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U.S. U-20s Arrive in Korea for Suwon Cup

U.S. Under-20 MNT Notes
Suwon, South Korea
March 20, 2005

THE LONGEST AND SHORTEST DAY: It started at the Korean Air terminal in the Los Angeles International Terminal at 12:30 a.m. Saturday. It ended at the La Vie D’or Resort and Country Club in Suwon, South Korea, at 8 a.m. Sunday.  In between? A couple elbow bumps by the beverage cart, a subtitled movie about a husband dealing with his young wife’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, some sleep, the listening of some music, a few pages flipped in a book, an odd Korean rap video, a tiny omelet with broccoli and two potato wedges on the side, and the final shudder of wheels to runway. The U.S. Under-20 Men’ National Team experienced all the above and more during their 13-hour flight to Incheon, South Korea, right outside Seoul, as they get set to participate in the Suwon International Youth Football Tournament in Suwon. After landing in time zone 17 hours ahead of Pacific time, the 20 players and nine staff members went through customs, collected their 30+ equipment bags (not to mention their personal bags), jumped on a bus for 45 minutes to Suwon and arrived at their final destination, the La Vie D’or Resort and Country Club. Ah, but the day was just beginning as the team had breakfast, cleaned up a bit, ate lunch and then headed out for their first training in Korea.

ARGENTINA TO START: When the U.S. accepted the Korea Football Association’s invitation to take part in the Suwon Cup against Argentina, Egypt and South Korea, they couldn’t have known what would occur on March 6. Sitting front row and center in Holland for the FIFA World Youth Championship, Under-20 head coach Sigi Schmid saw as the U.S. was drawn into Group D with none other than two of the three teams it would be facing just a couple weeks later in Suwon – Argentina and Egypt. Amazingly, the U.S. plays Argentina and Egypt in the same sequence in both instances, opening against the South Americans and facing Egypt in the third and final match (with Germany and South Korea switching spots as the second match opponent). While it’s a bit odd to face two of the teams you will meet just a few months before going up against them in a world championship, the U.S. will do what it can to turn it into a positive and come out victorious.

Suwon International Youth Football Tournament
March 22

USA vs. Argentina          4:30 p.m. local time (2:30 a.m. ET)
South Korea vs. Egypt    7 p.m. local time (5 a.m. ET)

March 24
Argentina vs. Egypt      4:30 p.m. local time (2:30 a.m. ET)
USA vs. South Korea    7 p.m. local time (5 a.m. ET)    

March 26
USA vs. Egypt                     12:30 p.m. local time (10:30 p.m. ET on March 25)
South Korea vs. Argentina     3 p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET)

TWO OUT, TWO IN: A couple changes to the roster occurred since it was released last week. Sammy Ochoa was unable to make the trip due to club commitments with Tecos in Mexico, while Boston College’s Charlie Davies fell ill the day before the team left for Korea. To replace Ochoa, head coach Sigi Schmid made a local call to UCLA forward Kamani Hill, who was with the U-20s during their latest camp in February. The last minute replacement for Davies is Brad Evans, who didn’t step foot in the team’s hotel in Suwon until after the rest of the team had slumped their way up to bed. Evans was unable to be booked on the team flight, having to catch a later plane on Saturday. The final player - Quentin Westberg - will make his way to Korea via France on Monday.

COUNTRY CLUB LIVING: The U.S. arrived at La Vie D’or and were pleased to find a helpful the hotel staff, along with comfortable rooms with a large number of television stations and beautiful views from the high-perched resort. The resort has a nine-hole golf course just feet from the back porch of the 19-story hotel, and in spite of the dead grass, due to the chilly temperatures this time of year, a number of people ventured out to hit the links the day the U.S. team arrived. While only one day at the resort, the U.S. will no doubt be comfortable as the meals have been excellent so far and the players won’t get too cooped up at the somewhat secluded resort as there is a nice-sized work-out room on the first floor and surrounding walking trails. They’ll just have to try and avoid their three opponents, who are also staying at the hotel.

NEW CAMP, NEW ‘DO: It hasn’t been too long since midfielder Danny Szetela and Benny Feilhaber were with their U-20 teammates (January for Szetela, February for Feilhaber), but when they both came into this camp they were met with some double-takes, curious looks and, well, to be totally honest, some laughs. Szetela took his well-known blond curls, cut them short and applied enough product to give him what may be the first curly-hair mohawk. While Szetela’s Beckham-like hairstyle may have raised a few eyebrows, it was Feilhaber who provided the jaw-dropping, head shaking, “no way” reaction when he walked into the LAX international terminal. Gone was the majority of his furry mop from qualifying, with only remnants remaining as the UCLA midfielder kept it all business in the front, while going for the party in the back. Yes, Benny is another in a line of recent U-20s trying to bring back the mullet (see current U-20 Jonathan Spector and former U-20 Zak Whitbread). While it seemed the players and staff had mixed feelings on the new ‘do, all agreed Feilhaber now looks somewhere between Joe Dirt or Vinny Barbarino. Feilhaber has defended himself by saying there is one positive from going into a barbershop and coming out in the year 1985: “The girls like it.” Fair enough.

