How the World Cup sets the stage for men’s soccer at the 2024 Paris Olympics


A day after an epic men’s World Cup final, French superstar Kylian Mbappé shared a brief statement on social media.

We’ll be back.

For France’s men’s program, and probably Mbappé as well, after losing the final to Lionel Messi‘s Argentina in a penalty shootout, the next chance for a bit of global redemption will be the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

In a storyline similar to eight years ago, a world famous attacker could follow World Cup heartbreak with a once-in-a-career opportunity: to deliver Olympic soccer gold in front of a home crowd.

Two Olympic cycles ago, Neymar buried the penalty shootout decider in the Olympic final at the Maracanã, two years after Brazil’s devastating defeat to Germany in the World Cup semifinals.

Mbappé, who already has a World Cup title from 2018, may face the same conundrum that Neymar navigated in 2016. If FIFA rules remain the same, his club team, which is already forced to allow Mbappé to play a senior continental tournament in early summer 2024, has the ultimate say as to whether Mbappé can play in the Olympics (not designated a senior tournament) later that summer.

For Mbappé, that club is currently Paris Saint-Germain, which may be inclined to let him play in the Games given its ties to the Olympic host city. In October 2021, Mbappé called the Olympics “the DNA of sport” and “the best opportunity for an athlete to live their dream.”

Mbappé already said in May that PSG is on board with him playing at the Olympics. He may have to give up the chance to play in the European Championship earlier that summer, as Neymar did for the 2016 Copa América Centenario in a deal with his club at the time, FC Barcelona.

Most stars do not compete in two major tournaments in one summer for their countries. Clubs prefer they rest ahead of their league seasons. Time will tell.

Then there’s Messi. The prevailing notion during the World Cup was that it would mark the 35-year-old’s farewell with the national team. At 6,029 days since his World Cup debut, he had not only the longest wait for a men’s title in history, but also the longest men’s World Cup career in history.

But Messi reportedly said after Sunday’s triumph that he plans to continue with La Albiceleste at least a bit longer. Still, it appears unlikely that Messi will be at the Olympics, which is largely a tournament for players age 23 and younger.

He already got his experience at the 2008 Beijing Games, winning gold (he and teammate Ángel Di María are the only men since World War II to own both an Olympic gold medal and a World Cup title). Plus, an Argentina team of U-23 players must qualify without him, and there are only two South American spots available.

Olympic men’s soccer teams are allowed up to three “over-age players,” (in Paris 2024’s case, players born before Jan. 1, 2001). Argentina has never used an over-age spot on a man older than 31.

But it has used them on big names. Defender Roberto Ayala captained Argentina at Copa América in 2004, then played the Olympics later that summer. In 2008, the Olympic team included midfielders Juan Riquelme and Javier Mascherano, who started every match at the 2006 World Cup. Note there was no Copa América in 2008, clearing the path for South American stars to take part in the Olympics. There is expected to be a Copa América in 2024, site TBA, and Argentina is defending champion.

How U.S. Soccer approaches the 2024 Olympics will be intriguing. It qualified a men’s team for the first time since 2008. It is expected to receive an automatic 2026 World Cup spot as co-host, so it would not have to play in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The downside to that is that the U.S. must find other ways to schedule meaningful matches ahead of 2026.

The Olympics can provide that to an extent. The age restrictions mean that although the stakes are high, the event will be very different than a World Cup. The U.S. may also be invited to 2024 Copa América, perhaps even to host it, which would provide competition closer to a World Cup level and make it problematic to send its best players to the Olympics in the same summer.

Every U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team in the last 30 years included at least one player from the previous World Cup. Three players from this year’s World Cup team are young enough that they could be on the Olympic team without using an over-age exception (Yunus Musah, Gio Reyna, Joe Scally).

So, the U.S. Olympic team could include six World Cup players total, but that’s if they’re not held back for other senior national team matches that summer and given releases by their club teams. And if they want to play at all.

Olympic soccer can lure some players more than others. Messi said in 2017 that he valued his Olympic title above all of his other victories, though that was before he won Copa América, let alone the World Cup.

