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Watching and Learning: U-23s Gain Experience from the MNT

CHICAGO (Jan. 17, 2008) - For professional soccer players, the “club vs. country” conflict is a well-documented affair. A crossover between two teams that represent the same country is much less common. Every four years, however, the Under-23 Men’s National Team begin an eight-month qualifying push towards the Olympics, and often times players from the full Men’s National Team have the privilege of representing both teams.

Jozy Altidore, Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestan and Marvell Wynne are all age eligible for the U-23s, who begin qualifying in March for the Beijing Olympics. All four were in China with the team in December of 2007 for a two-match tour, and while their fellow Olympic hopefuls are working out in Bradenton, they ’ve been called up to the full MNT for its camp leading up to the Sweden game.

For the players, this opportunity with the full team in January offers many possibilities; most notably, the opportunity to learn from the veterans in head coach Bob Bradley’s group.

“The level is so high here,” said Altidore. “With the professionals, and the older, more mature players, it definitely helps us guys who are here, and I think that will help the U-23 team as we go towards March.”

Bradley and U-23 MNT head coach Peter Nowak worked together all of last year, as Nowak is also an assistant for the full team, and together they guided the MNT to an impressive 2007. Edu believes there is a certain continuity between the U-23’s and the MNT because of the coaches’ history together.

“I think both Coach Bradley and Coach Nowak are trying to implement a lot of the same ideas,” said the Toronto FC midfielder. “Being part of the lead up to this game against Sweden is going to help myself and the other guys in this camp when we go back over with the U-23s.”

Wynne spoke to the fact that numerous players in the January camp have experience at the U-23 level. Landon Donovan and Danny Califf played on the team which finished fourth at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, while Ricardo Clark, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis and Donovan were all part of the team which attempted to qualify for the Athens Olympics on 2004.

“Being here with the full team is a good opportunity to get experience with guys who have been with the U-23s before,” said Wynne. “Guys like Landon and Danny, they have more experience than us both at the U-23 level and even higher.”

Kljestan echoed his teammates’ sentiments and also touched on the responsibility that the four players have to bring what they’ve learned in Carson back to Nowak’s team.

“I think being here with the full team gives you a different perspective, especially on the way that the game can be played in tough international matches,” said the Chivas USA midfielder. “There are guys that have been around this team for awhile now, guys like Danny Califf, Jimmy Conrad and Landon Donovan, so you talk to guys like that.”

“You realize how they’ve been leaders throughout their careers, not just on the field but off it as well. I think you just take what everybody teaches you and try to relay what you have learned.”