ON TIRED LEGS: If the players had their choice, they would have had no problem hitting the pillow and getting some much-needed rest. But, with their first game just a couple days away and the need to get acclimated to the time change, the players went through their first training just six hours after touching down on Korean soil. The U-20s battled the Sunday midday traffic to the Suwon Sport Complex to conduct about a 75-minute practice, working on footwork, possession and creating chances in the attacking third. The players struggled a bit, but were able to gut it out and put in a decent performance.

A SUWON WELCOME: After returning from practice, the players still didn’t get the chance to conk out as all four teams attended a welcoming reception by the KFA, which included the mayor of Suwon. The teams were greeted with a statement by the mayor welcoming them to the city and wishing them good luck in the tournament. Then they were presented with a small taste of the country’s culture with a martial arts display and a traditional dance. The martial arts performers were young children aged 10-18 from Heroes T.K.D., and they woke up any U.S. player that may have been slowly dozing off at the table (that means you Chad Barrett). The youngsters broke boards of wood with a variety of punches and kicks, whether it be standing or while jumping in the air, and broke a number of boards (up to four) in one swift motion. They also kicked apples off of knives held in the air (spraying the remnants of what was left across the stage), broke boards from a number of highly-difficult locations and one member even broke through the handles of two bats with one crushing blow from his left shin (that one left people cringing). Schmid, who was sitting at the table closest to the stage, can verify the boards were solid wood as the broken half of one flew almost in his lap after one of the youngsters split it with a damaging jump kick.

GOING GAVEN: None of the seven MLS players have been home lately due to traveling to places like Ecuador, Trinidad and Spain for their pre-season, but the MetroStars Eddie Gaven has probably bounced around the most as he’s also been splitting time with the MetroStars and the full U.S. Men’s National Team. The only U-20 player on the roster to have a cap with the full team (two), Gaven was with the MetroStars in Bradenton, Fla, before joining the MNT’s camp in Carson, Calif., as they trained for their first home match of the year, a friendly against Colombia on March 9 in Fullerton. Gaven came on against Colombia in the 76th minute Steve Ralston, helping the U.S. secure a impressive 3-0 victory over the South Americans, and then left with the team the next day for Colorado Springs, Colo. Gaven then spent the next week conducting high-altitude training with the MNT as they continued preparation for their match against Mexico in Mexico City on March 27, before jetting back out to the L.A.-area to meet up with the U-20s.

MORE LIKE MARCH SANENESS: With the Under-20 players are obviously concentrating on getting ready for three games in five days against Argentina, Egypt and South Korea, they’ve also been talking about another sport since congregating at the Korean Air terminal on Friday night – NCAA basketball. Most of the players had long filled out their brackets and watched the first round games on Thursday night, but a number missed the Friday first round games as they were on their way to Los Angeles. The Vermont over Syracuse and Bucknell over Kansas upsets were big surprises for everyone, and down right bracket-busting for some like Greg Dalby (Syracuse to Final Four) and Jacob Peterson (Kansas to Final Four). Andrew Kartunen walked into LAX feeling pretty confident as the last he heard his Stanford boys were up 10 points at one point in the first half, but a quick internet check on his cell phone told a horrid story of a Cardinal second half collapse and eventual early exit. Overall, before catching the flight to Korea only Patrick Phelan (Wake Forest) out of the 11 college players had his schoolmates still left in the Big Dance (six didn’t even make the tournament). Nothing a 13-hour flight can’t fix. By the time Phelan had flown to Korea, taken the bus to his hotel and gotten ready for training, the Demon Deacons were doused by West Virginia in a double overtime thriller. Despite the lack of any remaining school spirit for the rest of the tournament, the players will be once again checking out what the latest upsets are when they get out of bed on Monday morning.

GETTING OLDER QUICKER: As a kid, the feeling you had the day before your birthday was pretty much equivalent to that on Christmas Eve – get here already! U.S. U-20 head coach Sigi Schmid figured out a good way to get a head start on your special day and all it took was flying 17 time zones ahead. Schmid turned a young…well, we won’t tell you how old he is, but he was born in a year with these numbers: 3, 9, 5, 1. And he’s not old enough to be getting the senior discount at Denny’s. Schmid, who was born in Tuebingen, West Germany, was greeted with a special rendition of the happy birthday song by the players and staff on the bus as the team left training after assistant John Harkes made the announcement of Schmid’s birthday. Basically, Schmid flew 12,000 miles across the world to spend his birthday jet-lagged and only receive in return a horribly off-key song dedicated to him on a bus with purple curtains (yes, purple). Probably not what you’re looking for when your birthday gets there a bit sooner than usual. Happy Birthday Sigi!