“World Cup is great,” he said in May 2016, according to an ESPN translation of an interview in Spanish, “but Olympics are something special.”

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Which U.S. men’s soccer players on FIFA World Cup roster are Olympic age eligible?

Yunus Musah, Gio Reyna

For the first time in modern U.S. men’s soccer history (post-1950), the World Cup roster includes zero Olympians.

That’s not a surprise, given the U.S. last fielded an Olympic men’s soccer team in 2008.

But, the U.S. did qualify for the 2024 Paris Games, and every U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team in the last 30 years did include at least one player from the previous World Cup.

1990 World Cup players who made 1992 Barcelona Olympic team: Chris Henderson
1994 World Cup players who made 1996 Atlanta Olympic team: Alexi Lalas, Claudio Reyna, plus Kasey Keller from 1990 World Cup
1998 World Cup players who made 2000 Sydney Olympic team: Jeff Agoos, Brad Friedel, Frankie Hejduk
U.S. did not qualify for 2004 Athens Olympics.
2006 World Cup players who made 2008 Beijing Olympic team: Brian McBride
U.S. did not qualify for 2012, 2016, 2020 Olympics.

Olympic men’s soccer has largely been for players 23 years and younger in that span. Since 1996, teams have been allowed three over-age exceptions, which is how most of the World Cup players listed above made it back for the following Olympics.

For the 2024 Paris Games, Olympic men’s soccer rosters must be made up of players born on or after Jan. 1, 2001, with three over-age exceptions.

On the World Cup roster of 26 announced Wednesday, three players were born after Jan. 1, 2001: midfielder Yunus Musah, forward Gio Reyna and defender Joe Scally. All three could make the Olympic team of 18 without using any over-age exception.

(Had the U.S. qualified for the Tokyo Games, then 15 players on the 26-player World Cup roster would have been age eligible for those Games without using an over-age exception, and the entire expected U.S. starting XI at the World Cup could have been on a Tokyo Olympic team with exhausting those exceptions.)

If past rules remain, their club teams would have to release them to play in the Olympics, which could get tricky if there are separate senior international matches that summer for which clubs are forced to release players.

Looking beyond Musah, Reyna and Scally, every U.S. Olympic team in the over-age exception era has used one of those exceptions on a goalie with senior national team experience (Keller in 1996, Friedel in 2000 and Brad Guzan in 2008).

That makes the three goalies on the World Cup roster — Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson — prime Olympic candidates, too, with the same club-release caveat for the aforementioned age-eligible players.

There’s also a chance that Gabriel Slonina, an 18-year-old prospect, is deemed the first-choice Olympic keeper, in which case there would be less incentive to use an over-age pick on a backup goalie.

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Jeff Plush out as USA Curling CEO

Jeff Plush

The head of the organization that runs Olympic curling in the United States resigned Friday in the wake of an investigation that revealed he failed to act on allegations of sexual abuse and other harassment when he was commissioner of a women’s soccer league.

USA Curling said it had accepted the resignation of CEO Jeff Plush and appointed Dean Gemmell, who most recently worked as the federation’s director of development, as interim CEO.

USA Curling also said it was launching a full review of its bylaws and governance policies, including how it manages abuse claims.

“Change will come swiftly, with contributions from all kinds of people who play our great sport,” the federation said in a statement.

Plush’s tenure was already in turmoil when the governing body voted at a member’s assembly earlier this week to expel the country’s largest regional association for nonpayment of dues during the pandemic. Clubs complained that debate was shut down without having a chance to voice their opposition and about other irregularities in the voting process.

Unhappy curling clubs took to Twitter with calls to #FlushPlush, saying the purge clashed with the sport’s ethos as a welcoming, convivial community and its desire to grow beyond its upper midwestern roots.

Last week, citing the soccer investigation, a majority of USA Curling’s diversity task force called for his removal and, failing that, for the board to step down.

“He cannot be trusted to prioritize the safety and well-being of athletes in this organization,” the group said in a statement that was signed by 11 current and former members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. “We are concerned about the immediate safety of US curlers.”

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