Christian Pulisic wants to play in Olympics, but it’s complicated

Christian Pulisic
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Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, one of the U.S.’ top male soccer players, said Wednesday that he would like to play in the Olympics, but that’s not something he controls.

“The Olympics is something that is, of course, a massive honor to play in. To represent your country in an Olympics would be amazing,” Pulisic said when asked if he’d be interested in playing in the Olympics. “It’s something I’ve thought about and I have wanted to play in. Obviously, I can’t control exactly what goes on and what is best for me at the time and what’s best for the team at the time, I obviously can’t say. But it is something that I would like to play in.”

The U.S. men play a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying on Sunday in Mexico against, likely, Canada or Honduras.

They failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2012 and 2016.

Pulisic, 22, is one of many U.S. stars who are age-eligible for the under-23 qualifying tournament but are not on the roster. That’s in large part because clubs aren’t required to release players for Olympic qualifying, and it’s midseason for the top European leagues.

Complicating matters: clubs aren’t required to release players for the Olympics, either. But they are required to release players for the Gold Cup, a senior tournament for the U.S. and other CONCACAF national teams that runs during the Olympics (but, and this may be important, finishes six days before the Olympic final).

“I’m not the one to answer that question,” about players in the Olympics, U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter said Wednesday. “The one to answer that question are the players’ clubs. We have to sit and have conversations with these clubs. We have to say, OK, guys, here’s what’s coming up in the calendar. You have Nations League [in early June in a FIFA window]. You have Gold Cup. You have Olympics. You have World Cup qualifying in three [FIFA] windows in the fall. And then 2022, you have January and March [World Cup qualifying in FIFA windows]. So, what do you think, guys? You want to release your players for the Olympics, and what are they going to say? It’s an uphill battle that we’re fighting.”

Berhalter said that, in a perfect world, he would like to see the best players in the Olympics.

“I’m just not sure that’s going to happen,” Berhalter said. “I’m not sure the clubs are going to allow the players to go.”

Berhalter said it’s also not realistic for the Gold Cup roster to be mostly Europe-based players after their 2020-21 club seasons and Nations League. They would miss 2021-22 preseason time, too.

If Pulisic is released by Chelsea for the Olympics, the decision falls on the U.S. to choose between the Gold Cup and the Tokyo Games, which is mostly for players 23 and under. Or neither and save him for World Cup qualifying later in 2021.

It brings to mind what happened five years ago, when a deal was struck among Brazil, FC Barcelona and Neymar to allow him to play in the Rio Olympics but not Copa America Centenario, which was a tournament for which clubs were required to release players. The difference: Copa America ended before the Rio Games.

For Pulisic, he is guaranteed to be allowed to play for the U.S. in late July and early August. It’s just a matter of which, if either, tournament is preferred by his club and, potentially, U.S. Soccer.

Other American stars in a similar situation to Pulisic: Weston McKennie of Juventus, Gio Reyna of Borussia Dortmund, Sergiño Dest of Barcelona and Tyler Adams of Leipzig.

The U.S. is so stocked with young talent that all of them are age-eligible for the Olympics (born on or after Jan. 1, 1997) without having to use one of up to three over-age exceptions.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever

Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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