United States Men’s U23 coach Andi Herzog spoke to the media by conference call today, just one day before his squad take on Canada in the first game of Olympic Qualifying Group play tomorrow night in Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kansas.
The biggest news to emerge from the Herzog presser was the unavailability of goalkeeper Ethan Horvath for the team’s first two matches versus Canada on October 1 and Cuba on the 3rd, also at Sporting Park. The U.S. closes out group play against Panama on October 6 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce, City, Colorado.
With Horvath playing Europa League matches as the number one keeper with his Norwegian club Molde, Herzog admitted that he chose to “compromise” with Molde, so the U.S. will play the first two matches with just two keepers on the roster.
Zach Steffan impressed in the U.S. goal at the recent U20 World Cup, and given his familiarity with Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers, the U20 center back pair who are expected to start in this tournament, he may be Herzog’s choice ahead of Charlie Horton.
Goalkeeping certainly played a huge role in the team’s failure to qualify for London 2012, indeed the spectre of the Nightmare in Nashville will be hanging over its head tomorrow when the U.S. take to Sporting Park field in Kansas City to face Canada.
Sean Johnson’s inexplicable whiff in March 2012, on El Salvador’s Jaime Alas’ long range bouncer ended U.S. hopes of qualifying for London, embarrassing the team on home turf in the process.
Jurgen Klinsmann has said several times since that the failure to compete in the international showcase was a setback in the development of the players in that group and for that reason the U.S. MNT coach and Technical Director has made no secret of the importance to U.S. of qualifying for Rio 2016.
And Horvath is not the only player Herzog will be missing, with Julian Green, Shane O’Neill and Rubio Rubin the most prominent players absent from this U.S. roster.
Just over two years ago Green was the bright young thing of U.S. Soccer, plucked from Bayern Munich to score a World Cup goal against Belgium, but the young German-American has stagnated and Herzog admitted as much this afternoon.
Herzog cited a shoulder injury suffered by Green, an unsuccessful 2014 loan stint to Hamburg as well as Green’s unavailability for the recent U23 games in England, before conceding, “we were expecting a little bit more.”
Herzog made sure to add that, “he’s still young and for sure he will have a great future.”
Rubio’s absence was a simple case of his club (Utrecht) needing the young attacker, but Herzog was clearly unhappy that defender Shane O’Neill is not in Kansas City and available for selection.
Herzog called O’Neill, “one of our captain’s,” and made it clear that he holds Belgian club Royal Mouscron-Peruwelz responsible for the absence of the former Colorado Rapids defender.
Herzog explained the process saying that O’Neill, “had some injury problems and at the end he signed with a new club that didn’t want to release him, so they always told me he’s injured.”
According to Herzog the Belgian side told the coach that O’Neill needed a two week break, but the coach revealed that O’Neill, “told me he’s fine, so there was a lot of fights with his club.”
The upshot is that O’Neill will miss out and now comes news that fullback Eric Miller will not be on hand.
GotSoccer can confirm that the Montreal fullback has been recalled by the Impact, with reports out of Salt Lake that fullback Boyd Okwuonu has been called into the U.S. squad to replace Miller.
Miller was singled out for praise by Herzog after the recent games in England, so he will be a loss to the backline, but given the opposition, anything less than advancing to the semifinals would be deemed a failure.
Herzog expressed confidence in his young squad, mentioning Emerson Hyndman, Gedion Zelalem and Cameron Carter-Vickers as standouts, while stating that New York Red Bulls center back Matt Miazga, “has a future in the men’s national team in the next couple of months, not years.”
Herzog also revealed that he is happy with Arsenal wunderkind Gedion Zelalem’s loan move to Glasgow Rangers. “Yeah, I think for every young player the most important thing is to play.” “It was not easy to get the starting job at Arsenal,” where Herzog says the Gunners, “already have four or five world class players at his position.”
“I think it is good for him to make the loan deal with Glasgow Rangers,” Herzog said. “On one side he’s fighting for promotion to bring Rangers back to the best league in Scotland, on the other side it’s a tough league with a lot of hard working players, lot’s of battles, and that’s what he has to improve a little.”
Herzog is all too well aware of the expectations on his side, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s right hand man sounded confident during today’s conference call pronouncing himself, “really excited and very optimistic.”
Herzog, Austria’s most ever capped player, said of this team, “ I expect my team to have good control of the game, to dictate the rhythm of the game, especially in midfield and to create some chances.” “We have,” Herzog said, “some quality players, we have pace and speed up front, so I expect a lot.”
He’s not the only one.
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.)