Meet the U.S. U-23s’ group opponents

LesterBlanco (Reuters Pictures)

The group stage for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying is hours from getting underway, as the U.S. Under-23 men's national team faces Cuba in the opening match at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.

While Cuba may not seem like a challenging opponent, keep in mind that in 2008 the United States opened its qualifying campaign against Cuba and was held to a 1-1 draw before beating Panama and Honduras en route to the semifinals.

Canada and El Salvador boast a few more known commodities on their rosters, and with the United States being the favorite to win the group, both figure to duke it out for second place behind the Americans in Group A and a coveted spot in the tournament semifinals. But there's a reason they play the games on the field and not on paper.

Here's a closer look at the Cuba, Canada and El Salvador Under-23 national teams:


CUBA

Cuba brings a team of players that is entirely based domestically and is the least heralded of the eight teams in the qualifying tournament. 

Central midfielder Carlos Domingo Francisco was on Cuba's Gold Cup roster this past summer and started all three of the team's games in the group stage, while goalkeeper Julio Pichardo was also part of that team and started one game. 

Cuba's senior team ended that tournament 0-3 with a goal differential of -15, but the Caribbean nation's U-23 side boasts speed and an athletic squad that will try to stretch the U.S. defense.

Here is the full Cuba roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Odisnel Cooper (Camaguey), Julio Pichardo (Las Tunas).

DEFENDERS: Arturo Dizpes, Yoisel Salazar (Camaguey), Dayron Macías (Villa Clara), Yosmel de Armas (La Habana), Dayron Blanco (Las Tunas), Renay Mamblache (Holguin).

MIDFIELDERS: Osay Martínez (La Habana), Félix Guerra (Granma), Ricardo Peña (La Habana), Juan Carlos Fariñas (La Habana), Carlos Domingo Francisco (Santiago).

FORWARDS: Michael Chang (La Habana), Hevier Cordovés (La Habana), Maykel Reyes (Pinar del Rio), Arichel Hernández (Villa Clara), Danel Luis Sáez (Villa Clara).

CANADA

There's a heavy MLS presence on the Canadian roster, with seven MLS players and two out-of-contract players whose rights are owned by MLS clubs. 

The Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact each contribute multiple players to the roster, with Vancouver midfielders Russell Teibert and Bryce Alderson (the reigning Canadian U-17 Player of the Year), Toronto defender Doneil Henry and midfielder Matt Stinson and Montreal attackers Carl Haworth and Evan James all making the cut.

Four-year MLS veteran Nana Attakora is in club purgatory after not getting a new deal with the San Jose Earthquakes, but he still represents experience and talent along the back line. 

Up top, Canada is led by Marcus Haber and Randy Edwini-Bonsu, both of whom play professionally overseas and have experience with the senior national team. As for other players to watch, midfielder Samuel Piette plays in France for Ligue 2 side Metz, while defender Andres Fresenga and forward Lucas Cavallini play for clubs in Uruguay.

Here is the full Canada roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Adam Janssen (Minnesota Stars), Michal Misiewicz (FC Edmonton)

DEFENDERS: Andrés Fresenga (Racing Club de Montevideo), Nana Attakora (unattached), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC)

MIDFIELDERS: Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps), Kyle Bekker (Boston College), Bryce Alderson (Vancouver Whitecaps), Samuel Piette (FC Metz), Shaun Saiko (FC Edmonton), Philippe Davies (unattached), Sherif El-Masri (Young Lions), Drew Beckie (unattached), Matt Stinson (Toronto FC)

FORWARDS: Marcus Haber (St. Johnstone FC), Babayele Sodade (Seattle Sounders FC), Lucas Cavallini (Nacional), Carl Haworth (Montréal Impact), Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Eintracht Braunsweig), Evan James (Montréal Impact)

EL SALVADOR

The U-23s will wrap up group play against El Salvador, a team that features four players who just played for Metapan in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Pumas UNAM, a midfielder who played collegiately in the United States, and a player linked to the San Jose Earthquakes.

Headlining the team is Metapan striker Lester Blanco, who scored twice against Pumas in their first leg matchup. Midfielders Jorge Moran, Edwin Sanchez and defender Milton Molina were also part of the Metapan squad that bowed out in the quarterfinal round. Joining them is Earthquakes target Jaime Alas, a winger who plies his trade for Firpo, is experienced with the senior national team and was on trial with San Jose this winter.  

