U.S. U-17 CONCACAF Qualifying Blog: Heading Home Champs
As the U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team heads to Jamaica for the 2007 CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament, ussoccer.com's blog team brings you closer to the team than you ever thought you'd get. We'll take you on the team bus, inside the pre-game meetings and into the locker room for exclusive coverage you won't find anywhere else.
Monday, May 7 @ 8 a.m. CT
At the airport and we're delayed, so time for one last entry before we officially put this blog to bed. The hour-and-a-half delay isn't too much of a nuisance, as there are a number of shops here, so guys are catching up on their souvenir shopping. And like we guessed, most of the guys are crashing where they sit, exhausted from the week. As we write this we can see Zimmerman, Turk, Williams, Bates, Garza, Paredes, Ibrahim, Nimo and Millington all passed out. The other guys are listening to music or grabbing some grub from the Island Grill with their travel per diem. Well, that appears to be it. We just did a word count and we're over 8,000 for the entire blog. That be a lot of behind-the-scenes. Hope you enjoyed it. We'll catch our flight to Fort Lauderdale in a bit and then take the bus ride to Bradenton. "Entourage" anyone?
Sunday, May 6 @ 10:00 p.m. CT
Early flight tomorrow as we leave the hotel at 6:30 a.m., but the players aren't in bed yet. Hackworth gave them till midnight to enjoy the night, with the majority of players hanging with friends and family by the pool. Guys are definitely riding on the high right now, but come tomorrow we're betting they're be crashing before we even get on the flight. Four games in seven days will wear you out, even if you are 16.
Sunday, May 6 @ 9:45 p.m. CT
Well, we started this trip by watching "Entourage" on the bus ride to the airport, and now the staff is ending the trip by piling into the equipment room to catch tonight's episode on HBO.
Sunday, May 6 @ 8:05 p.m. CT
Back at the hotel, and wanted to let you know about the crazy scene on the field after the final whistle was blown. The players danced around, holding up American flags and cheering, "champ-iooo-nes ... champ-iooo-nes ... champio-o-o-o-o-nes!" Jesse Paredes, Gregory Garza and Brendan King even doused Hackworth with a Gatorade bath at midfield during the celebration (our fantastic photographer got a pick, so be sure to check that out later). Some hugs with parents and other friends and family in the stands before the party continued into the locker room, with water getting tossed all over, players and staff getting drenched alike...and loving it. Obviously, the exact opposite from the dreadful scene after Jamaica. Lots of congrats and hugs being given out. On the bus ride home, the chanting continued by the players. They're definitely soaking up the moment. Every player said this was the best soccer experience they've ever had.
Sunday, May 6 @ 5:05 p.m. CT
Costa Rica radio guys are going nuts. Ugh. The PA just asked for a moment of silence, but I guess that doesn't apply to the guy to our right. Not sure what the moment of silence was for because we couldn't hear with over the play-by-play man. Actually a bit embarrasing as everyone in the stadim was dead silent, except for this guy talking as loud as he could with out screaming. This is going to be a long match from the press tribune.
Sunday, May 6 @ 4:45 p.m. CT
Kickoff is 15 minutes away. Hackworth talked to the players for the last time, telling them to go high pressure from the get go. The U.S. has been able to get on the board early in every match, and if they can pull it off tonight it would go a long way towards getting a victory.
Sunday, May 6 @ 3:10 p.m. CT
Final team meeting before getting on the bus to the stadium was just held in Room 139. Quick and to the point, Hackworth went through the keys to game. The players are stoked.
Sunday, May 6 @ 10:30 a.m. CT
Players are done with breakfast and are now going through their ritual walk and stretch and then will hit the training room for treatment. The talk over eggs and hashbrowns was all about the De la Hoya-Mayweather fight last night. The players didn't get to see the bout as it started after their curfew, but some of the staff were able to catch it. The consensus? Mayweather definitely won the fight with a great defensive tactic, but if gaining boxing fans was the goal it fell short as it lacked excitement during the later rounds.
Sunday, May 6 @ 8 a.m. CT
Seven hours until kickoff against Costa Rica tonight and the biggest factor facing the U.S. will be breaking through and finding the back of the net. In their three previous matches, Costa Rica has yet to give up a goal (2-0 vs. T&T, 0-0 vs. Canada and 1-0 vs. Jamaica). The U.S. has scored two goals in the first half of each of their first three games, and getting off to a quick start once again would be beneficial.
Saturday, May 5 @ 5:40 p.m. CT
Team just returned from their final training session before their match against Costa Rica, and things were mixed up a bit as we were on a new field. We practiced at Edward Seaga Sports Complex, which is the home field for Jamaican club Tivoli Gardens. The team went through some situations to expect from Costa Rica in a light one-hour session, finishing with some shots on goal for attacking players and ball work for defenders. Some local kids watched practice and were a little confused about where we were from as they yelled, "England" as the players played 11 v 11, and then asked us after if we were Mexico. Umm...definitely not.
