Top young U.S. men’s players uncertain for Olympic soccer

In this Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019 file photo, Chelsea's Christian Pulisic, center, vies for the ball with Leicester's Ricardo Pereira, left, in front of Leicester's goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, right, during an English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Leicester City. (Frank Augstein, File, AP)

CHICAGO — If the U.S. qualifies for this year’s Olympic men’s soccer tournament, it might decide that Christian Pulisic is better off remaining with Chelsea than going to Tokyo.

“We might have the influence of a player going to the Olympics but not playing for a longer period of time leading into World Cup qualifiers and even into a World Cup later on,” U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart said Monday.

The U.S. has failed to advance from the region’s last two men’s Olympic qualifying tournaments, which are limited to players under 23. The Americans are in a difficult group with Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic, starting play March 30 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

While much of qualifying occurs during a FIFA match window, the Americans’ March 20 opener against Costa Rica conflicts with club dates. Unlike national teams, clubs do not have to release players for Olympic teams. That means the U.S. could be without its top players under 23, a group that includes Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest and Josh Sargent.

Stewart spoke during a conference call with new men’s national team general manager Brian McBride, who was hired Friday. McBride’s contract runs through the 2002 World Cup.

McBride retired as a player after the 2010 season. He met with Jurgen Klinsmann about a possible job when Klinsmann coached the U.S. from 2011-17, but the position never developed.

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