ARE WE THERE YET? After a busy four days in which they played three matches, the U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team spent a 15-hour day travelling from the island of Madeira to the island of Sicily. The three-leg day of flights took the team from Funchal to Lisbon, Lisbon to Rome, then Rome to Catania. By the time the team finished the 90-minute bus ride to Messina nd settled into the Hotel Royal Palace, it was close to 1 a.m. But as grueling as the day of travel looked on paper, the team had many chances during the day to snack and get some valuable rest, and were rewarded with a refreshing spread of prusciotto ham, mozzarella and reggiano cheese, breadsticks and salad before hitting the sack for the night. After a day away from the field, the team will train twice tomorrow and once on Monday before the match on Tuesday.
U-23s TO FACE ITALY ON TUESDAY LIVE ON MATCHTRACKER: The U.S. Under-23 MNT will complete the playing portion of its foreign trip with a friendly versus Italy in Messina (approximately 100 miles north of Catania) on Tuesday at 8:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m. ET). Fans back home can follow the match via live updates on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics. The team will then relocate to Catania, where they will get a chance to watch the full U.S. Men's National Team take on top-ranked Italy in a friendly on Wednesday night. That unique match-up will be available to fans in the USA live on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. ET.
USA FIGHTS BACK TO TIE PORTUGAL 1-1 IN FINAL MATCH OF MADEIRA INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENT: The U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team battled back to tie Portugal 1-1 in the final -- and perhaps the best -- game of the 6th Annual Madeira International Tournament yesterday at Estadio dos Barreiros in Funchal, Portugal today. With the tie, the USA finished with an undefeated 1-0-2 record for five points, good for second place in the four-team field. "We put ourselves in position to win the game, and we had a very good chance with about five minutes to go, but (DaMarcus) Beasley put it wide," said Myernick. "But to go down 1-nil about halfway through the first half, reorganize and fight very hard in the second half and pull a goal back ... we had a chance to win it, but we just couldn't do it." After giving up a header goal in the 25th minute, the U.S. struck back with a header goal of their own in the 70th minute, courtesy of Alecko Eskandarian, who was named the tournament's Top Goal Scorer with two goals in three games.
BUDDLE REPLACES JAQUA, JOINS TEAM IN ITALY: Columbus Crew forward Edson Buddle was added to the 18-player U-23 MNT roster to replace injured forward Nate Jaqua, who broke his left foot in the team's 2-1 win over the Madeira Select team on Feb. 5. Buddle, who increases the total of Project-40 players on the team to nine, caught up with the team in Rome and will look to get some playing time in the friendly versus Italy. Because he arrived into Rome at around 10 a.m. today, Buddle was fortunate to be given a guided tour of the city in the afternoon to kill time before the rest of the team arrived at around 7:30 p.m., visiting St. Peter's Basilica and the Coliseum among other sites. Buddle scored seven goals in 18 overall matches last year as a member of the Under-20 MNT that competed in the FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina. For the Crew, the 20-year-old native of New Rochelle, N.Y., had an impressive three goals and two assists in just 556 minutes of action as a rookie.
BANGED UP & BRUISED: With three games in four days behind them, the U.S. team is a bit banged up upon arriving in Italy. While Jaqua's injury was the only serious one suffered over the first week, midfielder Bobby Convey and DaMarcus Beasley have nagging injuries and Doug Warren has missed action due to a strained thumb, but all are listed by Dr. Romanelli and Trainer Scott Piehl as probable for the Italy friendly. The following is the full injury report:
Player (Injury): Status
Bobby Convey (Strained Hamstring): Probable
DaMarcus Beasley (Bruised Calf): Probable
Doug Warren (Thumb Strain): Probable
DUDE, WHERE'S MY TICKET?: Instead of an ill-conceived movie starring "That 70s Show"'s Aston Kutcher and Seann William Scott (of American Pie fame), the U.S. Soccer version involves admittedly absent-minded midfielder Kyle Martino, who informed the staff midway through the team's 25-minute bus ride to the airport that he may have left his plane tickets in his room. A quick call to the hotel produced a one-man search party to Room 248, but all that was found were a pair of socks and a pair of "nickers." After rifling through his backpack once more at the airport and repeatedly being asked by U-23 MNT press officer Bryan Chenault, "Are you sure they're not in your big bag?", Martino produced the missing UPS envelope out of his oversized U.S. Soccer duffle bag some 15 minutes later, just as U-23 Men's National Team Coordinator Erik Liekoski was two steps from the Customer Service counter of TAP (Air Portugal).