Saturday, May 45 @ 2:30 p.m. CT
Just went and picked up gear for training and it is pouring outside. The hardest downfall we've had since we've been here, that's for sure. Hoping it will let up in an hour when we roll out for practice, becuase if it doesn't we'll be getting wet - no chance we don't practice today with the huge match against Costa Rica on Sunday.
Saturday, May 5 @ 10:45 a.m. CT
There's been some discussion on whether Sheanon was shooting or crossing last night when he scored the opening goal. We'd love to show it to you, but don't have the ability to right now. Look for a video recap of the tournament. Either way, it was unbelievable, curling into the upper left corner from about 20 to 25 yards out on the right flank.
Saturday, May 5 @ 9:30 a.m. CT
Another new place for breakfast today, this time in the Jonkamoo Lounge, which just a few hours earlier was full of Jamaicans and tourists salsa dancing. That's right, it's basically a night club, but now with dining tables on the dance floor. Whatever works. After the players ate, Hackworth talked to them for the final time about their loss to Jamaica. Here are some of the sound bites from his 5-minute talk, with the theme being it's over, learn from it and move on.
-- "When you lose, you learn maybe more than you win. We don't want to lose, but if you do, you need to make sure you do one thing: learn. It is unacceptable if you come away from a game like last night and don't learn the lesson it taught you."
-- "What's done is done. But how you respond, how you come back from a loss like this, is what defines you. That will speak volumes on this group as a team and what we can do as we move forward."
-- "We still control our own destiny when we take the field against Costa Rica. Our reaction and how we play against them on Sunday is everything. Remember that boys, and show everyone what kind of team we really are."
Friday, May 4 @ 7:04 p.m. CT
Seconds from kicking off, and we already know we qualified! T&T pulls off the shocking, 2-1, upset over Canada and we are through as we'll finish no lower than third place with six points.
Friday, May 4 @ 6:20 p.m. CT
Sitting at our spot in the media tribune and something is off...what could it be? Oh, yea, quiet! Costa Rica has the bye tonight so the radio guys aren't going crazy. They're actually here watching the game, but not broadcasting. Although they may be doing our game...great.
Friday, May 4 @ 6:18 p.m. CT
Hackworth quickly talked to the players before they went to warm up, telling them the World Cup should be out of their mind and the only thing they should be thinking about is Jamaica.
Friday, May 4 @ 6:07 p.m. CT
At the stadium and all set for our match against Jamaica. Canada-T&T playing right now and this one is getting interesting. T&T scored two goals in the first half, but Canada just scored two minutes into the second half when Mohamed Sylla ripped one from distance. Oh, man! Literally as we type this Canada just wasted a chance to tie it up. As Semenets just missed on open net, his shot going off the cross bar. Canada looked tired in the first half (can't blame them as this is their fourth game in seven days), but with their qualifying lives on the line, they're taking control of the match. By the way, if T&T wins, we're automatically qualified. In our earlier release we had a draw getting us through, but we screwed up and didn't compute that T&T and Jamaica face off in their final match, meaning both can't get six points. Oops. Are bad, but we were computing under the gun. Plus we just need to take care of our own game and not worry about anything else.
Friday, May 4 @ 4:35 p.m. CT
Just had the pre-game meal (yes, it seems like all we do is eat sometimes, too), and the guys look ready. Hackworth talked to them real quick, just reminding them to make sure they get themselves prepared tonight. The team will have a meeting at 5, before heading to the stadium at 5:15. Keep a lookout for a few blogs once we get set-up at the stadium.
Friday, May 4 @ 12:55 p.m. CT
Back from lunch and the movie playing throughout the meal this time was “Remember the Titans.” The guys watched a few scenes, including the emotional moment when Julius and Bertier come together on the field and, of course, the final scene where they pull off the miracle final play to win the championship. Gets ‘em every time.
Friday, May 4 @ 11:45 a.m. CT
Lunch in a little bit, but we just saw some odd interaction with some fish. Near the hotel lobby there are some real small ponds that are filled with gigantic goldfish. Well, like pigeons in Dam Square in Amsterdam, these goldfish aren’t scared to interact with people. A few of the players, including Brek Shea, weren’t exactly feeding the fish, but rather letting the fish suck on their fingers. It appears if you stick your and on the water, they swim right over and attach to your digits in no time. Weird, we know. But, like we’ve mentioned earlier, there’s quite a bit of down time so they guys are finding interesting ways to kill time.
Friday, May 4 @ 10:15 a.m. CT
The players joined the trainers back up on the 18th floor for a good stretch as they’re about 9 hours out from facing Jamaica. After the 20-minute stretch it was back down to the first floor where a number of the players got treatment in the trainers’ room. There were about seven players that stopped by to work out their knocks, but nothing major as everyone is injury-free and ready for tonight’s match. All the players swung by the room at some point to pick up bottled water, fruit and other snacks. Guys are keeping it light today, knowing they’ll want their energy for tonight’s game, and hopefully the celebration on the field after.
