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U.S. Under-20 MNT World Youth Championship Notes - Nov. 25, 2003

U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team
2003 FIFA World Youth Championship
Nov. 25, 2003 -- Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

U.S. FEELS THE HEAT: The U.S. U-20 MNT experienced its hottest day in the desert so far on Tuesday, as the high temperature neared 90 degrees, providing for a bit more challenging late morning practice in Abu Dhabi. After warming up with assistant Cle Kooiman, the players did a number of drills to work on their possession and shooting. Head coach Thomas Rongen finished the session playing 11v7 on a half field with full-sized goals, stopping the action every so often to work on set pieces. The practice lasted only about an hour as the team prepared for their friendly against Panama later in the day (see below).

PERFECT EVENINGS: The past two days the weather in Abu Dhabi in the evening has been almost perfect as temperatures drop to the mid-60s with a light, cool breeze coming off the Persian Gulf. The conditions have been ideal for the early evening practice and friendly the U.S. has had and will be a welcome standard, especially for the teams three matches.

U.S. GETS FEET WET: The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team got a penalty kick equalizer from Santino Quaranta in the second half to pull a 1-1 draw in their friendly with fellow CONCACAF qualifier Panama under the lights at a practice field at the Zayed Sports City Complex on Tuesday evening in Abu Dhabi. The match was the first for the U.S. since they arrived in UAE. The U.S. had an early scoring opportunity in the 5th minute as midfielder David Johnson’s blast from 18-yards was heading for the lower left corner before Panama’s keeper was able to get a hand on it and push it wide. The rest of the first half was evenly-matched until the 40th minute when Panama took the lead with a nifty through ball after a well-designed attack that caught the U.S. off-guard, leaving a Panama forward one-on-one with goalkeeper Steve Cronin. The U.S. keeper came out to cut off his angle, but the forward was able to touch it to his left around Cronin and slip the ball in to the open net. In the second half, both teams were limited to few chances on goal, but the U.S. was able to find the equalizer in 60th minute. Defender Craig Jared Klass sent a ball into the box from right midfield, which hit off a Panama defender’s arm to give the U.S. a penalty kick. Quaranta drilled the shot from the spot into the left side of the goal to give the U.S. the tie.

QUARANTA ARRIVES: D.C. United forward Santino Quaranta landed in Dubai around 11:30 last night and was met by U.S. Team Coordinator Erik Carlson and Head of Security Jerry Rawlings. The three made the trip back to the hotel in Abu Dhabi in about an hour and a half, allowing Quaranta to get about six or seven hours of sleep. Quaranta had been scheduled to leave with the team on Saturday from Chicago, but his connecting flight out of Baltimore was cancelled due to inclement weather. Quaranta admitted to being a big groggy during the morning training session, but the forward was awake enough later that evening to bury a penalty kick against Panama. After traveling for 22 hours, waking up in a new country and playing soccer for about two and half hours, he had only one complaint: "My feet hurt."

ADU, MAPP LAST TO ARRIVE: Chicago Fire midfielder Justin Mapp and Freddy Adu arrived just before midnight this evening into Abu Dhabi. The two traveled to UAE a few days later because Mapp was with the Fire for the MLS Cup, while Adu was only recently added to the roster due to a late injury to San Jose Earthquake Arturo Alvarez. Mapp and Adu had it a little easier than the rest of the team as their flight flew directly into Abu Dhabi, whereas everyone else had to suffer a two-hour bus ride from Dubai. To be fair, the idea of just driving around Abu Dhabi for two hours was suggested, but everyone realized it was already way past Adu’s bedtime.

THERE’S A PARTY GOING ON: The players and staff have gotten the chance to learn a little bit about Ramadan during their first few days in UAE. Ramadan, the holy fasting month, came to an end today, which means countries like UAE are bracing for the extended holiday period called Eid Al Fitr. During Ramadan, which takes place during the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, Muslims must not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. In fact, they make up for it by feasting all night. Ramadan is considered the most social time of the Islamic calendar and when it is over they have Eid Al-Fitr, which is all about celebrating family, friends and all the good things they have received. To help pay for the festival, every household that can afford it must pay a form of tax in the days leading up to Eid. Traditionally, the tax was in the form of food, but now most people give the equivalent in money, which goes to the poor people, allowing them to celebrate as well. The tax is not collected by anyone, and no one is forced to pay it, but it is required as a religious act, and almost everyone pays. According to a member of the U.S. embassy, some people also provide elaborate food spreads outside their house for those less fortunate to enjoy. The embassy employee also said to stay away from shops, as during Eid a lot of people buy new clothes, making the last few days of Ramadan a mad-house at the stores with everyone busily purchasing new attire.

WATCH FOOTBALL, LEAVE WITH A WATCH: Spectators that attend a match during the FIFA World Youth Championship may get much more than just competitive football. They stand to win gold and deluxe wristwatches. In the hope to attract more spectators to the matches Damas, a leading jewelry company, will raffle off 10 Swiss watches at every match played at the two stadiums in Dubai. In addition, a half kilo of gold will also be given away in the same manner. To enter the raffles, spectators just need to enter their tickets into the draw at the proper locations around the stadium. The give-away is another tactic by General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence, who earlier had purchased every ticket to the matches in Dubai. About 40 percent of the free tickets have been distributed to schools, clubs, consulates and colleges, while the other 60 percent will be distributed at the entrance to the stadiums. The watches are roughly 5,000 dirham, which is about $1400.

MUCH ADU ABOUT DIR: Even before Freddy Adu arrived in UAE, media interest on the 14-year-old, who recently signed a multi-year contract with MLS, has been high. Numerous reporters have continually asked when Adu would be arriving, and a few English newspapers located in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have done stories about the start of his professional career and his inclusion with the U.S. Under-20s. With Freddy unavailable the past few days, the next natural choice for the media to set its sights on was goalkeeping coach Dave Dir. Ok, not really, but Dir, in his classic sarcastic manner, said it was too bad Adu had arrived because the media was missing out on a number of creative headlines. Below are some Dir and others on the staff came up with. And even if you don’t like them, they better than the over-used and no longer creative "Much Ado About Freddy":

Dir-ecting the USA’s Way Through the Middle East
U.S. is Moving in the Right Dir-ection
The Dirt on Dir
U.S. Plans on Being Here for the Dir-ation (yes, we know, it’s duration)