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U.S. Under-20 MNT Arrives in UAE in Advance of FIFA World Youth Championship

U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team
2003 FIFA World Youth Championship
Nov. 24, 2003 -- Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

NO REST FOR THE WEARY: The U.S. MNT players and staff are in a word, exhausted. After leaving Chicago O’Hare airport at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22, the team was either on a plane, waiting in an airport or riding a bus for the next 22 hours, before finally hitting the hay at their hotel in Abu Dhabi around 4 a.m. local time on Nov. 24. Their travels took them from the Windy City to Frankfurt, Germany (8 hours), where there was a four-hour layover before jumping back onto a plane to Dubai, UAE (6 hours). They may have been in UAE, but the travel didn’t stop as after about an hour wait the team slugged onto a bus for its final two-hour trek to Abu Dhabi. That gave them all of six hours sleep before they got up for breakfast at 10:30 a.m. and shortly thereafter left for their first practice in UAE. The trip was even longer for most as they had connecting flights into Chicago earlier on Saturday, to meet up with the local Chicagoans.

QUITE A GREETING: The FIFA Local Organizing Committee gave the U.S. a warm welcome to the "Land of Charm", ushering the staff and players into a cushy lounge directly off the gate and providing them with juice, sandwiches and cookies. Captain Bobby Convey and forward Ed Johnson took their first pictures of the trip, posing with a few of the LOC members before the team traversed downstairs to wait for their bus to Abu Dhabi. Also waiting for the U.S. were a couple members of the local media, including Dubai Sports Channel, which interviewed both head coach Thomas Rongen and Convey.

SAND, SAND AND MORE SAND: Despite the lack of sleep, everyone in the U.S. contingent were wide-eyed when their bus first left the Dubai airport for the 160 km trip to Abu Dhabi, as it was the first trip to the Middle East for most and they were eager to see the passing view out the window. The team got to see a bit of the city and numerous mosques along the highway, but after the first half-hour, most of the players drifted off to sleep as the rest of the drive was lacking on scenery (it was basically like driving across Arizona or New Mexico – lots of sand). There was a signal of soccer’s popularity in the country though, as a SUV rolled by with a Celtic Football Club cover on the spare tire attached to the trunk.

FIRST GO-AROUND: The U.S. Under-20s went through their first day of training with two practice sessions on Monday, the first at 11:30 in the morning and the second at 5 p.m. Both sessions took place at the same training ground in the Zayed Sports Complex, and were only a little more than an hour each as the players were low on rest and still getting used to the time change.

U.S. GAME SCHEDULE: The U.S. will begin Group F play will play on Saturday, Nov. 29 against Paraguay at Al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Kickoff is at 5:45 p.m. local (8:45 a.m. ET) and will be televised live on Galavision in the eastern (8:30 a.m.), central (7:30 a.m.) and mountain (6:30 a.m.) time zones. In the Pacific Time zone, the match will be televised tape delay, starting at 8:30 a.m. The match can also be followed live via’s MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics. The U.S. will then meet Germany on Dec. 2, before finishing group play against South Korea on Dec. 5.
U.S. Under-20 MNT World Youth Championship
Date     Opponent     Venue          Kickoff Television (Galavison)
Nov. 29 Paraguay     Abu Dhabi    5:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET 8:30 a.m. ET (live), PT (delayed)
Dec. 2  Germany       Abu Dhabi    5:45 p.m. local / 8:45 a.m. ET 8:30 a.m. ET (live), PT (delayed)
Dec. 5   South Korea Abu Dhabi    8:30 p.m. local / 11:30 a.m. ET 1:30 p.m. ET & PT (delayed)

BOWLING OR STEAM BATH?: The U.S. definitely won’t be getting bored anytime soon while staying at the Armed Forces Officers Club in Abu Dhabi as the gigantic hotel has numerous amenities available during their stay. The Club offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a billiard room, a fitness and weight-lifting center, a steam bath, a movie theatre, table tennis, squash courts, a bowling alley and even an indoor shooting range. The movie selection is fairly up-to-date as two of the movies shown this week will be "10 Ways to Lose a Guy" and "The Matrix Reloaded." The players also brought a video game system, which they hooked-up in the players lounge to pass the down time.

GOOD EATING: If the first day of meals is any indication, the U.S. will be eating incredibly well during their stay at the Officers Club. The buffet line of food includes a salad bar, a number of different entrees from chicken to meat to fish, and a tantalizing dessert bar (which will mainly be devoured by the staff). The hotel staff also added a touch of home as there is a model of the Liberty Bell (with crack and all) situated behind the buffet tables.