Friday, May 4 @ 9:15 a.m. CT
It’s been musical meal rooms here at the hotel during out time in Jamaica and breakfast this morning was in a brand new location – on the 18th floor. The players and staff aren’t staying in the “tower” section of the hotel, so it was a bit of a treasure hunt to find our coffee, eggs and bacon this morning, but with a bit of diligence everyone got there by 8 a.m. While it was a long elevator ride up it was worth it as the view is pretty fantastic, including a bird’s eye view of the National Stadium. Not to much to report from breakfast, but assistant coach Tim Mulqueen couldn’t resist to give some shtick to Jared Jeffrey about the Dallas Mavericks getting knocked out of the playoffs last night. Jeffrey didn’t have much to say in return, just a shrug of the shoulders.
Thursday, May 3 @ 3:35 p.m. ET
Players are enjoying the semi-day off here at the hotel. After their pool workout, the players just relaxed in their rooms, some catching some z’s, while other reading or playing video games until lunch at 1 p.m. The coaches showed them some film on Jamaica for about 45 minutes later in the afternoon and for a little activity the players jumped on bikes in the hotel gym, called Gymkhana. OK, so it’s a boring entry, but there is really not much going on. Definitely a light day, just what they need to recover.
Thursday, May 3 @ 10:25 a.m. CT
Just walked by the pool where Rushing was taking the guys through the pool workout and did a double-take on Sheanon Williams. He's wearing a shower cap to cover up his curly fro. Don't want to say it, but he looks ridiculous (wait...just said it). Pretty humorous and sure the guys are giving him some flack about it. Maybe he borrowed it from his grandma (as we mentioned, she's here).
Thursday, May 3 @ 10:15 a.m. CT
Already playing two games in three days, the coaches decided to lighten things up today for the players. Instead of heading out to the National Stadium for another training session this afternoon, the guys are doing a pool workout now, and then will hit the bikes in the workout room later today. Overall, most of the guys are doing pretty well, but those that have played 180 minutes definitely need the semi-day off. Trainers Michael White and Paul Rushing have had their hands full this trip, doing their best to make sure the guys recover and making sure to handle and knocks they’ve picked up along the way.
Thursday, May 3 @ 8:45 a.m. CT
Heading to breakfast at 9, but thought we’d share some stuff we weren’t able to get to last night. First of all, the big man himself, Sunil Gulati, made his way in for the game against Canada. He was in the stands and made an appearance in the locker room after the game. He also was extremely accommodating with the friends and families that are here, sitting down with them at the hotel over a buffet dinner on the pool terrace, getting to meet them and answer any questions they had. It’s in and out though for Gulati, as he left this morning. He’s a busy man people. Also, we met Mrs. MacMath last night and we’re triple-checking we just spelled her name last name right because we accidentally added an extra “c” to make it “MacMatch” during that Q&A her son Zac did for us the other day. Our bad, but we’re blaming it on having to write “match” so many times, the word just types itself. Met Mykell Bates parents and joked about his robe for a bit. Sheanon Williams family here, too, and his grandma was extremely nice and a joy to talk with.
Wednesday, May 2 @ 5:51 p.m. CT
Halftime right now and U.S. up 2-0. Goals by Schuler and Bates, but you know because you're following on MT. Wanted to blog this before the game, but the internet conection wasn't set up until 15 minutes into the match. Ahh...the Caribbean lifestyle. Can't tell you how many times we've been told one something will be ready when it's not and we inquire about it we're told, "It's all good mon. No worries, it will all work out." Anyway, before the match, Hackworth said only a few words before they head out. Not verbatim, but this is close: "Who leads the tournament right now? (A few players respond with "Canada.") That's right, Canada. But for the next 90 minutes you have the opportunity to determine where Canada ends up after tonight." And out he walks.
Wednesday, May 2 @ 2:49 p.m. CT
Back from the pre-game meal, but the team is still in the dining area huddled around a laptop computer watching the movie "Victory." Pretty cool scene as there's 20 guys basically toppled on top of each other to view the screen. A close-knit group indeed.
Wednesday, May 2 @ 1:45 p.m. CT
Ran into some of the parents in the hotel (Lambo's, Garza's and Mr. Wenzel) and heard a pretty good story. During the match against Trinidad & Tobago, we noticed that the PA announcer stated two or three times that anyone filming in the stadium that wasn't not given permission needed to stop. We thought it was a bit odd, but didn't think much of it until now. That person they were talking about: Mr. Garza. Guess the warnings didn't do much as someone had to finally come over and tell Mr. Garza to stop. Better to ask forgiveness than ask permission sometimes.
Wednesday, May 2 @ 11:25 a.m. CT
Guys heading to catch their snack from the training room and it appears we've got our own Hugh Hefner on the squad (in dress only) as Mykell Bates showed up with a robe on. Not one provided by the hotel we might add, but his own which he packed for the trip. "I like to be comfortable man, and after taking a shower and throwing on my robe makes me comfortable." Hey, whatever works Mykell.
