, Lewis and Palmer-Brown, also have previous experience with the varsity.

Top age-eligible players such as 21-year-old trio Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig) and Weston McKennie (Schalke), as well as 20-year-old striker Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), are all important contributors to their clubs, which are under no obligation to release them to youth national teams under FIFA rules. Same goes for teenagers Sergino Dest and Giovanni Reyna, who have broken into the first teams with Champions League mainstays Ajax and Borussia Dortmund this season. If healthy, all those players would be expected to join the USMNT for friendlies at Wales and the Netherlands that coincide with Olympic qualifying. (Berhalter has already confirmed Reyna’s invite.)

But fully half of Kreis’ team also took part in the senior U.S. team’s annual January training camp. Three invitees who did not participate in the January camp, Ebobisse, Lewis and Palmer-Brown, also have previous experience with the varsity.

The U.S. U-23s were unable to reach London 2012 or Rio 2016 despite hosting the qualifying tournaments for those events, failures that foreshadowed the senior team’s World Cup qualifying disaster in 2017. After a surprise run to the semifinals at Sydney 2000, the Americans also fell short in 2004, the last time qualifying was held in Guadalajara.