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U.S. U-23s Draw, 0-0, with Japan U-22 MNT in Kirin Challenge Cup

KUMAMOTO, Japan (February 21, 2007) — The U.S. U-23 Men’s National Team stood behind the stellar play of Sierra Mist Man of the Match Chris Seitz to earn a deserved 0-0 draw against the Japan U-22 National Team in Kumamoto, Japan. The more than 14,000 fans gathered at the KKWing Stadium witnessed a much-improved performance from the U.S. in the second half that earned the team a share of the spoils in the Kirin Challenge Cup, the first match under new head coach Bob Bradley.

Seitz made several key saves throughout the contest on a crisp evening in Kumamoto, twice getting help from the woodwork as well. Three other players from the squad that qualified for the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup turned in quality performances, with defenders Nathan Sturgis and Tim Ward anchoring the defense while Sal Zizzo helped ignite the U.S. attack in the second half.

“I thought it was a good game,” said Bradley, who remains undefeated as a head coach for both the U-23’s and the full national team. “This is a new group, and in the first half I thought there were many players who were nervous. It took them a half to adjust, and I thought the second half was a very good step. The commitment was much better, and you could see the confidence growing as the game went on. It was a great atmosphere tonight and a good learning experience for our players.”

The newly formed U.S. team started out on unsure footing against a well-established Japanese side, searching to settle their nerves in the early going. They got a quick wake-up call early on when a counterattack led to a breakaway in the ninth minute, striker Sota Hirayama finding himself on the receiving end of a well weighted cross from Yohei Kajiyama. Seitz was quick to charge off his line, getting just enough of Sota’s strike to push the ball wide of the left post. Japan’s tall and mobile striker proved to be a handful throughout the evening, but the combination of Sturgis and Rob Valentino were equal to the task. Meantime, Kajiyama created another problem five minutes later, unleashing a 28-yard rocket that forced Seitz into a sprawling save.

“It was good to get my first game in with the U-23s. The intensity is very high, and it was one of the fastest games I have ever played in,” said Seitz. “I think it took our team a little bit of time to get settled in. It was our first game together, so we shouldn’t expect things to be perfect right away. We played much better in the second half and, in the end, it was a good result for us.”

The U.S. began to find some rhythm after a quarter hour, and after 20 minutes of staying well organized defensively, the attack began to show signs of life. Santa Clara midfielder Peter Lowry opened the bidding in the 35th minute, sending a riser from 25 yards over the crossbar. Five minutes before the interval, Arturo Alvarez showed some magical footwork when he sliced through a pair of defenders across the top of the box before turning a shot back towards the near post that barely skimmed wide.

The U-23s began the second half with much more poise and confidence, turning up the heat on the Japanese all over the field while piecing together several excellent combinations. The introduction of Zizzo and his pace instantly caused problems for the Japan defense. Still, it was the hosts who produced the first great chance of the second stanza. A free kick just outside the upper left corner of the area was delivered to the six-yard box where Hirayama found himself the beneficiary of a pick, rising to hammer a header that clanged off the crossbar.

The post would once again prove Seitz’s best friend, this time denying Koki Mizuno a goal after he diced through the box and tried to pick out the lower right-side netting. The rebound fell to Chikashi Masuda right on the doorstep, but again the quick reactions of Seitz preserved the shutout.

The USA produced the final two chances of the contest, beginning with a Zizzo header in the 89th minute that was powerful but predictably placed. The U.S. nearly snatched a win in the final minute of stoppage time when an outlet punt from Seitz hit substitute Michael Harrington in stride deep on the left flank in Japanese territory. Goalkeeper Kenya Matsui had mysteriously tried to beat Harrington to the punch, subsequently leaving the goal temporarily exposed, but team captain Masahiko Inoha recovered in time to block Harrington’s lofted attempt.

The U-23s will conclude their two-match tour on Friday night when they face local JFL side Rosso Kumamoto. Kickoff at KKWing Stadium is set for 7 p.m. local time (5 a.m. ET). The players will depart Japan on Saturday morning and return to their respective clubs to resume training.

-- U.S. Men’s National Team Game Report --

Match-up: U.S. Under-23 MNT vs. Japan U-22 National Team
Date: February 21, 2007
Competition: Kirin Challenge Cup
Venue: KKWing Stadium – Kumamoto, Japan
Kickoff: 7 p.m. local time
Attendance: 14,007
Weather: 53 degrees, clear

Scoring Summary:
            1    2    F

USA     0    0   0
Japan  0    0   0

USA: 1-Chris Seitz; 15-Sean Franklin, 3-Rob Valentino, 5-Nathan Sturgis, 12-Tim Ward; 6-Quavas Kirk (11-Sal Zizzo, 46’) 17-Sacha Kljestan (capt.), 7-Peter Lowry, 9-Arturo Alvarez; 16-Adam Cristman (13-Jacob Peterson, 69’), 10-Jamie Watson (20-Michael Harrington, 83’)
Subs not used: 24-Justin Hughes, 2-Ryan Solle, 4-Patrick Ianni, 14-Hunter Freeman
Head Coach: Bob Bradley

JPN: 1-Kenya Matsui; 3-Naoaki Aoyama, 4-Hiroki Mizumoto, 5-Masahiko Inoha (capt.), 8-Keisuke Honda (14-Akihiro Ienaga, 72’), 10-Yohei Kajiyama, 16-Takuya Honda (13-Hiroyuki Mizumoto, 77’), 18-Koki Mizuno, 24-Tadanari Lee (11-Takuya Kokeguchi,72’), 9-Sota Hirayama (20-Yasuhito Morishima, 87’), 22-Robert Cullen (7-Chikashi Masuda, 60’)
Subs not used: 12-Kaito Yamamoto, 2-Yugo Ichiyanagi, 15-Kota Ueda, 17-Atsuto Uchida, 19-Kazuhiko Chiba, 21-Yohei Fukumoto, 23-Akihiro Hayashi
Head Coach:Yasuharu Sorimachi

Stats Summary:

Shots 9/14
Saves 5/6
Corner Kicks 7/10
Fouls 20/21
Offside 2/1

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Sean Franklin (caution) 63rd minute 
JPN – Naoaki Aoyama (caution) 68. 
JPN – Keisuke Honda (caution) 70.
USA – Tim Ward (caution) 75. 
JPN – Koki Mizuno (caution) 88.
USA – Sacha Kljestan (caution) 92+

Referee: Chi Tang Wong (HNG)
1st Asst.: Ka Yu Fung (HNG)
2nd Asst.: Siu Chuen Lui (HNG)
Fourth Official: Minoru Tojo (JPN)

Sierra Mist Man of the Match: Chris Seitz