Soto, Llanez join MLS youth on USA Olympic qualifying team

Washington (AFP) – Sebastian Soto of England’s Norwich City and teen striker Ulysses Llanez of Dutch side Heerenveen were among 20 players named Thursday to the US men’s Olympic qualifying squad.

The under-23 lineup of US coach Jason Kreis, a mostly Major League Soccer squad trimmed from 28 hopefuls who began camp on March 1, will compete for a Tokyo Olympics berth from March 18-30 at Guadalajara, Mexico.

The eight-team event features two groups of four with the two top finishers in each group advancing to the semi-finals, where the winners qualify for Tokyo.

The USA men, who haven’t played in the Olympics since 2008, are in Group A with Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Mexico.

“We know that qualifying will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that we’re ready for,” Kreis said.

“We’ll need all 20 players on this roster to contribute for us to achieve our ultimate goal of qualifying for the Olympics.”

The North American Olympic qualifying tournament was originally scheduled for March 2020 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“After starting this journey nearly two years ago, we’re excited to get started with the tournament,” Kreis said. “We’ve had a productive training camp in Guadalajara and our players are hungry for the opportunity to compete.”

Soto, 20, was recalled to Norwich after scoring seven goals in 12 matches on loan for Dutch side Telstar while Llanez, 19, was loaned to the Dutch squad from Germany’s VfL Wolfsburg.

Others playing outside MLS on the squad include midfielders Johnny Cardoso of Brazil’s Internacional and Sebastian Saucedo of Mexico’s Pumas.

The tournament will be the first official competition with the American squad for two Colombian-born players, FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira, who became a US citizen in 2019, and Orlando City midfielder Andres Perea.

They were among six US squad players who took the field for the United States in a 7-0 friendly blanking of Trinidad and Tobago in January, with Ferreira and Jonathan Lewis scoring their first international goals and Perea and defender Aaron Hererra making their senior national team debuts.

In all, the USA roster has 11 capped senior level players.

GOALKEEPERS: Matt Freese (Philadelphia), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), Henry Kessler (New England), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago), Sam Vines (Colorado)

MIDFIELDERS: Johnny Cardoso (Internacional Brazil), Hassani Dotson (Minnesota), Ulysses Llanez (Heerenveen Netherlands), Djordje Mihailovic (Montreal), Andres Perea (Orlando), Sebastian Saucedo (Pumas Mexico), Jackson Yueill (San Jose)

FORWARDS: Jesus Ferreira (Dallas), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado), Benji Michel (Orlando City), Sebastian Soto (Norwich City England)

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