"THEY'RE AS SHARP AS A TACK"; FIRST U.S. GAME JUST TWO DAYS AWAY:
After 10 days in Guadalajara preparing for the most important string of games in most players' young soccer careers, the U.S. Under-23 Men's National Team is raring to go on the eve of the tournament, which begins tomorrow (Feb. 2) with Group B action. The U.S. opens against Panama on Tuesday (Feb. 3) at 8 p.m. (local/CT) live on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics. "They're as sharp as a tack," said head coach Glenn Myernick during one of the drills at the team's Saturday practice (see below for more specific info). "This team is ready to play." Below is the schedule for the first two days of games:
GROUP B (All matches at Estadio Jalisco)
Date Match-up Kickoff (local/CT)
Feb. 2 Costa Rica vs. Jamaica 6 p.m.
T&T vs. Mexico 8 p.m.
GROUP A (All matches at Estadio Tres de Marzo)
Date Match-up Kickoff (local/CT)
Feb. 3 Canada vs. Honduras 6 p.m.
Panama vs. USA 8 p.m.
DONOVAN, DAVIS LEAD U-23s PAST ATLAS RESERVES 3-2 ON THURSDAY: In their final exhibition match before the tournament begins, the U.S. Under-23s defeated a mixed team of first team players and reserves of Mexican club Atlas 3-2 on Thursday (Jan. 29) at the impressive Atlas complex across town in one of the wealthiest parts of Guadalajara. After a shaky start to the match, the U.S. settled the game after the first 15 minutes and struck for three goals in an 11-minute span, scoring on each of its first three shots. All three goals were a product of stellar finishing, starting with Landon Donovan's world class strike in the 18th minute. Midfielder Brad Davis sent a perfect free kick from the right flank into the middle of the penalty area, where an unmarked Donovan took the ball of his chest, wheeled 90 degrees to his left and ripped the ball to the upper left corner of the goal in one continuous motion that had the small crowd of fans and journalists in awe. Davis provided the second goal on his own, again from a free kick on the right flank. This time, instead of sending it to teammates crashing at the far post, he caught the keeper cheating to his right and curled it to the near post, nicking off the woodwork and in to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead in the 28th minute. Less than a minute later, midfielder Bobby Convey made a 40-yard dash from midfield to the endline, where he drew two defenders and the goalkeeper and played a square ball to Donovan, who easily finished into an open net in the 29th minute. The "rojinegros" (red-and-black) drew one back in the 35th minute, when powerful forward Ulises Mendivil pounced on a poor clearance by U.S. defender Nat Borchers, rushed into the box and slotted it past D.J. Countess. The U.S. began the second half in the same lackluster fashion they did in the first half, letting the opponent have more of the ball and mount many attacks. Atlas made it 3-2 in the 57th minute when they took advantage of a tough no-call on a clear offside situation in which Jose Ruben Lopez was about 10 yards beyond defender Zak Whitbread. He raced in on goal, dribbled around second-half sub Doug Warren and finished easily. The U.S. made wholesale subtitutions in the 61st minute and picked up its play with fresh legs off the bench, but couldn't get another goal. The only real event in the mostly even final 30 minutes of the match came at the expense of defender Jose Luis Burciaga, who picked up two yellow cards in a 10-minute span, resulting in his ejection in the 71st minute. Below is the lineup for the match:
U.S. U-23s (4-4-2): Countess (Warren, 46); Wingert (Carroll, 61), Borchers (Stokes, 61), Marshall (Burciaga, 61; ejected, 71), Whitbread (Lewis, 61); Beckerman (Pause, 61), Davis (Gaven, 61), Beasley (Testo, 61), Convey (Martino, 61); Eskandarian (Johnson, 61), Donovan (Jaqua, 61).
