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U-23 MNT vs. Group A – 2004 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying / Live on MatchTracker
--U-23 MNT vs. Panama – Tuesday, Feb. 3 – 8 p.m. CT
--U-23 MNT vs. Canada – Thursday, Feb. 5 – 8 p.m. CT
--U-23 MNT vs. Honduras – Saturday, Feb. 7 – 8 p.m. CT

A stern reminder about an upcoming U.S. Soccer-related event, whether you plan to check it out live and in person, on the "telly" or that wacky world wide web.

After finishing second on home soil to qualify for the 2000 Olympics, the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team has a much more difficult task ahead to book a ticket to Athens. Instead of relaxing and popping bite size chocolate bars with friends and family in the lobby of the low-key Hershey Lodge, this group of young pros has to travel south and struggle with the altitude and smog of Guadalajara over what could be as many as five matches in 10 days.

Did I mention we’ll be playing our three first round matches at Tres de Marzo Stadium? Doesn’t ring a bell? Try the place where the U.S. almost accidentally sent a home crowd of 10,000 into a beer-throwing frenzy after David Testo’s incredible 85-yard chip into an open net in the 92nd minute gave the gringos a 3-1 result over the hosts. Surely those fans have forgotten the sight of one of Mexico’s defenders laying in the goal with his foot caught in the net as the uplifted U.S. team scurried into the locker room to the victorious shouts of D.J. Countess. Ah, who are we kidding? The fans will be out in force to make the place sound like Azteca for an all-important World Cup Qualifier.

And that’s not even accounting for a difficult trio of opening round opponents.

First up is what could prove to be a pesky Panama side on Feb. 3. Not much is known about this Central American side, especially since they haven’t been together since sneaking past Nicaragua 6-3 (on aggregate goals) in the first round and slaughtering Saint Lucia 13-1 (also on aggregate) in the second round last fall. One thing we do know is that forwards Luis Tejada (8 goals) and Jose Garces (6 goals) combined for 14 of the team’s 19 goals in the first two rounds, so the marking will have to be tight to tame this dangerous duo.

Up next on Feb. 5 is a steadily improving Canada team that traded a pair of 2-0 wins with the U.S. when the teams met in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in December 2002. Canada features 19-year-old Congo-born Montreal Impact (A-League forward) Sita-Taty Matondo, who helped the Maple Leafs to the quarterfinals of the FIFA Under-20 World Championship in UAE in November, as well as established pros and full National Team regulars like defenders Chris Pozniak, Rob Friend and midfielder Tam Nsaliwa. Let’s hope the U.S.A. can do a little better than the U.S. Virgin Islands, who gave up 24 goals in their first round series.

The U.S. U-23s finish Group A play on Feb. 7 against a hungry Honduras team that finished first in the region in 2000 Qualifying, but just dropped a 1-0 decision to Mexico on Jan. 17 in Ft. Lauderdale. With former U.S. MNT head coach and current Honduras Technical Director Bora Milutinovic looking on, look for Honduras to be led by forwards Victor Bernardez, who scored both goals in a 2-2 tie with Haiti on Nov. 19 to advance 3-1 on aggregate, and Jerry Palacios.Fans can follow all three crucial matches live at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics.

Download this issue of Center Circle (.pdf).

Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder [The U-23 Class of 2000: Then and Now]
2) In Threes [w/ MNT midfielder Chris Klein]
3) Making it in the Show [w/ U-23 MNT midfielder David Testo]
4) Queries & Anecdotes [w/ U-23 MNT forward Conor Casey]
5) Mark that Calendar [U-23 MNT vs. Group A – 2004 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying / Live on MatchTracker]
6) Superstar!!! [w/ WNT defender Heather Mitts]
7) Point/Counterpoint [Who will be the Breakout Players for U.S. Soccer in 2004?]
8) You Don't Know Jack (Marshall) [General U-23/Men’s Olympic Trivia]

***HOW’S OUR WRITING?***
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