THREE SHORT: The U.S. team was three players short when they arrived in Abu Dhabi, as D.C. United’s Santino Quaranta, Chicago Fire’s Justin Mapp, and MLS’s most recent acquisition, Freddy Adu, had to catch later flight for a range of reasons. Quaranta was expected to meet his teammates in Chicago on Saturday, but he wasn’t able to fly out of Baltimore due to inclement weather. The forward is expected to arrive late tonight. Mapp and Adu won’t be arriving until late Tuesday night as 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.

STAFF STARS: While roaming the Frankfurt airport aimlessly for a place to grab a quick bite to eat during the team’s layover, the 12 members of the staff were presented with a situation the players are normally in. A Taiwan tourist, who had a pin on his jacket that said "I (heart) NY," noticed the staff by their red U.S. Soccer polos and asked if they would be willing to take a picture taken with him. Rongen and the rest of the staff happily obliged the USA fan before continuing their search for a pre-flight snack.

IS BEING IN THE MIDDLE EAST AN EXCUSE?: They might be on the coast of the Persian Gulf, but for a number of the college students on the U.S. roster it doesn't mean they don't still have homework to turn in back in the States. Most of the players said they had to do at least a bit of homework, including UNC ‘keeper Ford Williams and Michigan’s Knox Cameron, who have papers due this week. Williams is sweating it out as he needs to e-mail his 10-page paper to his professor by Wednesday and, so far, attempts to get hooked-up to the internet have been a struggle. Williams also needs to get online later in the week to take a test on-line this week, which he’ll get accomplished between meals and training.

CONCACAF FRIENDLY: The U.S. will play a scrimmage against Panama, a fellow CONCACAF representative in the World Youth Championship, tomorrow at 6 p.m. in Abu Dhabi. Panama finished atop Group A in CONCACAF qualifying last year to advance to UAE, topping Mexico (who also advanced), Cuba and Guatemala. Panama is in Group A of the WYC with Slovakia, Burkina Faso and the hosts, and will open up the tournament against Burkina Faso on Sunday, Nov. 28 at Zayed Sports City Stadium. The match will be played under the lights at a field just outside the Zayed Sports City Stadium.

HOW’S MY TEAM DOING?: A number of the college players will be eagerly checking online or calling back home to find out how their school is fairing in the Div. I NCAA Men’s College Soccer Championship without them. Eight players – Knox Cameron (Michigan), Ryan Cochrane (Santa Clara), Steve Cronin (Santa Clara), Ned Grabavoy (Indiana), Jordan Harvey (UCLA), Craig Jared Klass (Washington), Drew Moor (Indiana) and Ford Williams (North Carolina) – are all unable to assist their college teammates as they push towards the Final Four of the College Cup in Columbus, Ohio. Of the six relevant teams, all except Santa Clara were seeded in the top 15 and given a bye in the first round. Santa Clara, which finished the regular season with an impressive 13-3-3 record, sneaked by Southern Methodist 4-1 in penalty kicks to advance to the second round. Below is a list the relevant team’s opponent in the second round of the tournament.

2003 NCAA Div. 1 Men’s College Soccer Championship

Second Round (games to be played Nov. 28)
UCLA vs. Tulsa
Indiana vs. Kentucky
Michigan vs. Saint Peters
Santa Clara at Loyola Marymount
North Carolina vs. Coastal Carolina
Washington vs. Portland

NO LIVE MLS CUP, BUT NFL: The U-20 MNT thought they had missed the MLS Cup between the Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes as it was played at The Home Depot while the team was in route to Abu Dhabi, but the players will get the chance to see a tape delay tonight at 8 p.m. local time on ESPN Orbit. They may have had to wait a day to see the MLS Cup, but as they piled into their rooms in the wee hours of the morning they were able to get caught up on Sunday’s NFL action as ESPN Orbit broadcasted PrimeTime live from the U.S., which was followed by the Sunday night match-up between the Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins.

CLARK TAKES THIRD IN MLS ROOKIE VOTING: U-20 MNT midfielder and MetroStars Ricardo Clark finished third in voting for the MLS 2003 Gatorade Rookie of the Year, which was announced on the eve of the MLS Cup last Saturday. Clark set a club record for first-year players by starting the first 27 games of the campaign, logging a team-high 2,590 minutes. During the year, he also found the back of the net three times and notched two assists (including one in the playoffs) to finish with 11 points. The crafty midfielder was the second overall selection in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft and was immediately inserted into the MetroStars lineup. During his rookie season, Clark became an integral part to the MetroStars drive into the playoffs with his deft passing and productive work rate.

Cle was a lumberjack. He could put the wood to you!"
  -- U.S. Under-20 Assistant Coach Dave Dir, who coached the Dallas Burn from 1996-2000, explaining the style of play his fellow U-20 MNT Assistant Cle Kooiman was apt to use during his days playing in MLS with the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny.