Last week, Concacaf announced the official schedule and matchups for the upcoming men’s Olympic qualifying tournament. The United States Men’s U-23 National Team will face Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico between March 18 and March 24. The short tournament could impact the start of Orlando City’s 2021 MLS season.
After a three-game group stage, the group winners and runners-up will face off in the semifinals on March 28. That will be followed by a final on March 30. The teams advancing to the final will qualify for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
The timing of the qualifying tournament could have an impact for Orlando City’s first game. The MLS regular season is set to begin on April 3, the weekend following the Tuesday night final. The impact for the Lions is that there could be as many as three players competing for the United States.
U.S. Soccer recently wrapped up a U-23 and senior team training camp that ended with a game at Exploria Stadium against Trinidad and Tobago. Daryl Dike, Benji Michel, and Andres Perea were all involved in the camp. Dike and Perea appeared in the second half for the United States in the friendly.
There’s a decent chance that at least two of those players will travel to Guadalajara, Mexico to take part in the qualifying tournament. That could result in them playing five games in 13 days, followed by a long flight back to Orlando to prepare for the start of the season. It would be a lot to ask for players to play that kind of schedule, fly back in from out of the country, and be ready to go for opening day. Plus, COVID-19 quarantine issues are still a consideration.
Currently, Dike is on loan at Barnsley FC in England, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be with the club when the season starts. However, the club made sure to include a right to recall, meaning that it can bring him back if needed. It wouldn’t be surprising for him to travel to the tournament from England and return to Orlando following his international stint.
The MLS preseason is set to begin on Feb. 22. While Michel and Perea could begin preseason training with the team, it won’t be long before they depart to join the U-23 team if called up. That means they’ll miss a good chunk of the preseason.
While missing Dike, Michel, and Perea would be disappointing, it won’t be nearly as bad as it could be. For one, all three players have at least one full season under their belts with the club and coaching staff. If this was occurring a year earlier, it would be detrimental for them to miss the preseason. It could have been several weeks before they would’ve been ready to contribute. Playing under Oscar Pareja last season will significantly lessen the time needed to prepare for the regular season.
When the U.S. U-23 National Team takes the field to qualify for the 2021 Olympic Games, there could be as many as three Lions with on the roster. While the inclusion of Orlando City players would result in great pride for the fans, it could also cause some adversity the team would have to overcome. It will make for an interesting start to a highly anticipated season.