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U-20 World Cup Qualifying Blog: Panama Says 'No Mas' and We're On to Canada!

Sunday, Jan. 22 @ 3 a.m. ET
All packed up and ready to 6 a.m. That's right, we're leaving here early so not too much celebrating tonight. For the last blog, we figured we'd just list a bunch of stuff we had meant to blog about but didn't get the chance for whatever reason (forgot, didn't remember or didn't have time to write it up...and then forgot. We need to remember to write more of this stuff down).
-- The Doc (Jason Scopp) had a nice bandaid over his eye for the last part of the trip due to a mis-hit pass by Josmer Altidore during warm-up against Guatemala. Ball hit him smack in the face, busting up his glasses and slicing up his dome (that was definitely 19-year-old speak). He did a bit of surgery on himself and was good to go for the rest of the trip.
-- There are more rooms at the Riande Continental Hotel than is possibly needed, and we ate in almost every single one. Seriously, we moved around to more rooms (Azul, Tortuga, Islas, etc.) on more floors (1st, Mezzanine, Lobby, Conferece Center) than we can remember. Did not make it fun when you were running a bit late for a meal and when you got into the lobby you had no idea what button to push.
-- Two MLS coaches were here watching the tournament - Real Salt Lake's John Ellinger and Colorado's Fernando Clavijo.
-- Our bus driver loved to beep his horn. It was annoying.
-- After the 5-0 domination, a water fight broke out in the locker room. Thomas was pretty wet sitting in the press conference with the media.
-- We're tired. Sleep now. See you in Canada!

Sunday, Jan. 21 @ 11:20 ET

Hey what’s up people, Amaechi Igwe here with a little U.S. Soccer Blog shout out to my family and my girlfriend Jen. Love you and thanks for the support.

Sunday, Jan. 21 @ 9:15 p.m. ET
Today has been pretty hectic, but the most important thing was getting a win (OK, so we ended up not needing it - thanks Haiti), but everyone is in high spirits knowing that we're headed to Canada for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Check out the details of our convincing 5-0 win vs. Panama. Needless to say, the home fans weren't nearly as loud on our way out of the stadium as they were when the boys first took the field.

Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 10:45 p.m. ET
While most of the guys are concentrating on tomorrow's match, Akpan is a couple hours into two Harvard exams. Team coordinator Alfonso Cerda is serving as watchdog, even patting the forward down to make sure he didn't have any concealed calculators or cheat sheets. We've been told the two subjects he's being tested on are math and bio chem. Wait...we just thought of something! Alfonso didn't check the hair!! With a mop like that he could pretty much hide an entire book in there.

Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 9:25 p.m. ET
New scouting report coming soon as Maiz just let the room after breaking down Panama. Interesting tidbit at the end as he gives some insight into what it’s like playing in front of a hostile crowd, which will no doubt be the situation tomorrow for U-20s as the Panama Federation is telling us there will be around 25,000 on hand. Check for it on early Sunday morning.

Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 7:45 p.m ET
At dinner the coaching staff was talking about the man in the middle for tomorrow’s game, Mr. Joel Aguilar, and the El Salvadorian got some unchararistic praise. With referees it’s usually a bash-fest, but not this time as they were all impressed with his manning of the Panama-Haiti match on Friday. Mulqueen even told us that Maiz was going nuts over the cat (we’re typing like Mulch talks now), applauding Aguilar with shouts of “great call” and “better no-call” when they were breaking down the tape earlier today. Maiz didn’t deny the flowering he gave Aguilar, shrugging his shoulders and saying, “He’s good.”

Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 7:00 p.m. ET
Rushing off to dinner, but just wanted to let you know we got the game! The players watched the game in their rooms, well, almost everyone...Q fell asleep. Guys were pumped with the win and said they've got to follow it up with one themselves tomorrow.

Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 3:05 p.m. ET
At lunch this afternoon, assistant coach Brian Maisonneuve asked Danny Szetela how his body was feeling after two matches in three days, to which the Columbus Crew midfielder answered, “my body is fine, but my face is still in pain.” Appears Szetela was on the receiving end of two sharp elbows to the noggin during the Guatemala match. And if his girlfriend is reading this (why would she not be, right?), don’t worry there isn’t any major damage to the baby face.

Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 10:55 a.m. ET
The jugadores (we're working on our Spanish!!) were divided into two groups for practice, with the starting diez field players staying back at the hotel to do some regeneration at la piscina and the other 10 heading for una hora practice at our beautiful FSU campus. How's are Spanglish? OK, we'll stop.

