More than three years ago, on the last day of Group A play in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship, the United States needed to beat El Salvador for a place in the semifinals. With a 3-2 lead in second-half stoppage time that objective looked entirely attainable. Then, Jaime Alas struck for the equalizer, sending the Cuscatlecos to the second stage. Thoughts of that day in Nashville need to be exiled if the U.S. is to book a ticket to Rio 2016, but judging from the squad assembled by head coach Andreas Herzog, the talent is there to do so. Forward Jordan Morris is the only non-professional in the side, but he’s already acquired significant experience with the full national team (6 caps). The Stanford University standout, 20, netted in a 2-1 win over Mexico last April. Days after that encounter, when the nations met in an under-23 friendly, he scored again. If Morris is to make an impression in this competition, 18-year-old midfield maestro Gedion Zelalem may just be the one to pave the way. Although eligible to represent multiple countries, the Arsenal youth star (currently on loan to Rangers in Scotland) declared for the U.S. and competed in the FIFA U-20 World Cup earlier this year. Towering central defender Matt Miazga has played a key role in the New York Red Bulls’ success in Major League Soccer this season (25 appearances, 23 starts) and could establish himself as a future CONCACAF star.
Player to Track: MF Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake/USA)