Efrain Álvarez left off US Olympic soccer training roster

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NEW YORK (AP) — LA Galaxy midfielder Efrain Álvarez was left off the United States 31-man training roster ahead of Olympic qualifying for North and Central America and the Caribbean after being included by both the Americans and Mexico on preliminary squads.

In addition, three Atlanta players on the roster are not being released by the team for the camp: defenders George Bello and Miles Robinson, and forward Brooks Lennon, leaving their availability for the tournament unlikely.

U.S. coach Jason Kreis said Monday that Álvarez was not ready to make a national team choice. Kreis called it ”a very, very difficult and personal decision.”

“He’s decided that he wasn’t ready to commit to one team or another, which puts us in a very hopeful position,” Kreis said. “We would like him to be part of the U.S. men’s national teams programs.”

Now 18, Álvarez played for the U.S. at an under-15 tournament in 2016, then switched to Mexico and played for El Tri at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup. He attended U.S. national team training in December but did not appear in the exhibition against El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Kreis thought before last weekend the Atlanta players would be available for training. Kreis said the MLS team wanted to keep them ahead of its CONCACAF Champions League opener against Costa Rica’s Alajuelense on April 6. Robinson likely would have been a starting central defender.

“Unfortunate situation for us. Unfortunate situation for the players, but ultimately as a former MLS coach I think that we respect their decision,” Kreis said.

Just 12 of the players were on the 20-man U.S. roster for qualifying when it was first scheduled for last March, a tournament postponed because of the pandemic.

The eight on the roster then who are not now included defenders Reggie Cannon (Portugal’s Boavista), Chris Gloster (the Netherlands’ PSV Eindhoven), Mark McKenzie (Belgium’s Genk) and Erik Palmer-Brown (Austria Vienna), and midfielder Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), who are with European clubs.

PSV Eindhoven midfielder Richie Ledezma tore an ACL in December and Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal is recovering from hip surgery in September to repair his labrum.

“We’ve gained players that have a tremendous amount of experience in MLS this past year,” Kreis said. “We’ve got I think arguably probably a more experienced group as far as how many of these players have played lots of matches in the last year to two years. But ultimately it looks a little different from a top-end perspective, perhaps. So, a deeper group.”

Portland forward Jeremy Ebobisse was not picked after Kreis concluded during a January training camp that he was more of a central player, where he was behind on the depth chart, and not a winger.

The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. The senior U.S. team failed to reach the 2018 World Cup.

“What it is for me is just to right some wrongs,” Kreis said. “We have sort of the first opportunity to make a major step forward in qualifying for a major tournament.”

Teams are not required to release players for Olympic qualifying or for the Olympics. Among the top U.S. players not included were Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna and Josh Sargent, Sergiño Dest, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson, Owen Otasowie, Yunas Musah and Nicholas Gioacchini.

The only non-Major League Soccer players on the roster are Internacional (Brazil) midfielder Johnny Cardoso, Heerenveen forward Ulysses Llanez, Pumas forward Sebastian Saucedo and Norwich forward Sebastian Soto.

Thirteen of the players have appeared for the senior U.S. national team.

Among those not included who were on the preliminary roster were Álvarez, Aronson, Ebobisse and Gloster plus Europe-based defender Bryan Reynolds (Roma), midfielder Brandon Servania (St. Pölten) and forward Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona) along with goalkeepers Drake Callender (Miami) and Brady Scott (Austin); defenders Kyle Duncan (New York Red Bulls), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus), Donovan Pines (D.C.), James Sands (New York City); midfielders Gianluca Busio (Kansas City), Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls), Keaton Parks (New York City) and forward Cade Cowell (San Jose),

Players will train in Mexico. Final 20-man rosters are due March 8, though substitutions can be made before the opener.

The U.S. opens Group A against Costa Rica on March 18 at the CONCACAF tournament in Guadalajara. The Americans play the Dominican Republic on March 21 and complete Group A on March 24 against host Mexico. The top two teams in each group advance, and the semifinal winners qualify for the Olympics.

Following the pandemic-caused postponement, FIFA kept the same eligibility rules that were first established, saying players must be born after Jan. 1, 1997.

For the 16 nations reaching the Olympics, each may include three players over the age limit.

CONCACAF qualifiers will join Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, Ivory Coast, Japan, New Zealand, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Spain

The roster:

Goalkeepers: Matt Freese (Philadelphia), Jonathan Klinsmann (LA Galaxy), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose), David Ochoa (Salt Lake)

Defenders: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy.), George Bello (Atlanta), Marco Farfan (LA), Justen Glad (Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera (Salt Lake), Henry Kessler (New England), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago), Miles Robinson (Atlanta), Austin Trusty (Colorado), Sam Vines (Colorado)

Midfielders: Frankie Amaya (Cincinnati), Cole Bassett (Colorado), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional, Brazil), Hassani Dotson (Minnesota),Andrés Perea (Orlando), Tanner Tessmann (Dallas), Eryk Williamson (Portland), Jackson Yueill (San Jose)

Forwards: Jesus Ferreira (Dallas), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado), Ulysses Llanez (Heerenveen, Netherlands), Benji Michel (Orlando), Djordje Mihailovic (Montreal), Ricardo Pepi (Dallas), Sebastian Saucedo (Pumas, Mexico), Sebastian Soto (Norwich, England)

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