Wednesday, May 2 @ 10:15 a.m. CT
Breakfast is in the tummy. After chowing, the players and staff did a short 15-minute walk and stretch around the hotel. The rest of the day looks like this: Snack (11:30 a.m.), pre-game meal (2 p.m.), team meeting (3 p.m.), depart for stadium (3:15 p.m.) and match vs. Canada (5 p.m.). Players look relaxed and ready to face their northern rivals. Remember, everyone can catch the match live on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker.
Tuesday, May 1 @ 7:35 p.m. CT
At dinner tonight, Danny Wenzel had a little fun with straws. The defender/midfielder took about ten straws, stuck them back-to-back and tried to sip some apple juice from a glass across the table. Despite his best efforts, the contraption didn’t pan out. But the effort did entertain his teammates. It’s been six days of either being in a hotel room, bus or soccer field, so you can’t help the guys for being a bit restless and goofy.
Tuesday, May 1 @ 4:45 p.m. CT
Back from training and Bora made another appearance. Actually, we should say Mr. Bora as he told us that’s how he likes to be addressed. He stopped by the end of training and talked with Mulqueen (who worked with Bora when he was with the MetroStars) and Hackworth. Bora, I mean Mr. Bora, and Mulqueen played a little game of who could get the ball closest to the midfield stripe from about 15 yards away. Six attempts and six wins for Mr. Bora, with the last one actually landing right on the line (Mulqueen may have let him win out of respect…or so he says). Hackworth then introduced Mr. Bora to the team, with only one player – Brandon King – know who he was (although he did call him just Bora and was quickly corrected). In his broken English, the former MNT coach talked about his history with the U.S. and then told the team good luck, although not too much luck against Jamaica. He also told Brek Shea that he reminds him of Alexi Lalas…hmmm…OK. Wouldn’t call it inspiring, as most of the players had a perplexed look on their face the whole time he was talking, with two questions probably running through their mind: 1) who is this?, and 2) what in the world is he saying? But it’s still good for the kids to learn a little bit about the man who led the U.S. to one of the greatest achievements in MNT history during the ’94 World Cup. Just have to remember, these kids were four years old at that time.
Tuesday, May 1 @ 2:50 p.m. CT
Heading out for training, but just finished a Q&A with goalkeeper Zach MacMath. MacMath has really come on in the past year for the U-17s and in an extremely close competition between Lambo and MacMath, got the nod for the opening game against T&T and performed marvelously. Only a ’91, he’s got a bright future. The Q&A is pretty much a “Get to Know Me” piece, with MacMath letting us in on his poor baseball skills, his longest field goal and what he can't live without. Check it the Center Circle piece here.
Tuesday, May 1 @ 1:15 p.m. CT
Players got the chance to take a look at Canada after lunch in a team meeting. Coaches showed them some pictures and footage, but did well not to overload them with information. The theme was: “this is what they do, but remember as long as we do what we need to we can be successful.” Canada will actually be short a couple players – defender/midfielder Drew Beckie, who collapsed during training the other day (get well wishes to him) and attacking fullback Greg Smith, who accumulated two yellows and will have to sit.
Tuesday, May 1 @ 9:48 a.m. CT
Just returned from breakfast where head coach John Hackworth once again took a moment to talk to his players about last night’s performance and preparing for their upcoming game against Canada. We say once again because directly after the match, Hack addressed the team in the locker room. Normally a private conversation fans don’t get access to, we were able to record the speech. Click here to listen as Hackworth talks about their performance and lets them know what went well, what went bad and
what they need to do as they prepare for Canada.
Tuesday, May 1 @ 8:35 a.m. CT
Getting ready to go to breakfast at nine, but wanted to update everyone on an interesting note from last night. During the match, none other than former U.S. head coach and current Jamaican head man, Bora Milutinovic made an appearance in the press room. The coach, who led the U.S. from 1991-95 and a second round appearance in the ’94 World Cup, was all smiles as he greeted the enthusiastic press. Remember those Costa Rica radio guys we told you about, well they about wet their pants as they tried to entice Bora for a live interview during halftime. Bora obliged and also signed autographs for the media members (real professional) and also some of the mingling fans as he walked down the stadium steps.
Monday, April 30 @ 6:51 p.m. CT
First game just ended. How did I know? Costa Rica radio guy to my right said "Termino!!" literally 10 times in a row. Yea, we get it, the game is over. Ended in a 0-0 draw. Probably the best situation for the U.S. as it leaves two points on the table and neither gain any advantage in goal differential or goals scored. Staff and substitutes walking out on the field right now. Catch the rest on MatchTracker! Go USA!
Monday, April 30 @ 6:40 p.m. CT
Players are walking back from the field on the far side. The first game is still 0-0, and there's 10 minutes left. How the U.S. game is going to kickoff at 7 p.m., we have no idea. Need to clear the field, do the FIFA anthem and each country's anthem all in like 10 minutes. Guessing we're starting late, especially since TV Jamaica isn't showing either of these games. They informed us they're filming just the Jamaica games, and they aren't even doing those live, rather tape-delayed the following day. From what we've seen in this first match, Costa Rica has had the better of the chances, but Canada's 'keeper has stood his ground.