Saturday, Jan. 20 @ 9:45 a.m. ET
Another long night here in Panama. A bit disappointing that we didn’t get the crucial three points and clinch our spot in the World Cup, but the guys are still in good spirits and concentrating wholly on Panama. In our ever increasing attempt to get you places no one else can, we were able to record head coach Thomas Rongen’s quick 60-second speech to the boys directly after the Guatemala draw. Click here to listen. An interesting backdrop as Panama was getting to face Haiti, so the players had to do their cool down on the track behind one of the goals and Rongen walked over to the fellas before heading to the post-match press conference. For hard core fans of the sport in the United States, you know all about the tough treatment our boys get on the road in venues like this. Well, this is one of those stories. To say the least, the Panamanian fans were…unruly. They booed the players after the match, threw batteries and other objects and there’s no way we can print the obscenities hurled from the stands. Whatever. Didn’t faze the guys. Thanks for the motivation Panama, as if a trip to the World Cup on the line wasn’t enough.

Friday, Jan. 18 @ 12:00 p.m. ET
Guys just went through their walk-through after breakfast and then had a quick 20-minute meeting to go over offensive and defensive positions for free kicks and corner kicks. During breakfast we were looking at some of the Panama papers and we're hoping Guatemala goes by the probable line-up listed in today's edition of Dia a Dia. They listed the U.S. in a 3-5-2 with Julian Valentin playing outside left midfield. Jules told us he saw another paper that had him listed as a forward. Mr. Versatiliy, Jules Valentin.

Thursday, Jan. 18 @ 9:30 p.m. ET
If you know Nathan Sturgis and Quavas Kirk, then you know the chances of mixing them up are pretty slim. Well, it appears the referee from Wednesday's game did just that as Sturgis was credited with Kirk's yellow card, a definite mistake. With a second yellow forcing a player out of the next match, the mix-up could have caused Sturg, argurably one of the best players on the field for the U.S., to miss a possible crucial game against Panama if he were to be booked against Guatemala. Luckily, the U.S. staff noticed the mix-up on CONCACAF's website and contacted the appropriate officials, who after a few hours were able to determine it was a simple mistake and make the correction.

Thursday, Jan. 18 @ 9:10p.m ET
Who is the best NBA player was the topic of conversation today on the bus to practice between Chris Seitz, Josmer Altidore and Robbie Rogers. Jozy was adament it was Kobe Bryant, Seitz chose Dwayne Wade and Rogers was throwing Steve Nash into the mix. While Rogers backed up Jozy on Bryant being the possible No. 1, he wasn't getting much love from Seitz, or others in the nearby seating, as it was argued that Kobe was too selfish and his well-known off-the-field problems snuck into the debate (which was debated whether that should be allowed to be debated in the debate...huh??) Overhearing the conversation, Tim Mulqueen threw out his own: LeBron James. A good choice, or at least we thought, until all three basically shot him down by stating the Cavalier can't shoot.

Thursday, Jan. 18 @ 8:45 p.m. ET
Guatemala, Guatemala, Guatemala. That's all that's on the minds of the players as they settle in for the night after their team meal and 45 minute meeting where the coaches broke down their next opponent. In talking with all the guys, you can tell they don't feel they've accomplished anything yet and are looking forward to tomorrow's match. So, how do guys get prepared the night before? Well, it depends. We were in Q's and Sarkodie's room and PZ was in there, too. Q was relaxing and watching a movie on his computer, while Sarkodie and Preston were doing homework. Sarkodie was working on his finite homework. We asked him what that was exactly and he said, "Exactly, what is it!? It's shocking. It's the weirdest math I've ever done in my life." We couldn't help him, but his girlfriend was over IM. Maybe he'll be able to use his finite knowledge during tomorrow's game.

Thursday, Jan. 18 @ 4:50 p.m. ET
It’s a podcast party in our room and you're invited. Jules and Szetela just left after recording their second installment of their podcast journal. We have to admit there was some ample touch-up needed as the guys were definitely in a bit of a goofy mood. They finally got through it with a little help from their special guest as well. Listen.

Thursday, Jan. 18 @ 4:15 p.m. ET
Rongen and Dir were just in here finishing a CoachCast, where they broke down last night’s game against Haiti. It’s got everything from the reasoning they chose their line-up to what Thomas told the guys before the game to the Xs and Os on the field. Check it out here. (Look for a player breakdown of the Haiti game with hat-trick hero Andre Akpan tomorrow).

Thursday, Jan. 18 @ 3:35 p.m. ET
Tim Ward is all over us for not providing double assists on goals like MLS as he would have had at least two assists last night if we did. Not going to happen. So why’s Ward pushing hard for the point? Well, it’s not because he’s selfish and a stat-monger, rather he’s been catching some stick from his teammates about having the most caps on the team (22) yet not having a single goal or assist. We’re thinking it probably won’t change anytime soon either because for the good of the team, we’re betting Ward continues to give the ball up to Robbie Rogers in front of him as the Heerenveen midfielder had an impressive performance, especially in the second half.

