The Olympic qualifying tournament will begin at the end of next month as CONCACAF teams converge on locations across the United States. The U.S. team has been preparing with training camps and scrimmages against the national team as we have described here and twitter. The stakes are about to get a lot higher given the competition. Final round matches will begin on March 22 in Kansas City, Nashville, and Carson, CA.
The U.S. Under-23 team will kick off in Nashville on March 22 against Cuba and then play every other day in group play. The group includes Canada and El Salvador. Semifinalists will meet on March 31st and the finals will be played on April 2nd in Kansas City. The first group opponent, Cuba, advanced after a draw with St. Kitts in the 2nd round of Caribbean zone play.
Group B is Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, and Honduras, which will begin play in Carson. This will set up a potential rematch of the 2008 Olympic qualifying final of the U.S. versus Honduras in the 2012 semifinals. The two semifinal winners will head to the Olympics in London.
The U.S. has to be favored based on experience and hosting the tournament. They are the clear favorite in their group. However, one cannot overlook the defending champions and Mexico has plenty of young talent. This should prove to be an intense set of qualifying matches starting next month.