What do you need to know about CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying?

In case you didn’t know, CONCACAF is kicking off 2016 Olympic Mens Soccer Qualifying tonight in Kansas City (Women’s will be in February). Matches will be on NBC Universo and begin with Panama vs. Cuba at 6:30 PM ET and United States vs. Canada at approximately 8:55 PM ET. Now this isn’t just any ole’ tournament. This has some additional rules that people may not realize. Here is what you need to know.


Who can participate?

The Men’s Soccer Olympic event is a U-23 tournament so players must be under age 23 by the time the Olympics start. Each country can have three players over the age of 23 to also participate. But even though countries can bring in older players, it isn’t that easy. The Olympics isn’t recognized on the FIFA calendar so club teams are not required to release their players.

One big instance has been Neymar wanting to go play for Brazil in his home Olympics. Barcelona hasn’t said anything about releasing him or not but the Olympics is during August and that is when club teams will start their preseason.


Who qualifies for the Olympics?

The Olympic tournament is only open to 16 teams so there is a real risk of established World Cup teams, like the USA in 2012, to not qualify. This was the case in UEFA as they only have four positions and they have been filled by Denmark, Portugal, Germany and Sweden. There is no Italy, no France, no Netherlands, no Spain and no England (though that’s for other reasons).

CONCACAF gets 2.5 out of the 16 spots.


How do CONCACAF teams specifically qualify for the Olympics?

CONCACAF teams qualify through the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship starting tonight and will run until October 13. In the group stage, two groups of four compete and the top two advance to the knockout stage. Group A has United States, Panama, Cuba and Canada while Group B has Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Haiti.

In the knockout stage, four teams go into the Semifinal. Winners of those games will qualify for the Olympics and play in the Final for the trophy knowing both are going to Brazil. The winner of the third place game will compete in a CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff and the winner of that will go to the Olympics.


Will the United States qualify?

The easy answer is yes, but I would’ve said yes in 2012 and look how that turned out. Going into a U-23 tournament, unforeseen results can appear. I mean, in the London Olympics in 2012, Mexico beat Brazil for the gold medal. There is a very great opportunity for everyone to get in and potentially win a medal. So can they qualify? The qualifying tournament is in the United States. Based on that and the importance Jurgen Klinsmann and US Soccer has but on in terms of development for the future, they better qualify or else there will be hell to pay if they do not. Klinsmann is going to look like an idiot if he puts an importance of giving young players competitive experience and cannot even qualify for the Olympics while he has been Manager of the senior squad as well as Technical Director.

About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter @phillipbupp