Monday, April 30 @ 6:00 p.m. CT
U.S. team just walked onto the track surrounding the field here at “The Office,” during halftime of Canada-Costa Rica (0-0 by the way). Looks like they’re walking all the way around the stadium to warm-up on the field outside on the opposite end of the stadium.
Monday, April 30 @ 5:55 p.m. CT
Ahh….ummmmm…..soooo….not sure how to put this, but lets just say it smells like Otto’s jacket.
Monday, April 30 @ 5:20 p.m. CT
At the stadium early before the team to get set up online for MatchTracker and we’re definitely not going to enjoy our seat. The early match between Costa Rica and Canada has started and we’re stuck between two Costa Rica radio personalities belting out their play-by-play. Imagine looking to your left to see a heavy-set man finishing almost every sentence with an elongated syllable and the guy to the right getting exponentially louder every time the ticos get closer to Canada’s goal. And you think MatchTracker can be annoying from your couch.
Monday, April 30 @ 4:05 p.m. CT
This is a new one. Our equipment manager, Jason Peters, better known as JP, headed to the local laundromat to drop off out training gear from yesterday and they were out of one crucial thing: detergent. How this happens, we have no idea. Then again, we’ve been to Subway on the road and they’ve been out of bread. Anyway, the best part was they said if HE went out and bought some then they would do the laundry. Gee, thanks.
Monday, April 30 @ 2:35 p.m. CT
First rain drops are falling on our heads. Before heading to Jamaica, the weatherchannel.com was telling us to prepare for rain almost daily, but it had been all sunshine and humidity for the first four days. It’s coming down pretty good, but most likely will be over before we head to the game. Might actually be a good thing as the rain could soften up the hard field at National Stadium, something the players were talking about after their lone stadium training session two days ago.
Monday, April 30 @ 2:10 p.m. CT
After lunch, for a little inspiration the players and coaching staff watched ESPN’s SportsCentury episode, “Do You Believe in Miracles: The Story of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team.” No matter how many times you hear the story about defeating the Soviets and their entire journey to the Gold Medal, it’s enthralling. It ran about 45 minutes, but the kids were riveted and hopefully was the last little motivation to help them earn three points tonight.
Sunday, April 29 @ 9:58 p.m. CT
It’s lights out for the players, but just before that defender and captain Mykell Bates dropped by and did a podcast for ussoccer.com. Bates talked about getting ready for tomorrow, what he expects from T&T and told us how he tried to not let the fashion show distract him earlier this evening. Check it out on ussoccer.com once we get it posted.
Sunday, April 29 @ 9:45 p.m. CT
Coaching staff all piled into the equipment room to catch “Entourage.” Seems like the show has begun to be a running theme during our qualifying run. The show kicked off our trip when we watched last season on DVD while on the bus to Fort Lauderdale, now we’re catching it just before our first game and if things go right, we’ll catch it next Sunday after our final match to celebrate a spot in the World Cup.
Sunday, April 29 @ 8:28 p.m. CT
So the fashion show is definitely going to be pretty crazy. The “backstage” for the models is actually two rooms on some of the players’ floor and two players in particular are literally in the middle of it – Mykell Bates and Alex Nimo. The models have two rooms, 108 and 112, so guess where Bates and Nimo are? Yep, 110. If you’ve watched “America’s Top Model” (admit it, you have) or those behind-the-scene shows Victoria Secret does (guys…now this we know you’ve seen), you know how crazy it is backstage as all the models are running around and getting their last-second adjustments before taking the stage. Well, Bates and Nimo are getting a prime view. Hmmm…interesting, usually they keep their door closed, but tonight it seems to be wide open. A few models almost walk into their room, thinking it’s their “prep” room. A 16-year-old kid couldn’t even dream this. The guys are also joking that T&T might have set this all up to distract them. Doubtful, but it’s a lot better than the usual blaring music in the middle of the night.
Sunday, April 29 @ 7:35 p.m. CT
Just got back from the team’s final training session before their first game tomorrow. One word to describe tonight’s session under the lights: sharp. You could really tell the guys are ready for tomorrow. A good sign was how loose they were on the bus back from training. Not cocky, just loose. Over the past four days, the guys seem to have gotten more and more comfortable and look to be peaking at a good time. Practice also ended on a fantastic high note during an 11v11 scrimmage with a cracker of a goal. We won’t say who had it as to not tip our hand in terms of our line-up, but it was a ridiculous header from 15 yards out into the upper left corner. Hoping for more of the same on Monday.
Sunday, April 29 @ 2:38 p.m. CT
After eating lunch there was a team meeting to go over a few of the things the coaches saw from Trinidad during their opening match against Costa Rica. Looking at video and photos of T&T’s set-ups on set plays, the players hopefully came away with an idea of how to possibly break down their backline and create opportunities on goal. One thing they did notice is that while T&T aren’t the most organized of teams, they definitely are one of the fastest. Every player, no matter the position, is a pure athlete and will definitely create some fits for the U.S. defense. Even though they lost to Costa Rica, they had the better of the chances in the first half. How the U.S. deals with the early part of the game will be crucial.
