U-23 MNT Players Making Their Case for March Olympic Qualifiers

Five weeks away from the Olympic Qualifying playoff against Colombia, U.S. Soccer technical director Jurgen Klinsmann is pleased to see many U-23 players having an opportunity to perform in their European club campaigns.

“Having our Under-23 players being involved in several clubs in Europe right now is very important to us,” Klinsmann said. “We have a good group of young players coming through the ranks, and they are fighting their way through.”

While earning playing time and ‘proving your point’ are a primary focus, a larger question looms for U-23 head coach Andi Herzog and his staff: getting players released for the games themselves. FIFA regulations do not require the release of players for youth national teams, even though they fall on recognized dates set aside for international competitions. Many in the U.S. pool were not released for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament last October, so a lot of work is being done to work with clubs ahead of these critical matches.

“Obviously we have the issue that their release is not mandatory, so hopefully we can get that done,” said Klinsmann. “We really rely on the willingness from their clubs to let them go; players like Matt Miazga from Chelsea, with Emerson Hyndman from Fulham, with Ethan Horvath from Molde and so on.”

Horvath in particular, a 20-year-old goalkeeper playing for Molde in Norway, has captured Klinsmann’s attention. Honed at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy club Real Colorado, he backstopped Molde in their first-place finish in Group A of the Europa League ahead of legendary clubs Ajax and Celtic and on to the knockout phase.

“Playing in the Europa League against Sevilla with his club in the next round is wonderful to watch,” Klinsmann said of Horvath ahead of their Europa League matchup with Sevilla. “Having him play week in and week out in the league in Norway, but especially now in the Europa League, is big. So we’re going to go there and watch him and we’ll keep our fingers cross for him that things are going well and take it from there.”

While Horvath has never played for the Senior Team, a strong showing in the Qualifying and beyond could lead to an opportunity down the road.

“It’s really encouraging for us because obviously we have Tim Howard, we have Brad Guzan, but we also need a new, younger generation of goalkeepers coming through, and Ethan is the number one in that term for our Olympic team,” Klinsmann added.

Earlier this month, Klinsmann lauded the success of a first-ever mixed January Camp featuring both MNT and U-23 MNT players, a majority of which are U.S.-based.

“I think it gave the younger players a real boost of confidence, of understanding of how it really works with the experienced guys,” Klinsmann stated following the end of camp. “We really hope that all the work we put in now these four weeks for these younger players will eventually pay off in the qualifiers with Colombia.”

The U-23 MNT will travel to Barranquilla, Colombia for the first leg of a home-and-home playoff on March 25 and return for the second match on March 29 in Frisco, Texas to determine the final berth in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August. [TICKETS]