Thursday, Jan. 18 @ 2:10 p.m. ET
OK, so we haven't posted in a while. We got a bit busy with the game and all last night, but we're back on for some blogging. First up, we've got a couple things about last night's game to report. During the middle of the post-game press conference with the Haiti coach down in the bowels of the stadium a loud roar interrupted one of his answers to a reporter's question. We figured it was a Panama goal as the stadium was dominated by red, but found out later it was actually Guatemala. We also saw the Panama equalizer while sitting in the VIP section and it was an amazing scene as the crowd seemingly erupted as fans jumped to their feet, tossed their full beers onto each other making for an almost Bellagio fountain scene in front of our eyes as every few seconds another splash was seen flying into the air.

We actually got the chance to hang back with the coaching staff last night as they scouted Panama and to a lesser extent Guatemala. Pretty fascinating to hear Thomas and the assistants discuss the players, formations and tactics of the two squads as the game went on. It's definitely not always black and white with what formation a team is playing or what role an individual player may seem to have on the squad, and the coaches had some slightly different takes on similar topics. The great thing about this staff is they have a really good repoire with each other, which allows them to openly share their ideas on what they're seeing and put together a scouting report that will benefit the players the most.

Wednesday, Jan 17 @ 4:15 p.m. ET 
Here we go. The players just loaded onto the bus that will take them to the stadium. Just a little more than two hours until kickoff against Haiti. The players look ready to roll, with some guys listening to music and others getting focused in other ways. The bus ride will be about 30 minutes depending on traffic. Don´t forget you can catch the match live on Gol TV or on MatchTracker, starting at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, Jan. 17 @ 10:45 a.m. ET
The team did their routine walkthrough after breakfast, trotting around the hotel for about 10-15 minutes. A few of the guys commented on how hot it is today - right now it´s in the 90s. It will cool down a bit before kickoff, but not much as we´re looking at a 85 degree temp and partly cloudy skies. The weather could be a factor in the match, but these guys are fit...that´s why they did all that work down in Florida in December. The trainer, hearing the comments, reminded, reminded and reminded the guys to stay hydrated.

Tuesday, Jan. 16 @ 9:30 p.m. ET
Alfonso (team coordinator) just passed out Wednesday´s schedule to the players and added two quotes at the bottom of the page (getting help from the PR staff on which two to choose). The first was from John Havlicek: "You have to motivate yourself through pride. You must push yourself mentally and physically. A lot of people say John Havlicek never gets tired. Well, I get tired, it´s just a matter of pushing myself. I say to myself, ´He´s as tired as I am, who is going to win the mental battle?´ And then one a bit more for fun, coming from our very own Dave Dir, who made the comment after a 1999 game between the Dallas Burn (he was the head coach) and the L.A. Galaxy: "Anyone who tells me soccer is boring, I´m going to punch in the face." Two great quotes to pump the team up.

Tuesday, Jan. 16 @ 7:30 p.m. ET
After dinner the U.S. had one last meeting before their opening match tomorrow, taking a closer look at Haiti´s set pieces. Showing video from a Caribbean qualifier the U.S. was in, the coaches broke down Haiti´s tendencies on free kicks and corner kicks, both offensively and defensively. The meeting was only about 20-25 minutes giving the players close to the next 22 hours to relax and prepare mentally for the game.

Tuesday, Jan. 16 @ 3:20 p.m. ET
The U.S. staff just got finished with the CONCACAF technical meeting. Not a ton of interesting stuff to report as the meeting basically consists of going over the tournament regulations and game-day operations, determining the uniform colors for each team (we’re going with all blue and all white for our two choices) and answering any questions anyone might have from the four federations. Think necessary, but boring. Entire meeting took almost 90 minutes as it is done in English and Spanish so everyone involved can understand.