Sunday, April 29 @ 10:15 a.m. CT
Another event is being set up in the pool area for tonight. Get this…it looks like they’re setting up a catwalk. A fashion show!? Models walking around? This could be good…or bad, considering we need the guys to be concentrating.
Saturday, April 28 @ 9:45 p.m. CT
Coaches are back from the games and no real surprises as Costa Rica beat T&T, 2-0, while Canada had Jamaica’s number, 3-0. Not a great place to start for the hosts if they want to qualify for the first time since 1999, but it sounds like Canada has a solid squad here in Jamaica. Expect a tough border battle come Wednesday.
Saturday, April 28 @ 4:51 p.m. CT
The first games are kicking off in just a little bit. Sadly, the games aren’t being televised live here in Jamaica, so if you want to catch it you have to make your way to the stadium. The U.S. coaches are there scouting, staying after practice to see T&T vs. Costa Rica in the first match and then Jamaica vs. Canada for the night cap. T&T will be the team of most interest as that’s who the U.S. opens up against on Monday.
Saturday, April 28 @ 4:28 p.m. CT
Guys looked good at practice today. The team trained on the auxiliary field behind the stadium, holding a short, but spirited 50-minute session. Hackworth emphasized some spacing and moving as a unit, going 11v11 for the final 15 minutes (starters vs. reserves). The team also worked on set plays – free kicks and corner kicks – something the coaching staff also talked to the players about in a meeting last night. Working the kinks out on those plays, especially the free kicks, could pay off for the U.S. come Monday. Don’t be surprised to see the U.S. put one away on a nice set piece.
Saturday, April 28 @ 3:15 p.m. CT
Over the years, we’ve seen some great police escorts, but we’ve got to give some props to the guys designated to us here in Jamaica. The best way to explain how good it is would be to compare it to the escort we had in Germany for the World Cup, which was no doubt fantastic, but it’s easy when you have almost a whole task force of bike cops and police cars clearing a path either to practice, games or the hotel. Here in Jamaica; it’s two guys. One bike cop, and another in a police car. The bike cop has no fear, willing to drive on the wrong side of the road (which is the right side here in Jamaica) and wave down oncoming traffic so the bus can slip by. And today was a pretty remarkable feat, as traffic was bumper-to-bumper on both sides of the major four-lane thoroughfare to the stadium. The bike cop, somehow, someway, parted the Jamaica sea of vehicles, and reduced what should have been a 20-minute drive to 11 minutes. Great job fellas.
Saturday, April 28 @ 12:57 p.m. CT
During meals we’ve been able to catch some of the activities going down on the street below by peering out the large windows in the dining room. One odd sight at lunch today: a lady walking around carrying a 15-foot stick. We didn’t see her strike anyone, but she was using it like a whip, slapping the ground in front of her as she walked down the sidewalk. People were literally moving to the other side of the street to avoid her path. Maybe not all that interesting, but it was so odd we had to mention it. You want all access, behind-the-scenes people, and you’re getting it.
Saturday, April 28 @ 12:18 p.m. CT
The coaches and staff worked out today in the fitness center, and a few are wishing they’d passed on the two-hour cycling class. Seems the instructor was a tad overzealous during the workout. Words used in describing him were plentiful: crazy, ridiculous, unbelievable, out of control, and on and on. Not sure they’ll be going back anytime soon.
Saturday, April 28 @ 10:49 a.m. CT
Not too much to report this morning as the team basically ate breakfast and then the players slipped back into their rooms, some getting under the covers for a bit more shut-eye, while others piling in Mykell Bates and Alex Nimo’s room to play some Xbox. Nothing much going on until practice at 3 p.m., so the guys are keeping things light, staying in their air conditioned rooms and staying off their feet.
Friday, April 27 @ 9:04 p.m. ET
Ran into Alex Nimo in the hall and chatted a little bit about his journey to the national team. If you missed it, ussoccer.com has an article about his childhood in war-torn Liberia to Portland, Oregon, and then to the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton. Great kid, even better story. Check it out and cheer Nimo on. He deserves it.
Friday, April 27 @ 8:35 p.m. ET
Mykell Bates just did one of the greatest things we’ve ever seen on a national team trip. And, yes, it involved karaoke. The players were all taking in the festivities when somehow the book of songs landed in Bates hands and he was getting pressured to hit the stage (he actually was pumped to do it, but as a good captain asked permission from the coaches, who were all for it). What did he do? “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”? Nope. “Unforgettable” Yea, right. Nah, Bates went for R. Kelly’s “Step in the Name of Love.” He started out slow, struggling to stay with the lyrics, so he shifted gears and started getting into the music and letting his inner-dance come out. Boy, did he ever. The crowd – which, it should be stated was very female and very young – was LOVING it. Oh, and we got it on video. Ah…it wasn’t Fulk, but we got someone. (Oh, and for anyone saying these kids are goofing around, get real. It was 15 minutes and a great team bonding moment.)