MARTINO, JAQUA HEAD HOME AS MYERNICK NAMES FINAL 20: U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team head coach Glenn “Mooch” Myernick announced his final 20-player U.S. Men's Olympic Qualifying roster on a conference call Friday (Jan. 30) and submitted the official list to CONCACAF yesterday. The team traveled to Mexico a week ago with 22 players, but Myernick was forced to drop midfielder Kyle Martino and forward Nate Jaqua from the travel roster by the Jan. 31 deadline imposed by CONCACAF. “We have not come here to play three games in five days; we’ve come here to play five games in 10 days,” said Myernick, who has guided the team to a 2-0-1 record in a trio of exhibitions this month. “In order to do that with a 20-man roster, you need players that are fit, durable and versatile, and we feel that we have that in our roster.” The U.S. roster is led by current U.S. Men’s National Team stars Landon Donovan (San Jose Earthquakes), DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago Fire) and Bobby Convey (D.C. United). The trio of experienced players, along with defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman (Colorado Rapids) and goalkeeper D.J. Countess (Dallas Burn), all hail from the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team that finished an impressive fourth at the FIFA U-17 World Championship at New Zealand ’99. Including Convey, there are five players on the final roster from the Under-20 Men’s National Team that led the USA to an impressive fifth place finish at the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates in December. The three other former U-20s who are being called up to the next age level are defenders Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew) and Zak Whitbread (Liverpool – England), and forward Ed Johnson (Dallas Burn). For the complete roster release, click below:
For the complete quote sheet from the conference call with Myernick and Convey, click below:
U.S. OLYMPIC QUALIFYING TEAM'S BIOS, HEADSHOTS AVAILABLE ONLINE:
With the U.S. Men's Olympic Qualifying roster set, bios with headshots for all 20 players are now available at ussoccer.com at the bottom of the U.S. Under-23 team page:
TEAM LIVES COUNTRY CLUB LIFE FOR A DAY AT "PRIMAVERA" COMPLEX: The U-23s took a break from their normal training routine on Friday (Jan. 30), packing their towels and flipflops before heading out to the massive, isolated Primavera complex, which is located about 30 minutes outside of the city. The players and staff enjoyed the scenery along the way, taking in the serene Mexican countryside as the bus navigated winding roads with fields of agave plants on either side. With multiple soccer fields and dorms, Primavera is a popular training location for everyone from the Mexican National Team to MLS clubs to the U.S. Under-15 Boys Team, which just spent two weeks there earlier this month. The U-23s underwent a 90-minute training session on Cancha 1, ending with a finishing drill that had Equipment Manager John McDonald hopping a fence and venturing out into the desert to retrieve a ball. After training, the team took advantage of most of Primavera's other great amenities, including a sauna, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a jacuzzi big enough to fit the entire team, and basketball courts. After setting up shop around the pool and arranging chairs to maximize the sun's harmful rays, the team was treated to a very welcome fajita-style spread for lunch in an indoor-outdoor cafe adjacent to the pool. With bellies full, the team sauntered back to the pool area to relax for the rest of the afternoon until departing at 4 p.m. After being out in the sun for a good part of the day, combined with curtains drawn and the smooth stylings of singer-songwriter Jack Johnson (from Kyle Beckerman's CD collection) on the radio, almost the entire bus slipped into a power nap that ended when the bus rolled up to the Fiesta Americana.
SWIMFAN: What happens when you put 20 athletes around an Olympic size swimming pool for an afternoon? That's right; they quickly construct a competition to see who can swim underwater the farthest before coming up for air. Always brimming with confidence, Countess was the first to try to swim the length of the 60-yard pool, but came up a bit short--as in ... not even a third of the way. With reality having set in, the players smartly decided to try to just swim the width of the pool, which proved to be much easier. Goalkeeper Doug Warren was the first to go wall-to-wall, starting in the water and getting a good pushoff to start, but it was quickly determined that a good running dive into the pool puts you a third of the way there, so that became the method of choice. After several teammates equaled his original feat, Warren upped the ante on his next effort, making an underwater turn and getting back to the third lane mark, to the roaring applause of the entire team. After failed wall-to-wall attempts by midfielder Eddie Gaven and assistant coach Thomas Rongen, midfielder Logan Pause set the benchmark with an impressive performance, reaching the fourth lane mark on the way back. With that record-breaking swim, the rest of the players conceded and the hour-long competition ceased. It's a good thing that the pool below the three-tier high dive tower was empty, or it's quite possible the team would only be able to field something like seven players.
COMPETITIVE MUCH?: In the same vein of the anecdote above, the staff have been puzzled all week at an utterly ridiculous, yet fun to watch, competition that Chicago Fire midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Logan Pause engage in before training, after training, waiting for the elevator, outside the meal room, etc. The goal of the game is simple: to be able to softly toss a half-full Gatorade bottle in the air so it lands firmly on the ground. That's it. But somehow more and more players are captivated by it and want to join the competition as each day goes by. One can only hope that it never becomes an Olympic sport, or Beasley would be a fantastic two-sport athlete.
