U.S. U-23 coach Caleb Porter lauds his team's versatility ahead of Olympic qualifiers

Porter's charges have a cramped fixture list upcoming, so he knows he'll have to call on his players to slot in at multiple positions.
U.S. U-23 head coach Caleb Porter named a 19-man roster for the upcoming CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying tournament on Monday.

Speaking to reporters on a teleconference a day later, Porter highlighted some of the key aspects of his group of players and one word came up on multiple occasions: versatility.

“With 20 players going into qualifiers and 18 having to be named for each game, with only three substitutions, and we're playing three games in five days, we need versatility,” Porter said.

The U.S. opens its qualifying campaign in the group stage, where it will take on Cuba, Canada, and El Salvador on March 22, 24 and 26 in Nashville, Tenn. A top-two finish in its group will earn the team a semifinal berth in Kansas City on March 31.

With a win in the semifinal, the team will clinch qualification to the Olympics in London this summer and also a place in the final on April 2.

With a potential of five matches in just 12 days, Porter focused on naming players to his roster who could slot in at multiple positions, allowing his team to seamlessly move players around the pitch when substitutions or tactical changes are required.

“We've got very few specialists in this group,” he said. “We've got guys that can shift to different spots all across the board in every position.”

With a glut of attacking talent, including players with full national team experience like Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury and Terrence Boyd, defense is the biggest question mark on the roster. Of the six defenders named, it appears that Porter favors a central defensive pairing of Ike Opara and Perry Kitchen.

"We really like Ike and Perry," Porter said. "Ike and Perry did well as a tandem against Mexico (a 2-0 friendly win last month). They did solid and together they provide a balance of what we want in those positions."

Kitchen seems set to play center midfield for D.C. United this season and Opara's two-year MLS career has been plagued by injuries. Porter was quick to mention that Montreal Impact defender Zarek Valentin was able to slot in at center back as well as left and right back, and that the Philadelphia Union's Amobi Okugo – expected to fill the team's defensive midfield role – has been getting time at center back in training and could also fill in there if needed.

Josh Gatt, one of the hottest prospects in American soccer, was named on the roster as a defender, but Porter says he could also see time at right midfield, where he played most of last season for club team Molde FK.

“The idea with him is that he's versatile enough to play both spots,” Porter said of the 20-year-old Gatt, who helped lead Molde to a Norwegian title last season.

Porter said the team will add one more player to the roster before the March 20 deadline, but refused to comment on who it might be. Later on in the day, Estoril Praia-based striker Tony Taylor was named as the 20th player.

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