Two Salvadorans have played in the U.S. youth national team set-up, including midfielder Richard Menjivar, who played for Cal State Bakersfield and had four goals and four assists during his senior season in 2011, and Dustin Corea, who plays for Blokus FC in the Danish first division.

Here is the full El Salvador roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Diego Cuellar (Atlético Marte), Jimmy Cuellar (Alianza FC)

DEFENDERS: Alexander Vidal (Atlético Marte, Moisés Xavier García (Firpo), Alexander Mendoza (UES), Milton Molina (Metapán) 

MIDFIELDERS: Jaime Alas (Firpo), Richard Menjívar (Cal State Bakersfield), Darwin Cerén (Juventud Independiente), Elman Rivas (Alianza), Marlon Martínez (Firpo), Herbert Sosa (Alianza FC), Jorge Morán (Metapán), Edwin Sánchez (Metapán), Andrés Flores (Viborg), Diego Chavarría (Once Municipal)

FORWARDS: Jonathan Águila (Águila), José Gutiérrez (Águila), Dustin Corea (Blokhus FC), Léster Blanco (Metapán)

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What do you think about the U.S. group opposition? Feeling confident in the Americans heading into the tournament?

Share your thoughts below.

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21 Responses to Meet the U.S. U-23s’ group opponents

  1. John says:

    Call me crazy but the game I’m most worried about is tonight against Cuba. We could either crush them or it will be a little too close for comfort.

  2. Sean M says:

    I remember Dustin Correa, another former USYNT player playing for El Salvador

  3. Darwin says:

    Cuba produced the likes of Osvaldo Olonso last Oly-Quals. He is now one of the better midfielders in North America. Cuba plays with heart and determination as the competition underdogs. I will look to see them as difficult opponents that may weaken throughout the tournament if players defect.

  4. 2tone says:

    Canada has three defenders listed. Hmm. Interesting. I think the team that will give the U.S. the most problems will probably be El Salvador. Anyways godd luck tonight! USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!

  5. Drew says:

    The biggest disadvantage of playing Cuba early in the tournament is the players have fewer opportunities to defect before the game.

  6. Taylor says:

    so all the Cuban players are based domestically, and know nothing of the world expect Communist and poverty stricken Cuba?

    are they going to blindfold them as the drive the bus around America so they won’t be tempted to escape after the game?

  7. Hip Hop Hurry says:

    Diego Cuellar Goalkeeper for El Salvador, has 2 brothers that Played at Oklahoma City University. Diego committed to Oklahoma City University (NAIA Powerhouse) but stayed in El Salvador due to becoming a father at 18 years, old.

  8. +1

    Maybe another Ozzy Olanso type player will defect.

  9. Rlw2020 says:

    Your thinking of north korea. But close

  10. Rlw2020 says:

    +1 canada’s hope

  11. Mike says:

    Love that this article has been written – seems like most sites never do this. Canada and El Salvador both have good squads. I had no idea. Should be real competitive.

  12. Okafaei Nwackechuchu says:

    I love the the US teams strategy. Fill the team with African mercenaries and watch the trophies come. If only those idiots in Spain and Netherlands could figure it out, they would actually be something in world football.

    USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

  13. wilyboy says:

    Canada has hardly played together. Even if they had sufficient talent to challenge us, they are way behind in terms of chemistry and planning.

    Porter couldn’t be happier with the order. We open against Cuba full tilt, rest key players against Canada, and hopefully six points to take on El Salvador.

  14. Chuck says:

    I thought Cuba would be tougher. The first roster I read included Europe-based players even including one former swedish u-21 forward. I guess they weren’t released by their clubs or got cold feet about switching national sides.

  15. Lance says:

    Yes, African sides always do the best at the World Cup

  16. beachbum says:

    +1, and also they still believe all is still possible with their special emotions when they play the USA

    they will play haaaaaaard

  17. Alex says:

    I played in High School with this kid. It’s not like he didn’t want to play for the US, Bradly’s guys just didn’t think he was “Big, tall, fast, and strong” enough.

    There was other reasons, he liked the idea of playing for his fathers country, but I think he wanted to play for the US first.

    By far the most technically gifted player I’ve seen in person.

  18. Shady says:

    Me too. They might be over confident..

  19. predicto says:

    El Salvador with the skill, passing, possession, and chances over Canada. While they look good, Canada is struggling.

  20. Not Soony Saad says:

    I think you need to escape from your own state of ignorance…

  21. marco says:

    Canada 0 El Salvador 0