TENIS, ANYONE?: That's tenis with one 'n'. The courts on the 4th floor of the towering Fiesta Americana have been a popular distraction for both the players and staff, especially since the pool does not exist. Last Tuesday (Jan. 27), assistant coach Thomas Rongen annointed himself and a staff member as grand champions for the week after winning a set each against just two opponents, basically retiring before someone could beat them. On the player side, the ACC duo of Brian Carroll and David Testo (whose girlfriend plays for the tennis team at the Univ. of Florida) held out in unsusually windy conditions to defeat an almost always-gloating D.J. Countess and Kyle Martino 6-4 on Thursday afternoon (Jan. 29).
TEAM GREEN WINS IN REGULATION AND IN PK's: After their enjoyable Primavera experience, it was back to business on Saturday (Jan. 31) at the auxiliary fields next to Tecos Stadium. Landon Donovan led the green team to a narrow tiebreaker victory over Teams Yellow and Gray in a spirited version of 6 v. 6 (+6), which is played in a third of the field with the two six-player teams able to use the remaining six players that are positioned on the outside of the cones. Each team had a win and a loss in the round robin tournament, but Team Green (Donovan, Eskandarian, Davis, Borchers, Wingert and Marshall) took the unofficial title based a superior goal differential of +1. Regardless, the three teams engaged in a penalty kick shootout in front of a throng of fans that gathered behind the south goal. Team Green grabbed the official training title, converting all six opportunities compared to Team Yellow (4 of 6) and Team Gray (2 of 6). After training, Kyle Beckerman's string of days in which he mocklingly declares "No interviews today" came to an end, with a local reporter requesting to get his take on the usual suspects ("Is USA the best?", "What will you do to help your team beat Mexico?," etcetera).
PARTY OF 30, NON-SMOKING, NEAR A BIG SCREEN TV: The U-23s had the day off today (Feb. 1) as they get ready to get down to business in roughly 48 hours. After sleeping in, the team had brunch at the team hotel, then walked to a nearby mall in the late afternoon to the Hard Rock Cafe to watching the SuperBowl and eat out for the first time on the trip as an entire team. As team captain, Donovan organized a pool with the popular grid of 100 squares with corresponding numbers, which the players and staff quickly filled up yesterday in anticipation of the game. Like many people around the world, the players were mostly indifferent about who they wanted to win, but the majority felt that the Patriots would grab the trophy behind Tom Brady. The biggest concern was the possibility of Spanish-only commentary, with defender Chris Wingert summing about the entire group's fear on the walk over: "All I know is it better be in English." Luckily, it was, but only after an enormous amount of explaining and translating to change from the current Spanish-language audio to the international broadcast in English. In fact, the change came just 30 seconds before the kickoff. But although the team got to enjoy veteran announcer Dick Stockton giving the play-by-play, they missed out on all the American commercials. Disappointingly, instead of the newest Pepsi and Nike ads, they had to suffer through repeats of an ad for "Zucaritos" (Frosted Flakes). As for the pool, the first quarter winner just so happened to be the one person in the group that had never even seen a football game before: Liverpool, England, native Zak Whitbread, who admitted, "I don't know any of the rules." After the first quarter snoozefest, the 24 points scored in the second quarter had a number of people in contention, with it going from Whitbread to Nat Borchers to Logan Pause and finally to Alecko Eskandarian, who also won the third quarter. After gorging themselves by sharing various desserts, the team headed back to the hotel at halftime to catch the rest of the game from their respective rooms.
THE WHITBREAD MULLET: SILLY-LOOKIN' OR STYLISH?: Of all the interesting hair styles and facial hair that the players come up with in their boredom and youthful experimentation, one of the most talked-about is the blonde mullet of defender Zak Whitbread. While the mullet used to be a somewhat tragic look modeled primarily by hockey and soccer players (hence the alias "Soccer Rocker") in the '80s, it's seen a resurgence in fashion circles and is now seen as "ironically stylish." The Liverpool defender admitted that he's going for "a bit of Beckham look" and assured teammates that it's all the rage in Europe, as opposed to being a source of comedy in America.
QUOTES AND QUIPS:
"Do it for Pacey!"
--Forward Alecko Eskandarian, pumping up Pause before his winning swim. Pause is from Hillsborough, N.C., near the town where they filmed the once-popular show "Dawson's Creek."
"I could see the walls closing in; I had to come up."
--Pause, explaining to teammates why he didn't make it all the way back to the wall he started from.