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U.S. U-23 MNT Prepare For First Match against Chinese U-23 Squad in Changsha

U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team Training Camp Update
Changsha, China
December 12, 2007

COUNTDOWN TO CHANGSHA: After nearly two weeks together, the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team will put their work to the test tomorrow in the first of two matches against the Chinese U-23s. More than 30,000 fans are expected tomorrow night at the Changsha He Long Sports Centre to witness Peter Nowak’s first match at the helm of the USA’s Olympic hopefuls. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 30’s at kickoff, which is set for 8:30 p.m. local time. The teams will meet again three days later at the Yue Xiu Shan Stadium in Guangzhou.

U.S. Under 23 Men’s National Team Roster
GOALKEEPERS (2): Zac MacMath (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): Hunter Freeman (New York Red Bulls), Patrick Ianni (Houston Dynamo), Jon Leathers (Furman University), Mike Randolph (Los Angeles Galaxy), Tim Ward (Columbus Crew), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Arturo Alvarez (FC Dallas), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Michael Harrington (Kansas City Wizards), Aaron Hohlbein (Kansas City Wizards), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (CD Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas)
FORWARDS (5): Josmer Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96)

INJURY REPORT: Hannover 96 midfielder Sal Zizzo suffered a high ankle sprain in Tuesday’s training session and his availability for the two-match set is in doubt. No other injuries have been reported in the U.S. camp, with the remaining 19 players expected to suit up Thursday night.

CAPTAIN KLJESTAN: Peter Nowak has handed the captain’s armband to Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan for the two-match tour, the 22-year-old reprising the role served on the team’s previous trip to Japan earlier this year. Kljestan has been making steady strides in his development at the international level, making four appearances for the full team in 2007. He recorded his first point in the 4-1 win against China on June 2 in San Jose, beautifully setting the table for roommate Benny Feilhaber.

PRESS BRIEFING: Nowak and Kljestan addressed more than 30 media at a pre-match conference Tuesday afternoon prior to training. The chatter in the room suggested the Chinese media and fans are very much taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the quality of their team, and as such consider these matches very important. As for the U.S. team, this is only the beginning. “Sometimes the tactics aren’t the most important thing at this stage in the process,” said Nowak. “This team has come together well in the last couple weeks. I’m very impressed with their work ethic and how they train. This is the first stage of our preparations for Olympic qualifying, so this is an important opportunity for our group.” [Full transcript]

GEARING UP FOR 2008: The December camp is setting the stage for intense preparations in the first part of next year as the U-23s close in on the goal of qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games. Following the China trip, the players will be off for the holidays before assembling at IMG Academies for a two-week training camp from Jan. 6-20 in Bradenton, Fla. After a brief break, they will reconvene on the left coast for a 10-day spell from Jan. 24-Feb. 3 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. That camp coincides with full team’s training stint in preparation for the Feb. 6 friendly against Mexico on Houston. Final preparations for the CONCACAF Under-23 Men’s Championship will kick off March 1 in Bradenton.

U-23 “VETS”: Several players on the roster competed in the first convocation of this cycle’s U-23s during the team’s two-match tour last February. In addition to Kljestan, goalkeeper Chris Seitz earned Man of the Match honors in the 0-0 draw against the Japanese U-22 national team in the Kirin Challenge Cup and was one of six holdovers from that match. The rest of the crew: Arturo Alvarez, Michael Harrington, Tim Ward, and Sal Zizzo. Two days later, Hunter Freeman and Patrick Ianni got into the act as the U.S. drew 2-2 with local side Rosso Kumamoto.

AND REAL ROOKIES: In the continuing search for talent, U.S. coach Peter Nowak invited two players to camp who are experiencing their first-ever exposure to a U.S. national team. Los Angeles Galaxy defender Mike Randolph turned in a solid performance in his first full season with the Galaxy, appearing in 19 games and earning 15 starts. The Chino Hills, Calif., native was a finalist for the USL Division One Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 as a member of the Portland Timbers. Jon Leathers, who is one of two non-professionals on the roster, just finished his fourth and final season at Furman University. A product of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy club the Atlanta Fire, Leathers and Furman reached the second round of the NCAA tournament this year before falling to No. 2 seed Wake Forest. Leathers entered Furman the same year that U.S. international Clint Dempsey left and joined the New England Revolution.

COLLEGE CONNECTIONS: While California normally typically sends the most natives to camp (and they have again this time, with eight players hailing from the “Golden State”), it’s the ACC that takes the prize for representation here in China. Maurice Edu, Robbie Rogers and Chris Seitz hoisted the NCAA championship trophy for the University of Maryland in 2005, with Rogers and Seitz earning Freshman All-America honors. Hunter Freeman spent three years at rival UVa, while Michael Harrington and Dax McCarty sported the Tar Heel Blue together at the University of North Carolina and Stuart Holden spent three semesters at Clemson University. The Big East contributes Boston College alum Charlie Davies and Seton Hall and 2004 First Team All-American Sacha Kljestan. California still gets its props, as the trio of Patrick Ianni, Marvell Wynne and Sal Zizzo captured the Pac-10 Championship in 2005 with UCLA, with Ianni earning Pac-10 Player of the Year honors.

YOU ASK, HOLDEN ANSWERS: Time to dust off the cub reporter's hat and conjure up those insightful questions again. This week's subject is Houston Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden, who is fresh off collecting his second straight MLS championship ring in only his second year as a pro. A native of Aberdeen, Scotland, Holden earned increased playing time in his sophomore season clad in orange, scoring five goals in 22 league appearances. While completing his first stint with the U-23s - he was called into camp last February but withdrew after an injury - Stuart previously earned 11 caps with the U-20 team in 2004 and scored against Brazil and Denmark. Post your queries here and we'll sit Stuart down later this week to contestar las preguntas.

WELL GROOMED: If the goal of the youth national team programs is to produce players that will continue to rise through the ranks in the international game, a look at the roster for the U-23 camp reveals that the system is getting it right. Consider:

  • Eight players were (or currently are in the case of Zac MacMath) members of the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton.
  • Twelve of 22 players have represented the United States in a world youth championship event.
  • Seven players on the squad made their debut at the senior international level in 2007.
  • Seven players were part of the USA’s quarterfinal run in the 2007 U-20 World Cup in Canada this past summer.

HISTORY LESSON: Changsha is the hometown of Mao Zedong (1893-1976), the foremost Chinese Communist leader of the 20th century and the principal founder of the People’s Republic of China (1949). Chairman Mao was born in Shaoshan, a village 40 miles from the capital of Hunan Province. The city of Changsha is quite old, with the earliest recorded history going back 3,000 years. Also in Changsha are the family tombs of Chancellor Li Tsang (mid-second century B.C. His wife's body is preserved well: although it is 2,100 years old, it still has flesh, teeth and internal organs.

PHOTO ALBUM: While the team has largely been confined to the hotel and training site, that hasn’t stopped the shots from being snapped by the photography department. Check out the photos and some ‘expanded’ captions from the team’s stay in Changsha.