Home Country Up Next for Undefeated U.S. Under-23s
HOME COUNTRY UP NEXT FOR UNDEFEATED U.S. UNDER-23s: The U-23s finish the 6th annual Madeira International Tournament on Friday with a match at Noon (local time) against Portugal in Funchal. Portugal, who the U.S. last faced at the U-23 level in a 1-0 loss in Alverca on January 30, 2000, is looking for its fourth championship in the tournament (Italy won in '98 and '01). The impressive team, which includes several players who compete with Portugal's famed clubs like Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto, defeated Slovakia 1-0 on Tuesday and dispatched Maderia 3-0 yesterday afternoon. The U.S. will need a victory to win the tournament. A draw or loss would mean second place, depending on the outcome of the Slovakia-Madeira game at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
USA DRAWS SLOVAKIA 0-0 IN TEAM'S FIRST INTERNATIONAL AT U-23 LEVEL: The U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team earned a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Slovakia yesterday afternoon at Estadio Eng. Rui Alves in Choupana, Portugal, just over the mountains from the team's home base in Funchal. The match was the team's second in two days as part of the Madeira International Tournament, having defeated Maderia 2-1 behind two Bobby Convey assists on Tuesday. Goalkeeper D.J. Countess, along with a backline anchored by Alex Yi and team captain Kelly Gray, held Slovakia to just three shots on goal. Countess conserved the shutout in the last seconds of reguation time after two attackers made their way through four U.S. defenders on a well-timed counter effort. Four minutes later in injury time, the U.S. would score on a Gray header off a free kick, but the referee ruled that he had fouled a defender in the process, denying the USA a thrilling 1-0 decision.
REST & RELAXATION: Since arriving on Saturday morning after what amounted for many players to be a full day of travel, the team has been all business for the first five days, with three days of training and back-to-back games on Tuesday and yesterday. With the final game of the tournament tomorrow and a full day of travel to Italy on Saturday, today was the only chance for the team and staff to get some much-needed rest and relaxation. As players will undoubtedly relay to friends and family back in the States, there are much worse places to kill an afternoon then on this scenic island with an almost tropical climate. After a light morning training session at a glorified patch of grass on a bluff near the water, they had a light workout in the hotel pool before the usual extravagant lunch buffet. From there, a good number of players hopped in taxis to hit the cobblestone streets of downtown Funchal to do some shopping. Others walked down the hill to a magnificent lido deck on a plateau about 20 feet above the crashing waves. Two brave staff members even took a dip in the ice-cold waters of a pool that is surrounded by rocks and fed by the ocean water.
THE MYERNICK REPORT: With the two-week foreign tour at its halfway point, U.S. Under-23 MNT head coach Glenn "Mooch" Myernick commented on how the trip has progressed up to this point. "With not a lot of preparation, we've still managed to put ourselves in position to win the tournament," stated Myernick, who joined the U.S. Men's National Team coaching staff in January to help prepare for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. "The performance against Slovakia was an improvement over the game with Madeira, but there is a lot of work to be done. We have acheived some success through our competitiveness and spirit, but the soccer needs to be much better."
JAQUA BREAKS FOOT AS MOTHER WATCHES IN HORROR: [Editor's Note: Apologies
for the tabloid-style headline, but this was a real bummer] Forward Nate Jaqua made it about 30 minutes into his first match with the U-23 National Team before breaking his foot. Jaqua, a veteran of the U-18 and U-20 MNT's, chased down a ball and was trying to hold off a defender when he planted his left foot and turned sharply, fracturing his fifth metatarsal. After X-rays confirmed the fracture, Flagstaff, Arizona-based team doctor Danial Romanelli, on his first trip with a U.S. National Team, masterfully applied a splint and set him up with a pair of so-called "Candian crutches," which feature a forearm cuff rather than the standard wooden or aluminium variety. The situation was made all the worse considering Nate's mom Connie had made the trip to Portugal to watch him earn his first U-23 caps. The University of Portland sophomore and Mom Jaqua will return to Portland on Saturday when the team heads to Italy.
A GOOD NIGHT'S, ER ... HOUR'S, REST: The team departed from the United States last Friday evening from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, flying almost straight East a little more than six hours to Lisbon. Upon arriving into the capital city, most players realized that they unfortunately missed out on some precious shut-eye on arrival at 7 a.m. Saturday morning due to the 5-hour jump ahead in time difference from Eastern Standard Time. But some players were able to catch some Z's on the 90-minute connecting flight to the team's final destination of Funchal, located on Madeira Island.
LIVING THE RESORT LIFE: Although here in Portugal to compete and fare well in the four-team tourney, the players find themselves in one of Portugal's and the continent's more popular vacation spots. With what seems like an endless supply of luxury hotels, huge cliffs and bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, busses full of elderly tourists navigating the cities narrow and winding streets and many English-speaking inhabitants, it seems to some more like Florida than Europe. As of press time, there have no complaints whatsover by any member of the team, coaches or medical staff.
CAUTION: WET PAINT: The victim of a shrewd set-up by veteran U-23 MNT goalkeeper coach Peter Mellor, goalkeeper D.J. Countess ended up looking more like a player from Brazil than the USA in one of the easier practical jokes of all time. While waiting with the team in the circle drive for the team bus to depart, Mellor goaded his young protege to lean up against a freshly-painted wall outside the entrance of the hotel. Countess was last seen running through the halls of the Jardins d'Ajuda hotel in a panic asking for equipment manager Rob Stelzer, as the entire backside of his training gear had been turned a nice canary yellow.
BEASLEY NAMED U.S. SOCCER'S CHEVY YOUNG ATHLETE OF THE YEAR FOR 2001: A familiar face and star at the Under-17 and Under-20 levels, current U-23 midfielder DaMarcus Beasley was named U.S. Soccer's Chevy 2001 Young Male Athlete of the Year at a press conference in Pasadena, Calif. last week. Beasley had a breakout year in 2001 that included his full debut with the Men's National Team. The 19-year-old midfielder was also a key player for the U.S. Under-20 MNT, leading the team in scoring with five goals and five assists in seven matches and helping them qualify for the FIFA World Youth Championship. As just a second-year pro with the Chicago Fire, he was third on the team in games and minutes played and had two goals and six assists to help the Fire win the Central Division in MLS. The annual award, which is presented by Chevy in conjunction with U.S. Soccer along with a Youth Female award and top Male and Female honors, is designed to highlight a young, up-and-coming player, who has excelled at the Youth National Team level for U.S. Soccer within the last calendar year and displays potential to success at the full National Team level in the years to come.
BEASLEY, CONVEY JOIN 23'S LATE AFTER HELPING USA TO GOLD CUP 2002 TITLE IN L.A.: Beasley, along with long-time youth national teammate Bobby Convey, spent almost the entire month of January with the full U.S. Men's National Team as they trained for and competed in the FC Gold Cup 2002. While Convey did not appear for the U.S. in their five tournament matches, Beasley came off the bench twice as the U.S. Men's National Team went undefeated to claim just their second ever Gold Cup title (the other championship coming in the tournament's first edition in 1991).
POSTCARDS ARE IN THE MAIL: Over the course of the team's remaining week in Portugal and Italy, a few players will be sending "Postcards from ..." to relate their first-hand experiences and escapades in these two foreign lands to family and friends back in the U.S. Stay tuned...