Friday, April 27 @ 7:32 p.m. ET
How many coaches do you know that would hand deliver food to your room. Well, Hackworth did just that as the wait staff here at the hotel came through with some extra steak and he piled a bunch on a plate and hit up the rooms of players and staff that got left out of earlier. He actually had extra plates for each of his stops, although he forgot utensils. Ah, but who’s complaining. What guy doesn’t love eating steak with his bare hands. Never felt so manly.
Friday, April 27 @ 7 p.m. ET
Back from dinner and it was a bit of a disappointing one. The first downer meal on the trip, and to tell you the truth, the first we can remember in a while. And all because they ran out of steak. A number of people didn’t get to dig in on the beef, and we’re left with rice and macaroni. As you can tell, we were in that group.
Friday, April 27 @ 6:29 p.m. ET
On the way to dinner, we notice there were hundreds and hundreds of chairs are being set up in the pool terrace. The obvious question was: why? Well, we asked and it appears every Friday they hold a karaoke event pool-side. This could be pretty interesting. There are literally probably 250-300 chairs set up on one side, which doesn’t include any of the normal table and chairs set up on the other side by the bar. So, how do we convince assistant coach Keith Fulk to do it and have the incriminating video for years to come?
Friday, April 27 @ 6:08 p.m. ET
Just got back from training, the first for the U-17s here in Jamaica. Team looked good and they got to practice on the stadium field, which will be their only chance before their opening match on Monday. The players liked the field a lot more than they thought they would, giving it two thumbs up. The stadium won’t be filled – they’re expecting about 3,000 a game – but we’re expecting those that do to create quite a lively atmosphere.
Friday, April 27 @ 9:24 a.m. CT
Players and staff get their first taste of breakfast. The oatmeal, or porridge, is the way to go. Quality. After chowing, CONCACAF administrators made an appearance and verified all the players are who we said they were (no pulling a fast one on them). After the relatively quick and painless ordeal, the players had time to chill until lunch. First practice here in Kingston will be at 4 p.m. at the National Stadium, better known as "The Office."
Friday, April 27 @ 6:35 a.m. CT
Yes, it’s early. Too early. Especially too early to look wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and go on national Jamaican television, but that’s what U.S. head coach John Hackworth is about to do here in the next 10-15 minutes – think the equivalent of Good Morning America in Jamaica. Right now, we’re actually sitting in the “green room,” that, probably like most "green rooms", isn’t exactly green, but we are sitting on green sofas, so that’s close enough. We just watched the opening of the show. From what the hosts are saying, they’re also going to have the head coach of Jamaica on with John. Since we’ve got some time to kill, and it's pretty entertaining, we’ll tell you what’s going on in the show:
After the opening, they threw to two "rappers" that are standing in the studio (they’re doing a split screen right now – one shot on the hosts, the other on the rappers). For the first five minutes they basically did the interview like that – the female and male host on the couch, the rappers standing in the studio. Finally, the music starts up. The short rapper has on a bright orange winter cap with a brim, an oversized horizontal striped blue-and-white polo that goes to his knees and of course a gold chain, while the tall rapper has a real shiny belt buckle (that's all that's really sticking out for us about him). Orange hat rapper is the only one singing for the moment…belt buckle is just dancing to the rhythm. Man, we need to get a copy of this. Much better to see it for yourself, the description does no justice. The main verse of the song is “people don’t want us to prosper.” Must be Jamaica’s version of “the man holding me down" theme in rap that's so prevalent in the U.S. No one likes the man.
Quick pull away from what’s on the telly, to tell you that the Jamaican head coach, David Hunt, and press officer just walked into the green room. Hackworth and the Jamaican coach are talking about the other teams in the tournament and also Mexico, who didn’t qualify from the other group.
Shiny belt buckle rapper just walked in and greeted the Jamaican press officer! He left for a sec, then came back with orange hat guy...well, actually, we have an update, the hat is more yellow. The color on the TV must be off in here.
Getting a better look at these “rappers” now. Shiny belt has a NY Yankee Dolce & Gabbana hat. Also, failed to mention, everything he has on is brown – hat, shirt, pants. OK, shoes are white, but they have brown trim and brown shoelaces.
Back to TV...doing more of a straight news format now with a single female anchor. She's got some hair...Bozo the Clown comes to mind, but we didn't say (write) that. Besides that, boring...back to the room.
We just got a what’s-up nod from shiny belt. Actually felt pretty cool about getting the nod. He’s got a good presence, a coolness about him. We bet if we went out in Jamaica, he'd be a guy to roll with.
Ok, it’s 6:55 now and Hack and the Jamaican coach got brought into the make-up room. Hackworth getting “primped.” Not sure he’s liking the paint-brush being slapped across his face, especially as he tries to still talk soccer with Hunt.
After the quick make-up covering, Hackworth is whisked to the stage pretty quickly. It’s about 7:01 and they have the two coaches standing in the studio (same location as “rappers” were earlier). The host actually knew his stuff and asked some good questions for the coaches during the 7-10 minute segment.
After that, handshakes and “good-lucks” were exchanged and the coaches walked out of the station with the notion that they’ll meet once again on May 4.
And it's only 7:15. Two hours until breakfast.
