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Tolkin impresses in last Olympic rehearsal for U.S. Soccer

Tolkin’s perfectly paced and perfectly placed ball into forward Griffin Yow down the wing in the 52nd minute was a thing of nuanced beauty.



21-John Tolkin with USMNT U23 vs Japan | Credit: Thad Bell

The U.S. Men’s Olympic Soccer Team, aka the U.S. Men’s U-23 National Team, will return to the Olympic soccer tournament this July for the first time since 2008. In Paris, the USA will have a number of talented attacking players who can grab headlines: Cade Cowell (Chivas Guadalajara/Mexico), Gianluca Busio (Venezia/Italy), and Paxten Aaronsen (Eintracht Frankfurt/Germany) to name a few. But who will put those goal merchants and playmakers in good positions?

Enter John Tolkin. After a sputtering, getting run over type of first half in Tuesday night’s 2-0 friendly loss to Japan in Kansas City, Kansas, Tolkin’s entrance at the break helped changed the match. The blonde-topped product of New York Red Bulls took up at left back as Head Coach Marko Mitrovic adopted a more fluid 4-2-3-1 formation.

No longer would Japan attack the flanks with regular success. And, as an auxiliary effect, no longer would they run roughshod through and around the US as they had in the first forty-five.

In the 59th minute, Tolkin stripped the ball from a Japanese attacker deep in the left corner of the US box.

In the 88th minute, Tolkin denied a cross to multiple options in the US box.

“All three players that came in the 2nd half, both fullbacks [in particular], gave us a little bit more aggressiveness, especially when we wanted to recover the ball,” Mitrovic said of right back Nathan Harriel and Tolkin.

Tolkin didn’t stop there. More impactful and especially pleasing to the eye after a first half of slow and methodical attacking buildup was Tolkin’s incisive passing that spawned chances for the US.

Tolkin’s perfectly paced and perfectly placed ball into forward Griffin Yow down the wing in the 52nd minute was a thing of nuanced beauty.  Tolkin followed that with another a minute later for midfielder Taylor Booth.

How about a defense-splitting ball that put striker Duncan McGuire in on goal? That best of the match pass came in the 56th minute beating three Japanese defenders.

Even as the lone defender back on a corner, Tolkin orchestrated a restart of the attack after the set piece had been denied.

And it’s nothing new from the Chatham, New Jersey, native. Tolkin was named an MLS All-Star in 2023 and ended the campaign ranked third in key passes for defenders.

“The first 15-20 minutes was like, ‘Ok, this is nice, we are getting in the final third.’ We are always trying to always be on the front foot and finish the attack,“ Mitrovic emphasized before again praising Tolkin, Harriel, and midfielder Jack McGlynn. “…All three players [changed] the game.”

Tolkin’s form was fresh off being named to the MLS Team of the Matchday in the first week of June. Overall, through 100 matches played in MLS for Red Bull, the 21-year-old Tolkin has racked up 6 goals and 11 assists.

Mitrovic called 25 players in for this Kansas City-based camp before he must make his 18 selections for the Paris Olympics, where the US will face host France, New Zealand, and Guinea from July 24-July 30 in the group stage. To be one of the top two finishers in the group and advance, the US must always be on the front foot.

John Tolkin put his best foot forward Tuesday night in Kansas City to make his last bid for the squad. Tolkin, one of only seven players who have appeared in all seven matches for the US U-23 team in 2023-2024, may not glitter like Cowell, Busio, or Aaronsen, but he is gold, and the way at left back in France for the United States’ best chance to make it to the medal round.



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