Tuesday, Jan. 16 @ 1 p.m. ET
Back from today’s final training session before we kick this tournament thing off against Haiti tomorrow and you’ll never guess where we trained…Panama City’s Florida State campus. Pretty unique spot (check the pictures in Sights and Sounds) as we could have literally kicked one of our Nike soccer balls into the Panama Canal. Thankfully, without any FSU fans like looking like Jen Sterger watching practice, the players were able to concentrate and conduct one last good session. We also were informed of some interesting facts about the FSU campus that we thought we’d share.
-- Was formerly known as Panama Canal College, a U.S. military college
-- The campus has been open for seven years
-- 350 Panamanian students plus 50 American students from Tallahassee comprise the student body
-- The Panama City campus offers the same curriculum as Tallahassee, with an especially strong English Language program
-- Students can study as full-time, four-year students or spend just a year or semester
-- Athletics are an integral part of student life, including volleyball, American football and of course soccer teams
-- A former student, Frank Davis, was drafted in 2006 by the NFL's Detroit Lions

Monday, Jan. 15 @ 8:45 p.m. ET
After dinner, the team had a tactical meeting where the players got their first look at Haiti. Assistant coach Tim Mulqueen showed clips from one of Haiti’s qualifying matches they played to get to the CONCACAF Final Round. Besides the kids that were banging on the window of the meeting room for about a minute early on in the session, the video was clearly helpful for the players as they focus in on their first match.

Monday, Jan. 15 @ 3:20 p.m. ET
So far during the trip the team have been finding out about a little bit about Panama each day, with most of the facts and figures coming from Doc’s travel book he brought. Here’s what the players have been learning:
- First founded in 1519, it is known as the “Crossroads of the World”
- Many theories on the origins and the meaning of the name Panama, including “abundance of fishes,” “abundance of butterflies” or just simply “abundance”
- Panama population = 2.8 million (2000), Panama City = 708,000
- Covers roughly 75,000 square kilometers, slightly smaller than South Carolina
- A quarter of the country is set aside as national parks and protected areas.
- Boasts nearly 1000 species of birds (more than the U.S. and Canada combined)
- 10,000 species of plants, some found nowhere else on earth
- 1,500 islands dot the coastline
- More deep-sea fishing records have been set in Panama than anywhere else in the world
- Two seasons, dry or summer (mid-December through mid-April) and rainy.
- Panama Canal, one of the “Wonders of the World”

Monday, Jan. 15 @ 10:55 a.m. ET
Johann Smith arrived late last night and was welcomed in by his teammates and staff this morning at breakfast. To no surprise, the Bolton FC forward, who’s known for his fear of flying, said the trip from England to Newark to Panama City was “horrible” and there was a lot of turbulence. When asked if his fear is getting any less as he travels more and more, his simple answer was, “No.”

Monday, Jan. 16 @ 10:35 a.m. ET
We just had a Roberto Duran sighting. The famous Panamanian boxer, who was one of the best light-weight boxers of all-time and is known best for proclaiming "no mas" to his corner during the eighth round of his 1980 rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard, is staying at the hotel. He was first sighted watching a Salsa band in the casino and then appeared in the restaurant this morning as the team finished up breakfast. A few staff members got pictures with him, while massage therapist Steve Jurch might want to watch for right hooks during the rest of the trip as Duran told him he looked just like a boxer he fought back in the day. Here's to hoping Duran doesn't have a flashback next time he sees Jurch and thinks he's back in the ring or else Jurch will be the one saying, "No mas! No mas!'

Sunday, Jan. 15 @ 11:10 a.m. ET
During the team’s excursion this afternoon, assistant coach Tim Mulqueen started a lively conversation when he threw out this question: “If you’re in a tight jam, which television/movie character would you want saving your life?” As previously noted, Mulqueen’s favorite show is “24” so naturally his No. 1 is Jack Bauer, but a stream of other choices came from staff members, including the knee-jerk reactions to their offerings. Here’s a shortened list:

James Bond – Agreed to be a good choice, but would prefer that it was the “Sean Connery” Bond

McGyver – Thought as a good pick, but only knock was that he might be a bit soft

Rambo – Thought of as a good choice, but concerns that he might be a bit unstable. Maiz also pointed out that he’d probably not be up on the new technology

Jet Lee – Provided by Dir, no complaints from staff

Steven Seagal – Thrown out by Rongen and met with a lot of responses of “No way!”

Horatio Caine – Concern that he would probably be too dramatic, which would impede his ability to actually save you. Plus, he let his own wife fall into danger in “CSI: Miami”

Clint Eastwood – A no-brainer if we were living in the Wild West

Prison Break guy – Really only good if you have months to prepare an elaborate plan

The Terminator – Not sure if he counts considering he’s only half human

John McClain (Bruce Willis in Die Hard) – Didn’t get much love from the group. We fought for him, but no luck.

Jean-Claude Van Damme – Similar response as Seagal

KITT (yes, the car…minus Hoff) – Agreed to be a good choice, but questioned whether the car was light in the loafers … not that there’s anything wrong with that

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in Alien) – Good choice considering she did defeat an alien life form

Jason Born – Fantastic choice as long as he’s got his memory back

Jack Ryan – Going with Harrison Ford, not Ben Affleck.