Thursday, April 26 @ 9:02 p.m. CT
After dinner Hackworth talked to the players about their goals for the tournament (win it, duh!) and how he wants to approach things (one game at a time, baby!). The guys look real intense. Now that they’re actually here in Jamaica, it seems like the goal of getting to the World Cup is more real and they look ready to take on anything and everything that comes their way.
Thursday, April 26 @ 8:07 p.m. CT
Checked into the hotel. A few mix-ups, but team coordinator Tim Ryder was all over it and got things set right quickly. Nice pool area, even a hot tub. Might need to hit that later, but for now, we’re heading to eat our first meal in Jamaica.
Thursday, April 26 @ 7:01 p.m. CT
Almost forgot to mention, we found out Dennis Rodman has been hiding out in Jamaica and supposedly is now a rapper. During the bus ride, Chris put the TV on a music video channel and there was Rodman singing and dancing with his best Jamaican accent. Seems he now goes by Elephant Man and his big hit out right now is “Duty Wire.” We’re sure it will be just a matter of time before it explodes in the States. Or just explodes…like, internally. (And no, it wasn’t really Rodman. C’mon people!)
Thursday, April 26 @ 6:48 p.m. CT
Bus driver just pulled up and we noticed two things right away: 1) He’s wearing a red Nike “Don’t Tread” t-shirt. Nice. 2) A couple staff members start laughing/smirking and letting us know, “We’re in for a ride.” Appears when the U-17s were here a month ago they had the same driver and he provided some memorable trips through Kingston. Named Chris, his reputation preceded him as he was flying behind the police escort, maneuvering and slaloming through traffic like the moving cars (both with and AGAINST traffic) were just potholes in the road (although assistant coach Tim Mulqueen, always the instigator, enjoyed telling Chris he was less impressed with this performance compared to last time). A perfect driver in the end as Chris got us to the hotel with no problems and even was teaching the guys the right way to say, “Ya, mon!” as they got off the bus.
Thursday, April 26 @ 6:15 p.m. CT
It’s inevitable, but man it’s annoying. Just landed and what seems like the 1,349th person just asked what team we were with and what we’re doing. Tends to happen when almost 30 people wear the same blue Nike U.S. Soccer polo. And it’s a fair question, but the whole process is a struggle sometimes. Here’s a sampling of questions, with our typical answers (and sometimes what we’d like to say after the first 100 people):
What team are you with? The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Soccer Team.
What sport? Soccer (like I just said, ‘Soccer,’ try and keep up).
How old are the players? Under-17. So like 16? Yes (good deduction, Sherlock).
What are you here for? Qualifying for the U-17 World Cup.
Sooo…I thought the World Cup was last year? That was for the full team, this is for younger national team. (Again, try and keep up).
Which player is Freddy Adu? He’s actually not on this team. (Right there [point at Alex Nimo]).
Thursday, April 26 @ 5:30 p.m. CT
Everything was going great on the Air Jamaica flight (Delta miles, thank you very much!) until we heard the pilot’s announcement. After telling passengers we’d be landing in about 20 minutes, he stated the U.S. U-17s were on board, which seemed like a nice gesture, but then he said this: “We won’t wish them good luck, but we’ll welcome then to Jamaica.” Gee, thanks, Maverick.
Thursday, April 26 @ 4:40 p.m. CT
Even though we’re in the air, we think we’re technically in the Central Time Zone now, so that’s what we’re going with. Guys are zonked out. We’re sitting ahead of the players and when we look behind us, all we see is eyelids and tilted heads. Well, except for Mykell Bates, who seems to possibly have a horrible drooling problem. We’ll just never know since he literally has his sweatshirt covering his entire face, looking like a ghost costume without holes cut out for his eyes. When guys do happen to awaken from their slumber, you see a lot of headphones, with maybe a book or a card game sprinkled in.
Thursday, April 26 @ 2:25 p.m. ET
Got to the airport and made a relatively smooth check-in, which is always a plus when you have 25+ bags of equipment (which includes Gatorade coolers, massage tables, soccer balls, cleats, uniforms, etc.), plus each player and staff members’ personal bags. Before heading through security almost everyone stopped to grab some pizza or pasta at Sbarro’s. Mmmmm…it was tasty, but $19 for two slices of pizza, two drinks and a cookie? Yikes. After the quick bite, everyone slowly trickled towards Gate 9, found a seat and seemed to either get on the laptop or do a bit of reading.
Thursday, April 26 @ 12:05 a.m. ET
We’ve been on the bus from Bradenton to Fort Lauderdale (where we’ll catch our flight to Kingston) for about two hours and it’s actually flown by. How’s that? One word: “Entourage.” One of the players brought the second season on DVD and it got dropped into the player moments after the wheels on the bus went round-and-round. Seeing the antics of Vince, E, Drama, Turtle, and Ari (can’t forget Ari!) makes the time dissapear, probably because you end up daydreaming about what it would be like if you were a movie star. The only negative about the showing? It’s being blared over the speakers so everyone can hear, so getting a cell call is almost impossible.