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U-17 MNT Arrives In Korea, Continues Training for Busan Tournament

The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team opens up the Busan International Youth (U-17) Tournament against host Korea at the Busan Asiad Main Stadium May 31 at 2 p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET). The tournament, which takes place May 31 to June 4 is in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. The Korean Football Association invited all three teams from Group D at the 2002 World Cup, which included the U.S., Poland and Portugal. The U.S. and Poland accepted the invitation, but Portugal was unable to participate, leaving Argentina, who recently qualified for the U-17 World Championship, to take their place as the fourth and final team.

The U.S. will have to play at the top of its ability if it expects to finish atop the standings and take a first place finish back to the states. Korea, Argentina and Poland are all strong teams and have shown they can compete with the world’s best during qualifying rounds for the Under-17 FIFA World Championship. Argentina secured their first South American U-17 Championship trophy since 1985 after finishing atop the CONMEBOL final round of qualifying. The eventual champions went unbeaten during the final round, scoring 19 goals while only conceding five. Korea also qualified for the U-17 Championship in Finland by winning the AFC Under-17 Championship back in September of 2002. The Koreans captured their first U-17 championship in dramatic fashion, beating Yemen 5-3 in penalty kicks after the match ended in a 1-1 draw. Despite a strong squad, Poland didn’t qualify for the World Championship after failing to get past the talent-filled second round of UEFA qualifying. The size and strength of the European squad will definitely present a challenge for the U.S. defense.

May 31
USA vs. Korea  2 p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET)
Argentina vs. Poland  7 p.m. local (5 a.m. ET)

June 2
Korea vs. Poland  3 p.m. local (1 a.m. ET)
USA vs. Argentina  5 p.m. local (4 a.m. ET)

June 4
USA vs. Poland  5 p.m. local (4 a.m. ET)
Korea vs. Argentina 7 p.m. local (6 a.m. ET)

All of the games during the tournament – and some of the team’s practices – will take place at Busan Asiad Main Stadium, the venue for three matches during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. The sphere-shaped stadium, which was finished in July of 2001 and has a capacity of 55,982, hosted one Group D match between Korea and Poland. The team found out that playing in a World Cup stadium means having World Cup ammenities, as it got its first look of the locker room during training. The locker room is equiped with nice wooden lockers that have pull-out cushioned seats, a large shower room and a small room layed with turf to warm up before the game.

The U.S. got its first feel of what it will be like to play in the World Cup stadium when it practiced on the field Friday morning during a downpour which started early in the morning and didn’t let up until this evening. After warming up in their rain gear, the field players worked on passing and ball control, while the goalkeepers worked on footwork and distribution with coach Peter Mellor for the first part of the training session. The team then played an 8v8 full-field game, with two neutral players for the remainder 30 minutes of practice. The game was upbeat and well controlled despite the slippery conditions. The green team was able to come out on top as striker Jamie Watson lead the way with three goals, one of which was celebrated with a head-first slide on the wet grass. Hopefully, practicing in the wet conditions will come in handy as the weather forecast for the team’s first game on Saturday is predicting rain.

Midfielder Jose Gomez was added to the roster for the tournament a day before the team left for Korea after defender Adrian Chevannes badly sprained his ankle during its international friendly against Costa Rica in Lancaster, Calif., on Monday (May 26). The U-17s played two international friendlies against Mexico (1-2 L) and Costa Rica (3-2 W) at the Lancaster Soccer Complex during Memorial Day weekend.

Under-17 residency players Julian Valentin, Tim Ward and Daniel Szetela are all rejoining the team after helping the U.S.Y.S. ODP 1987 All-Star Team take third place at the two-day Veldhoven Tournament in Holland last weekend. The team went undefeated at 4-0-2 during the tournament (7-0-2 during the entire trip) and Szetela was voted midfielder of the tournament. Szetela paced the team with one goal and four assists in the six games.

The players and staff finally arrived in Busan around 9 a.m. on Thursday morning (May 29) after about 13 hours in the air, making it seem as though May 28th never happened. The team left Lancaster, Calif., on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 27, and drove to LAX to catch its flight overseas. From there the team hopped on a plane around 1 a.m. on May 28th, flew through the night and landed in Inchon, Korea around 5 a.m. on the 29th. With the time zone change and most of the players sleeping during the majority of the flight, the 28th seemed more like a dream than reality when the plane finally touched down in Korea. After a two-hour layover, the team then caught its connecting flight to Busan.

During the team’s layover in Inchon it got the chance to see the end of the Champions League final between AC Milan and Juventus, which was being played on a television at the departure gate. The team caught the last five minutes of regulation, both overtimes and the eventual penalty kicks that catapulted AC Milan to victory. The game was a good way for the players to wake up as they threw up their hands and jumped out of their seats in disbelief of all the missed penalty shots.

The red carpet was rolled out for the U.S. Under-17 MNT when they arrived at the Busan airport. After retrieving all the team equipment, the players, coaches and staff were welcomed by about 100 locals, who waved American flags and signs wishing the team good luck during the tournament. All of the players were given single roses by women dressed in traditional Korean attire and the coaches were dressed with large flower wreaths. The team was then ushered onto a bus and got a police escort to the hotel, causing the players to comment that they, “felt like rock stars.”

While the number of people that will show up for the tournament games is uncertain, the Korean Federation has done what it can to get people in the seats, putting up numerous banners around the city promoting all of the games. During the team’s travels from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the stadium, a number of the green and red banners have been seen on streetlights and bridge over-passes.