Crockett and Tubbs – After this was provided it was questioned whether people were just throwing names out there to throw names out there, which led to a halt in the responses.

In the end, Mulqueen decided he’d take Jack Bauer (surprise, surprise) driving KITT with Tom Landry directing any type of elaborate plans. Yes, Tom Landry as in the former Cowboys coach. As you can see the staff is having no problems killing time during bus rides. 

Email to give your answer and we’ll let the staff know what you think.

Sunday, Jan. 15 @ 12:30 a.m. ET
The team went on a two-hour bus trip around the city, heading to the Panama Canal and checking out Rommel Fernandez Stadium, the location for all three of their qualifying games. Looks like there could be a really cool atmosphere around the stadium for the games as right now there’s a rodeo going on just steps from the main entrance. The team didn’t see too much of the Canal, just pulling up to the tourist location to see some of the ships that went through.

Sunday, Jan. 15 @ 8:10 a.m. ET
Went to the nearby market to pick up the daily newspapers and found pictures of the U.S. players plastered all over the pages. The players got a laugh out of one picture in “El Siglo” as the back page was a picture of Brian Perk and Anthony Wallace walking in the airport, but covering up the left of the shot was an advertisement that used a picture of a bikini-clad girl, so it basically looks like they’re walking right past her. There were also a number of pics of Adu talking to media and Rongen signing autographs.

Saturday, Jan. 14 @ 11:20 p.m.
The Eagles game just ended (Jules is sad) and we just saw the oddest commercial on TV. Really more of an infomercial, it was an ad for a cream called “ColdHeat” that supposedly helps you lose weight. While it was in Spanish, we ascertained from the video footage that included “ANTES” and “DESPUES” pictures that all you need to do is rub it on your stomach and you’ll lose that spare tire. Amazing right!? We asked the Doc on the trip, Jason Scopp, his medical opinion on the validity of the ad’s claim. He wasn’t sold. Darn. Be back later, gotta go do some sit-ups.

Saturday, Jan. 14 @ 10:20 p.m. ET
With the surprisingly high number of channels that include a lot of American television shows here at the hotel, assistant coach Tim Mulqueen just told us he's thinking there's a good chance his favorite show, "24", will be on and he'll get to see the season opener. Only problem is he's not caught up from last season. He's got about seven or eight shows left, so at 40 minutes a show, that's about four to five hours of plopping in front of the laptop. Mulqueen, better known as 'Big Cat,' says he's dedicated to getting it done even if it means an all-nighter.

Saturday, Jan. 14 @ 9:45 p.m. ET
A nice surprise was finding the hotel TVs picked up a station broadcasting the NFL playoffs. Missed the Colts-Ravens game as we were at practice, but luckily for the Eagles fans in the group such as Jules and Q, the team was done for the day before their match-up with the Saints. Jules is watching the game in the PR department’s room right now and was pumped he got to see the first quarter hit on Reggie Bush live, as the pummeling tackle will no doubt be one of the most replayed and talked about hits in playoff history.

Saturday, Jan. 14 @ 8:00 p.m. ET
Just got back from the first practice since arriving in Panama. The field wasn’t in the best shape, but it definitely served the team’s needs and Rongen was able to put the players through a focused session. Three interesting facts about the training site:

1. It’s literally located in the shadow of the Panama Canal; probably only a 1,000 yards from the entrance of the field.
2. The field itself is located on what used to be an American military base.
3. There was a gigantic tree next to the field reminiscent of the sequoias and redwoods in California. We didn’t have a measuring tape to find out the circumference (and it was too dark to take a picture), but it was agreed that it was one of the widest trunks we’ve ever seen, complete with roots popping up and under the ground like an octopus’s tentacles in water.

Friday, Jan. 13 @ 2:45 p.m. ET
There were about 15 journalists waiting for the U.S. at the airport. When the players and coaches walked out the baggage claim doors the flash bulbs and camera lights were upon them, with Rongen and Adu capturing the most attention. Rongen went back to his Chivas USA days as he answered the first two questions in Spanish (pretty well we might add), but it faded a bit from there and the coach went back to
English as the questions got a bit more detailed. Adu didn’t go out on the Spanish limb, answering his translated questions in English.

Friday, Jan. 13 @ 2:15 p.m. ET
About 10 minutes before landing the pilot announced the U.S. Under-20s were on the flight and wished the team good luck during the qualifying tournament. The Americans on the flight – many of which took photos with the players later – erupted into a loud applause for the team.

