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U.S. U-20 MNT Opens World Cup Qualifying Preparations in Bradenton, Fla.

U.S. Under-20 MNT
Notes from Bradenton, Fla.
Dec. 15, 2006

ALL SMILES TO START: All 26 players on the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team roster arrived in Bradenton, Fla., on Tuesday (Dec. 12) with smiles on their faces as they greeted one another, knowing that being in camp means they’re part of the final pool of players that could be selected by head coach Thomas Rongen for the 2007 CONCACAF Final Round Qualifying Tournament in January. A day later, those smiles quickly disappeared as the training and dreaded fitness began (photos), and reality set in – they’re competing against the guys to their left and right for a spot in Panama. After the camp, which ends on Dec. 23, Rongen will determine his 20-player roster for the qualifying tournament, announcing the list at the end of December.

NO EUROPEANS: Despite a number of European professionals in the player pool, none were brought in by Rongen due to their club commitments and will probably not be with the U-20s until they leave for qualifying in January. Midfielders Michael Bradley and Robbie Rogers stayed with Heerenveen in the Netherlands, while Johann Smith is seeing time with the first team at Bolton in the English Premier League. Preston Zimmerman is training with Hamburg SV in Germany.

CRAMPING AND HEAVING: Not only do the players have the challenge of trying to earn a spot on the roster, they’re dealing with a regimen of daily fitness workouts during this camp as Rongen attempts to get his team in top physical shape for qualifying. Things didn’t start gradually by any means as the players lined up on the endline for the dreaded beep test to end the first training session on Tuesday morning. The final two were Dallas FC midfielder Dax McCarty and UCLA defender Anthony Beltran, two of the smallest players in the group, with Beltran holding out for the victory and McCarty seeing his lunch for the second time that day. A few hours later, the players fought through heavy legs, parched throats and body cramps for some long distance running to once again test their endurance and set a bench mark to improve on by the end of the camp.

CAMP MATCHES: While the fitness and training sessions will help the players get into shape, it’s the matches the U-20s will play that will make or break their chances of landing on the qualifying roster. The U.S. will play a total of three matches and two intrasquad scrimmages during the week. The two intrasquad scrimmages will take place on Saturday, Dec. 16, and Friday, Dec. 22, but the crucial games will be against the U.S. Under-17 MNT on Monday, Dec. 18, and Canada’s U-20 MNT on Wednesday, Dec. 20. The 26 players will be split into two squads for two simultaneous games against the U-17s, while each player will at least get to play a half against Canada.

U-20 MNT Match Schedule
Date        Opponent
Dec. 16   Intrasquad
Dec. 18   U-17 MNT (two matches)
Dec. 20   Canada U-20 MNT
Dec. 22   Intrasquad

THE ROAD TO QUALIFYING: Rongen will pick his final 20-player qualifying roster at the end of this camp and the selected players will have a week off for the holidays before returning to Bradenton on Dec. 30 for an eight-day camp. During that camp, the U-20s will play three games in five days (Jan. 2, 4 and 6) to mirror their qualifying schedule. The opponents for those three matches are yet to be determined, but will likely include a match against the U.S. U-17 MNT. Once again, there is a chance the European-based players will be unavailable, but Rongen will not invite in any additional players to fill any vacant spots. After the camp, the players will head home for three days and then regroup on Jan. 10 in Fort Lauderdale where they will train before heading to Panama for the qualifying tournament on Jan. 14.

QUALIFYING SCHEDULE SET: The U.S. is in Group A of the 2007 CONCACAF Final Round Qualifying Tournament with Guatemala, Haiti and host Panama. The U.S. will open the tournament in Panama City, Panama, against Haiti on Jan. 17 at 6:30 p.m. ET before taking on Guatemala on Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET and then finishing against the hosts on Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. ET. Every match will be played at Rommel Fernandez Stadium. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, which will take place from June 30-July 22 across six cities – Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Burnaby and Victoria. The U.S. will be attempting to qualify for their sixth straight U-20 FIFA World Cup (formerly FIFA World Youth Championship). The other two of the four CONCACAF berths (not including Canada, which gets an automatic berth as host) will come from Group B, which will occur a month later from Feb. 21-25 in Culiacan, Sinaloa, located on the west coast of Mexico. Competing with the hosts will be Costa Rica, St. Kitts & Nevis and Jamaica.

2007 CONCACAF Final Round Group A Qualifying Schedule
Wednesday, Jan. 17
USA vs. Haiti
Guatemala vs. Panama

Friday, Jan. 19
USA vs. Guatemala
Panama vs. Haiti

Sunday, Jan. 21
Guatemala vs. Haiti
USA vs. Panama

BREAKING IT DOWN WITH JOZY: A veteran of the U.S. Youth National Team program, Josmer Altidore has become a key piece of the U.S. U-20 MNT. As the team settles into Bradenton, Fla., to begin their U-20 FIFA World Cup qualifying preparations, ‘Jozy’ sits down for a candid interview to discuss his first year in MLS, what it’s like playing for former U.S. Manager Bruce Arena and his goals for 2007 (watch).

SIX-YARD BOX WITH ‘Q’: Just five minutes of your time. Well…OK, maybe six. In Center Circle’s new podcast feature called the “Six-Yard Box”, we’re tracking down all your favorite full and youth national team players across the globe and peppering as many questions as we can at them in a six-minute time limit. Our latest player to enter the box is defender/midfielder Quavas Kirk. “Q,” as he’s better known, tells us about the flashy suits he wears to games, why he’s seemingly always happy, what the hardest thing has been during his switch to defender for the U-20s and whether or not the rumors are true about David Beckham coming to play with him at the Galaxy.

THE GREAT DEBATE - CAVEMAN vs. ASTRONAUT: On the road with the national teams, a lot of time is spent around the table, on the bus and lacing up the boots on the side of the field. When soccer isn't the topic, we'll post a thought-provoking, either-or question to the staff and players of one of our national teams. While a tie is a viable result in soccer, in The Great Debate we're looking for a clear winner or loser. And just for fun, we'll have the camera rolling and cut the highlights for you to see before taking the argument to the dinner table or your favorite soccer pub. In this corner we've got the caveman, and in the other corner we've got the astronaut, and in training camp we've got the Under-20 Men's National Team preparing for U-20 World Cup Qualifying. Check out this video as the U.S. U-20 Men's National Team players and staff -- including Freddy Adu, Thomas Rongen and Dave Dir -- kick off The Great Debate with a question for the ages: Who would win in a fight, a caveman or an astronaut?

I’LL TAKE AN OMELET: Instead of piling in vans and driving the short trip to IMG campus for breakfast (which they did the first two days), the U-20 staff decided to allow the players to make their own meals in the morning. Staying in condos with a complete kitchen, the players and staff were provided with eggs, milk, orange juice, yogurt, fruit, cereal, bagels and much more after team coordinator Alfonso Cerda made a trip to the nearby grocery store. While a lot of the players live on their own after moving away from their parents for college or to start their professional career, the pots and pans haven’t exactly been used too often to cook up scrambled, over-easy or fried eggs, as the simplicity of a bowl of cereal and peeling back the top of a yogurt container allows for a few more minutes of shut-eye needed after tough days of fitness. The staff, on the other hand, has been thankful for assistant coach Dave Dir, as he opened his condo up for anyone who wanted to try one of his self-proclaimed “world class” omelets.

Quote of the Day:
"The calendar just turned to January."

- U.S. Under-20 MNT assistant coach Tim Mulqueen commenting after one of the slower players in camp took his turn in the 40-yard dash during the first day of fitness testing.