WITH THE FIRST SELECTION IN THE 2002 MLS SUPERDRAFT, THE DALLAS BURN SELECT... Only General Manager Andy Swift and head coach Mike Jeffries know the end to that announcement, but U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team midfielders Kelly Gray (University of Portland), Brad Davis (Saint Louis University) and Martino (University of Virginia), who signed with Nike Project-40 in January, will likely be top selections in tomorrow morning's 2002 MLS SuperDraft in Orlando, Fla. Soccer America's Will Kuhns recently became the soccer version of the NFL draft specialist Mel Kiper, predicting the first round of the draft. His predictions are below:
1. D Chris Gbandi, Connecticut
2. M Kyle Martino, Virginia
3. F Luchi Gonzalez, SMU
4. F Mohammed Fahim, SMU
5. M Brad Davis, Saint Louis
6. M Kelly Gray, Portland
7. D Danny Jackson, North Carolina
8. M Craig Capano, Chicago Sockers
9. D Lee Morrison, Stanford
10. F John Barry Nusum, Furman
11. M Justin Mapp, Jackson, Miss., FC
12. M Jordan Stone, Dallas Texans
HOW DO YOU SAY "LIL' BOW WOW" IN ITALIAN?: During the two-hour layover in Lisbon, as the team was scattered along a corridor waiting to enter the gate, a couple players met a very American-looking young boy named Peter. Outfitted in a "South Park" shirt, some stylish baggy bluejeans and a Nike baseball cap, everyone assumed he was from the United States. Upon speaking with him, the players were surprised that he was Italian, especially since his English was so good. On the flight, he bounced from row to row to visit with the players, at one point stopping to lend D.J. Countess one of his earphones so they could both enjoy the rap stylings of 14-year-old rapper "Lil Bow Wow." The 11-year-old was invited to both of the U-23 and full U.S. MNT games to watch his favorite Italia team, but once in Rome, he headed north to Milan while the team headed South to Catania.
CHING...CHING...CHING, CHA-CHING CHING CHING: Those were the sounds eminating from the departure level of the Madeira Airport in Funchal as Liekoski was walking through playing the gift he received at an official dinner with the Portuguese Football Federation on Thursday night. The hand-crafted noisemaker, which midfielder Kyle Beckerman inexplicably mistook for "some kind of umbrella", is something very unique to the Madeira island that is used in their Carnavale celebrations. The wooden, tree-shaped "instrument" has a pump handle that causes a group of small female figurines to clang bottle caps together. For people in the island's main city of Funchal, the festivities began Friday with a cross-dressing day, with the parade set for Saturday afternoon throughout downtown.
"YOU HATE 'TOP GUN'?!?!?": Apparently out of batteries for his CD player, extremely talkative goalkeeper D.J. Countess decided to ignore the fact that Liekoski and Chenault were enjoying their own music on the bus ride to Messina and struck up a conversation about movies, something he would quickly regret. Upon proclaiming that "Top Gun" and "Point Break" were two of his all-time favorites, the Sacramento, Calif. native was put through the ringer by the two, with U-23 MNT equipment manager Rob Stelzer jumping in for what turned out to be an hour-long grilling about the young star's questionable taste in "film." Resorting to the well-intentioned "You guys just hate any movies that are real 'Hollywood'" argument, the 20-year-old was vilified for such favorites as "Rudy", "The Fast and the Furious" and "Varsity Blues". When asked about any independent or foreign films he may have enjoyed, he admitted to a stunned audience that he walked out of Best Picture-winning "American Beauty" and didn't see "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" beacause he would have actually had to read the subtitles. The group, which also included medical staff Romanelli and Piehl, did agree on classics like "The Matrix", "Usual Suspects" and the underrated "Tommy Boy." When the topic veered to music and Countess confessed his love of N*Sync, resident music snobs Liekoski and Chenault decided that it was a conversation better saved for another 90-minute bus ride.
QUOTES OF THE DAY:
- Kyle Martino, holding up his tickets with a look on his face that showed equal parts happiness and completely embarassment.
"It's like a boot kicking a soccer ball."
- U-23 MNT goalkeeper coach, describing the geography of Italy, with the mainland as the boot and the island of Sicily as the soccer ball.
"I must say... the conversation you guys had about movies was much more interesting than most of the movies you all talked about."
- U-23 MNT head coach Glenn "Mooch" Myernick, who had no choice but to smile and shake his head in disbelief at the discussion going on just one row behind him on the bus ride from Catania to Messina.