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Postcards from Italy (Brian Carroll)

"Every U.S. National Team trip I am invited on proves to be an experience never to forget. The Madeira International Tournament provided its participants with a high level of both competition and fair play. Even though the three teams are in the midst of their seasons, we still demanded nothing less than first place for ourselves.

Our team opened up the tournament against the Madeira Select club, providing an acceptable level of play and a 2-1 victory.  It was a special game for myself because it marked the first game in which I scored a goal with the U-23 Olympic team.  After receiving word that Portugal topped Slovakia 1-0, we were excited to move on to our second game in two days.

Against Slovakia we improved our overall play and created dangerous chances to put ourselves in a good position to win the game, but came out of the match with a 0-0 draw.  With an equal finish against Slovakia, we advanced to the final of the tournament.  In the other game Portugal defeated Madeira Select 3-0 and moved into the final of the tournament with two wins and no losses.

The final against Portugal was the best performance our team put together.  We knew if we brought intensity and spirit to the game that our skill could be enough to win the final.  We both started the game fast wanting to force play in the other team's half.  The first ten minutes had respectable opportunities, but gave no score.  After the game settled down, Portugal took a 1-0 lead only twenty minutes into the match.  After a spirited halftime speech from Coach Myernick, we came out with improved fire and intensity and eventually drew even with the Portuguese.  We began to impose more of our game on Portugal and had more good opportunities to take the lead in the second half.  With several near misses, the game ended in a 1-1 tie and Portugal, having two wins and one tie, just beat out our one win and two ties for the first place position.  All in all, the Madeira Soccer Tournament was a success and gave our team confidence going into our next battle with the Italian U-21 side.

The trip from Funchal to Italy proved to be long, but bearable. We started our journey at 10 a.m. from the hotel and eventually arrived in Messina, Italy around one o’clock the following morning. After a quick nap for a night’s rest, we awoke for a good breakfast before heading back out to morning training. The training session was productive, but because of the long journey to get to Italy the coaching staff thought it proper to have the rest of the day off to recover. The rest of the day consisted of lunch, cards, and movies.  With this great group of guys that get along so well, there is always something interesting to do, even if only hanging about the hotel exchanging stories and relaxing.  I think it would be a task to find a group of guys who know and like each other as well as this special group of guys do.  After hanging out for a long time letting our minds and bodies regenerate, a few of us walked to a beautiful cathedral to attend Sunday Mass. It was totally in Italian, but because a number of us have attended church growing up, the service was not hard to follow.  Rather it was hard to pay attention to the Priest because of all the gorgeous mosaics, paintings, statues, and the religious structure behind the altar.

Before dinner, most of the guys gathered in our Press Officer's room and followed the MLS SuperDraft. We were all curious to see who of the guys we play with or against in college soccer ended up where, especially Kelly (Gray), Tino (Kyle Martino) and Brad (Davis). Luckily, they all went in the Top 10 so it wasn't too nerve-wracking or embarassing for them with basically the whole team in the room. It made me think about what might be coming for me after my junior season this time next year. It was all very exciting, especially seeing Edson (Buddle) getting pumped about having Kyle as a teammate, and Kelly and DaMarcus talking about maybe living together in Chicago.

I am sitting here writing this letter thinking and preparing myself for a huge match against the Italian side approaching faster and faster.  The game should provide a great test for our team, as of course the Italians are known to have a great soccer tradition.  I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to let the professional environment here in Messina take me over. Hopefully with a win against the Italian U-21 side, we can do ourselves and the full U.S. Men’s National Team proud before they take on the full Italian National Team on Wednesday. I can't wait to watch our best take on the likes of del Piero and Viera. It's going to be really cool to see our country compete at such a high level in such a big game, with the World Cup almost right around the corner.

All of these events will forever be with me for as long as I live, and I know I will sit back and look upon this trip as a wonderful experience. But it's one that I would not be able to take part in if it was not for all my parents' hard work in raising me and giving me this opportunity."

U.S. Under-23 MNT midfielder Brian Carroll is a former member of the Under-18 Men's National Team, as well as the Under-20 MNT that qualified for and competed in the FIFA World Youth Championships in 2001. The 20-year-olf native of Springland, Virginia, is currently a sophomore at Wake Forest University.