Friday, Jan. 13 @ 10:20 a.m. ET
Players are sitting in same gate at Miami airport (D48) as the one the U-17 Men’s National Team left out of when they traveled to Peru for the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship. Josmer Altidore, Amaechi Igwe, Quavas Kirk, Brian Perk, Ofori Sarkodie and Preston Zimmerman were all part of that squad and reminisced about how the last time they waited for a plane at the gate there were mice running around. Yes, mice. Thankfully, none were seen this time so either Miami took care of the problem or the little critters were just napping.

Friday, Jan. 13 @ 9:35 a.m. ET
Team coordinator Alfonso Cerda and equipment manager Andrew Desert just dominated the airport check-in. Within a half-hour of arriving at Miami International, every player and staff member checked in their personal bags and helped get all 30 bags of equipment through security as well. Here’s a quick list of just some of the gear Desert has to deal with:

-- Training gear – 40 shirts in each blue and white, 10 goalie jerseys of each color, 100 pairs of shorts and 100 pair of socks
-- Uniforms - 2 sets of white and blue for each field player, 2 sets of three colors for goalkeepers
-- Soccer Balls - 45 total
-- Warm-up jackets and rain jackets for every player and staff (total of 30)
-- Medical gear – 12 trucks, including a gigantic massage table
-- Gatorade coolers – 2 large, 2 medium and 1 small
-- Casual gear – Each player got two t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, three pairs of socks
-- Miscellaneous - Cones, ball pump, cleats and shin guards

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 9:35 p.m. ET
Seitz has a new nickname: Franchise. During the 2007 SuperDraft coverage on ESPN, Eric Wynalda made the comment that Seitz would be a “franchise player for any team that picked him.” Seitz’s teammates ate it up and have been killing him ever since. Chants of “Franchise, Franchise” are breaking out at random moments, whether it is at practice, dinner or just walking in the hallway. Seitz just shakes his head in bewilderment.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 9:25 p.m. ET
After dinner the players watched an inspirational video that included clips from the past month of training. The seven-minute vid included some great shots of the guys gutting it out during the beep test and scoring some stunning goals during training and scrimmages. Definitely pumped the guys up.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 8:20 p.m. ET
The team just got back after conducting their final practice before leaving for Panama tomorrow morning. The players trained under the lights at a local park in Sunrise and about 250 people came out to watch, providing the team with a nice send off. After about a 20-minute warm-up, Rongen brought the team in front of the fans along the sideline and introduced the players one-by-one to everyone on hand. The largest cheer was for – yep, you guessed it – Freddy Adu, but Andre Akpan came in second as the fans were impressed to hear he attends Harvard. After the training session, the players spent 25 minutes signing as many autographs as they could, especially Adu who was surrounded by a mob of little kids for the entire time, even as he walked to the van. It’s a wonder his sharpie didn’t run dry.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 2:05 p.m. ET
Just talked to the four newly drafted players in the hallway and they’ll all joking about how their phones are ringing off the hook. Media are mainly calling, but they’re also getting blown up by friends and fam.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 1:05 p.m. ET
ESPN’s coverage of the draft ended and Amaechi Igwe was still not drafted, so the team started to follow on a staff member’s laptop to find out where he would go…but the battery died right then! During the scramble to plug in a power cord, Amaechi got a call from the New England Revolution stating they just drafted him! Amaechi announced it to his teammates and the final loud cheer rang through the lobby (other guests coming in and out seemed a bit confused by all the noise). All four guys on the U-20s drafted in the first round. Pretty impressive.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 12:55 p.m. ET
D.C. takes Arguez! The midfielder thought he might end up with Beckham in L.A., but he’s on the opposite coast with the most decorated team in the league. After cheering for their teammates, the U-20s got a laugh out of Arguez's headshot used in the ESPN broadcast as he looks a bit confused. Rongen, the former D.C. United head coach, talked to Arguez about the team and the city, telling him all about the nation’s capital.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 12: 40 p.m. ET
There goes Wally! Anthony Wallace was just taken by Dallas with the ninth pick overall. Wally quickly talked with his parents on the phone after the pick before settling back in to his seat to find out where his buddy Bryan Arguez would be going.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 12:25 p.m. ET
Chris Seitz is going to Salt Lake! The entire team exploded when Seitz’s name was announced as the fourth pick overall. Freddy Adu was especially excited, jumping up out of his seat, raising his hands and pointing to Seitz who is now his new teammate. A few minutes later, Seitz got a call from head coach John Ellinger welcoming him to RSL.

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 11:55 p.m. ET
The entire team and coaching staff has taken over the lobby of the hotel to watch the MLS SuperDraft. Lots of tension and excitement. Wallace and Arguez snagged front row seats, while Seitz is directly behind them. Igwe forgot his phone upstairs, so by the time he got back down the only seat was in the back of the room. 

Friday, Jan. 12 @ 11:35 p.m. ET
The team just went though a quick regeneration on the field outside the hotel. Not much to mention as the guys that played last night just did a light jog and a few games of 5v2, while the substitutes were put through a more intense session with Maiz and Dir. Session only lasted about 45 minutes. Can’t seem to get away from the Canadians as they were training on the next field over. After practice we asked Seitz if he was feeling anxious and he said he wasn’t too bad. “I thought I’d be more nervous than I am,” he said. “I actually slept like a rock last night. I turned my phone off which was a good thing because this morning I found I had like 12 text messages from friends wishing me luck. My phone would have been beeping all night.”

Thursday, Jan. 11 @ 10:15 p.m.
Just heard Rongen joking with Sturgis about his new soon-to-be teammate Beckham. Rongen told the Galaxy defender that he just saw an interview with the former Man United and Real Madrid midfielder where he said, "It's going to be an honor to play with 'The Sturg!' He's an up-and-coming young American that I've heard a lot about." As he is on the field, Sturgis was calm and collective, simply laughing off the comment with a smile and a head shake. 

Thursday, Jan. 11 @ 9:44 p.m. ET
Forgot to mention earlier…overheard this conversation between goalkeeper Brian Perk and team coordinator Alfonso Cerda on the bench during the scrimmage against Canada. Started right after Julian Valentin won a header.

Perk: Jules jumps like a pencil.
Cerda: What? Yeah, because pencils jump.
Perk: When you bounce them off a table they do!
Cerda: Not every pencil.
Perk: Well, he's an advanced pencil then.

(OK, so we know this is an odd entry. But, we have to give it to Perk…Jules' straight-as-an-arrow heading style does make him look like a pencil. What an "advanced" pencil is?…we have no idea.)

Thursday, Jan. 11 @ 9:10 p.m. ET
Just ran into a shirtless Kirk as he was walking out of the training room. As he passed by we noticed something we hadn't seen before - a tattoo. On his right arm, just below his shoulder he has the word "Family" in cursive surrounded by "SJIBC," which indicates the first initial of his parents and siblings first names (Sylvan-dad, Julia-mom, Isha-sister, Bryson-brother, Colin-brother). He said he just got the artwork done in Barrington, Ill., near his hometown of Aurora, two days before heading to Sunrise for the camp.

Thursday, Jan. 11 @ 8:55 p.m. ET
Returned from a scrimmage with the Canadian U-20 national team that is also in the area training (they're actually staying at the same hotel). Not going to be much in the way of a game report or anything as we don't want to give too much away as we move toward qualifying, but we did pull out a 1-0 win with a second-half goal by Robbie Rogers.

Thursday, Jan. 11 @ 2:50 p.m. ET
Near the end of lunch, Rongen and Dir talked to the players about a few situations on free kicks and corners. One name stuck out more than the others written on the flip chart: Jewells. Not the way Julian “Jules” Valentin spells it, but the defender figured out pretty quickly who the coaches meant. “Everyone has a different way of spelling it that’s for sure.”

Thursday, Jan. 11 @ 2:45 p.m. ET 
David Beckham's signing with the Galaxy was obviously still the topic of conversation in the lunch room. Everyone was trying to figure out his weekly paycheck, coming to the conclusion that it includes a lot of zeros. Players and staff asked Kirk what he's going to ask David to give him for No. 23. Kirk said he's just hoping Beckham doesn't want to go back to No. 7 as no one on the team has that number as of now, then he'll think about what he'll want for it. He said the best bet is a bit of dinero over a date with one of Posh's girlfriends which is what a lot, well, actually ALL, his teammates were throwing out there. (Posh is David's wife, Victoria Beckham, for those who were living in a cage in the 90s and don't know about the Spice Girls.) 

Thursday, Jan. 11 @ 11:45 a.m. ET
The coaches and players were just informed about the Beckham signing and everyone started asking Galaxy players Quavas Kirk and Nathan Sturgis their initial thoughts. Sturgis actually rushed into our hotel room to jump on our laptop to check the actual release on the Galaxy website just to make sure it was all legit and not another rumor. Kirk got everyone laughing when he said he was upset that Beckham was coming because he’d be taking his jersey number – 23 (he was joking about being upset of course).

Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 9:45 p.m. ET
After dinner, the players relaxed and got settled into their hotel rooms. The staff is busy finalizing all the details for the next day, from the training schedule to equipment needs to any lingering medical concerns. The staff is also hard at work, tracking down a handful of players for various features that will run over the next 10+ days (so stay tuned!). Certainly a story that bears watching is that of Tony Beltran. While most of you may know the first half of this tale thanks to Studio 90’s Roster Spot – if you don’t know, then CHECK IT OUT HERE - the conclusion has yet to be written. When we last saw Tony, he found himself narrowly missing out on a spot on the 20-man roster, as Rongen informed him in late December that he would be the first alternate. Just as he thought his dream had vanished, he was called back into camp and will be a part of the USA’s qualifying effort next week. Tony discusses his unconventional road to a roster spot in the latest podcast (listen). Of course, we all hope that there is still more to come on his, and the team’s, long and winding road as the ultimate goal, qualifying for the 2007 U-20 FIFA World Cup, still remains

Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 6:30 p.m. ET
The players enjoyed a short break after training before heading down to one of the hotel’s banquet rooms where meals will be served throughout the week. As the first official meal of the trip, it was a great time for players to get re-connect with one another and to enjoy some laughs away from soccer. After the meal, Rongen gave a focused pep talk to the team, asking players from each position to outline their key roles on the field. Needless to say, the guys responded well and seemed to embrace the challenge, and opportunity, that lies before them.

Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 4:00 p.m. ET 
The team held its first training session of the week, as preparations for the trip to Panama, and the opening match vs. Haiti on January 17, got underway. After the long travel day (for most players), Rongen made sure the players were stretched out and warmed up well at the start of practice. The team then went through a two-touch drill followed by a half-field game of keep-away. Finally, Rongen broke the squad into two teams, leading an 8v8 scrimmage to big goals from 18 to 18. Andre Akpan and Zizzo scored for the yellows, while Altidore got the lone tally for blue. On the far side of the field, L.A. Galaxy head coach Frank Yallop and some of his fellow coaching staff were on hand, undoubtedly getting one final look at some of this year’s top prospects with the MLS SuperDraft less than two days away.

Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 3 p.m. ET
Just standing near the hotel entrance when we heard someone yelling for us. Weren’t sure where it was coming from until Josmer Altidore got out of the car he just pulled up in. One word: dangerous. The N.Y. Red Bulls forward has his learner’s permit and was with him parents, who let him drive to Sunrise from Boca Raton. Another word: trusting. Jozy’s always talking about how good of a driver he is, but we’ll take his word for it.

Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 2:15 p.m. ET
Guys are continually trickling in to the hotel with their huge Nike duffel bags, checking in and doing their best to get settled before the 4 p.m. practice. Although one player seems to be having a tough time getting past the traveling nightmare he went through today. Defender Ofori Sarkodie just informed us that he actually missed his initial flight and had to be re-routed to another airline, putting him four hours later than he was expected. What was the reason for his delay? Overslept? Traffic? Car break down? Negative on all three. The Indiana defender explained that the cab he ordered to take him the hour drive to Indianapolis didn’t show up…at all. When he called the company, they informed him that the order was “misplaced,” forcing Sarkodie to jump in his car, disregard all traffic laws and speed limits in an attempt to get to the airport in time. Didn’t happen. With the cost of the new flight and two-week parking tab, Sarkodie was bumming, but he wasn’t about to let the cab company get away scott-free. As of this evening, the cab company was willing to pay for the parking expenses and mileage to the airport, but Sarkodie said he’s still pushing for the cost of the new ticket as well.

Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 1:35 p.m. ET
On the way back from the airport with Chris Seitz (sporting a newly shaved hairdo) and Robbie Rogers, Seitz told us he’s pumped for the draft. Asked where he thinks he might end up he told us it didn’t matter where he went as long as he got a chance to play. Look for a Q&A feature on Thursday with all four of the players in camp that have entered into the MLS draft.

Wednesday, Jan. 10 @ 12:48 a.m. ET 
Just made the second hotel run to get the rest of the California fellas coming in (Tony Beltran, Amaechi Igwe, Brian Perk, team coordinator Alfonso Cerda and equipment manager Andrew Dessert). No black eyes, but the guys were starving. They were hoping for some room service, but no luck as it shuts down operations at 10 p.m., so after tossing their bags in their rooms, Dessert drove them to the nearby IHOP to grab some grub. We weren’t there to see the carnage, but we heard everyone came back happy…and full.

Tuesday, Jan. 9 @ 11:51 p.m. ET
Just picked up Sal Zizzo from the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airport – one of the four California-based players that came in a day early – and the UCLA midfielder is sporting a well-defined shiner. With some bandages on the bridge of his nose and a dark circle under his left eye, Zizzo’s story is that he was the recipient of an unwanted elbow during a game of basketball a couple days before he left for Sunrise.
Sure, Sal. That was our story when we got in a fight while in college, too. Alright, so Sal is actually telling the truth (his story was backed up by another source), but if it in any way can serve as intimidation for Haiti, here’s to hoping the black eye doesn’t fade too much before the team’s first match on Jan. 17.