Tuesday, December 18, 2007

SACHA SAYS FAREWELL

Hello again. Sacha Kljestan here coming to you live from the Bisun restaurant in the Beijing International Airport. As I plow through my first Western food in a week - the burger and fries aren’t quite the same, but it gets the job done – let me relay some final thoughts on the China trip.

As you have read, we finished the tour with a 3-3 tie against China in Guangzhou. We were disappointed to let a 3-0 lead get away from us. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way, but hopefully this will help us moving forward. I won’t say much about the referee and the red card, but I don’t think I’m the only one who thought it was bogus. You have to expect those types of decisions where you’re on the road and in a hostile environment, so it’s a good reminder for me personally as I pursue my international career.

What wasn’t hostile was the way we were treated by the people, particularly the hotel staff in both cities. They were tripping over themselves to help us, which I thought was really cool.

So what’s a wrap-up blog without a list? Here’s my top five moments from week-long trip to the Far East:


  1. The first game against China in front of 30,000 fans in Changsha. The supporters were loud and enthusiastic, which makes it really fun to play. It was also our first real game together, and I thought we made some progress as they game went on.
  2. Going up 3-0 at halftime in Guangzhou. We did some really good stuff in the first 45 minutes, and I can honestly say all three goals were money. If you’re lucky, somebody will post Charlie’s goal celebration on YouTube. Yours truly makes a cameo as well.
  3. Stuart Holden’s impression of Peter Nowak in a team meeting. Self preservation dictates I don’t go into details, but Stuart’s act was spot on and got everybody rolling. Including Peter.
  4. The food in both hotels was fantastic. As you all know by now, I’m a huge fan of noodles, and the Noodle Guy in Changsha became my best friend.
  5. Getting to do all the press conferences. As captain, I was chosen to represent the players before and after each game. It was an unusual experience being in front of all those cameras and reporters where every question and answer had to be translated. Being in a foreign country also makes you think a bit more about your answers, especially when you get questions that you’re not used to. And I’m still not answering the one about whether the Hunan girls are cute.

    Overall, I think everyone enjoyed the trip. Being in the host country and seeing what the atmosphere is like definitely gave us that much more inspiration to want to qualify for the Olympics. As I said in the beginning of the trip, it feels like the start of a journey, and now we have two games under our belts to prove it.

    Speaking of journeys, it’s time to board the plane for the 12-hour flight to Los Angeles. Even though it’s my hometown and the best city in the states, I won’t be there long since I’m taking a red-eye to New Jersey to visit my brother for a few days before Christmas.

    Thanks to everybody for following along. Believe it or not, the qualifying tournament is only three months away, and we’ll be back at just after the New Year. Everyone is looking forward to the next camp and to the qualifying tournament in March that will hopefully bring us back to China again in ‘08. Hope to see you then. In the meantime, Happy Holidays.

    Sacha


Monday, December 17, 2007

Heading Home

Well, we're just about done here and though everybody has enjoyed themselves, it everyone is looking forward to coming home for the holidays.

The second game was a frustrating one, but after all this trip isn't really about the results. And if the team has learned one thing, its that the Olympics next year will be a amazing - the atmosphere for these two friendlies was excellent, and surely the event in 2008 will follow suit.

We scrounged up some highlights from the game, and be sure to read the match report if you haven't already.




That just about does it for us from China. As always, thanks to everybody for keeping up with the blog, and a special thanks to those of you who took the time to comment on the posts. We'll be back in 2008 as preparations for Olympic qualifying begin in January. Until then, goodbye and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

TALE OF TWO HALVES

After making six pre-planned changes at halftime, the U.S. struggled to deal with mounting Chinese pressure. After conceding two goals by the 65th minute, the U.S. appeared to have weathered the storm before a highly suspect penalty call in the 90th minute ensured a 3-3 draw in front of another exuberant crowd in China.

USA EXPLODES FOR THREE GOALS TO TAKE 3-0 LEAD INTO HALF TIME

The U.S turned in a dominating performance in the opening 45 minutes, with goals from Robbie Rogers, Patrick Ianni and Charlie Davies highlighting the effort. The U.S. snatched the momentum from the start, using speed and quick combination play to control possession. The defense has been swarming, leaving little space for the Chinese attackers.

UNDERWAY

We're underway in guangzhou, and the U.Sm has snatched the momentum early with good posession and smooth passing combinations. Like thursday, china are looking for diagonal balls into space. The crowd has been into it from the opening whistle.

ONE HOUR FROM KICKOFF

Teams are on the field warming up. It's a warm, hazy afternoon and the stadium is slowly filling up. China has made several changes to their lineup as well. With the sounds of the Village People getting the crowd juiced, kickoff creeps closer.

STARTERS FOR GAME TWO

U.S. Under-23 head coach Peter Nowak makes three changes to the group that started in the 0-0 draw against China on Thursday. Mike Randolph slots into left back replacing Hunter Freeman, while Arturo Alvarez makes way for Robbie Rogers and Robbie Findley pairs with Charlie Davies up top.

Look for planned changes at halftime. Also, Sal Zizzo remains unavailable with a sprained right ankle. This afternoon's formation:

Chris Seitz

Marvell Wynne     Maurice Edu     Patrick Ianni     Mike Randolph


Dax McCarty          Sacha Kljestan (capt.)

Stuart Holden                                                            Robbie Rogers


Charlie Davies                         Robbie Findley

Saturday, December 15, 2007

CHANGE OF PLANS

Literally, and in more ways than one. Because the locker room at the stadium wasn't designed to accommodate the number of players, coaches, training tables. etc., that we travel with, the coaches have decided to have the players get dressed for the match here at the hotel. The group will head to the stadium with ankles taped and warm-up gear on. The bright side is that we will leave the hotel later than normal, which means less time sitting around in a small locker room.

IT'S OFFICIAL

Peter Nowak and other members of the delegation attended the Official Reception dinner last night, which was hosted by Guangzhou Mayor Mr. Zhang Guangning. In attendance were officials from the Chineese Football Association, the Guangzhou Football association, the Local Organizing Committe, and the head coach of the Chinese U23s. All together, there were 20 people exchanging gifts and stories. A few highlights (have you noticed we are fond of lists on this trip?):

a) The 12-course meal was simply fantastic. At the risk of sounding obvious, Chinese food is MUCH better here than at home. The Cantonese style is to use less thick sauce and maintain more original flavor of the food. Very tasty.

2) One delicacy the U.S. delegation had not eaten before - sea horse. Once we got over the mental block, we can report that it tastes ... crunchy.

3) The Chinese tradition is for each official to go around the table and make an individual toast to the other guests. If you review the guest list from above, you'll see that's a lot of toasts.

4) The Mayor and the head of the Sports Commission are huge NBA fans, as are many of the Chinese we have met. Milwaukee Bucs forward Yi Jianlian is from this province. They have been invited as guests of the NBA to the 2008 All-Star Game in New Orleans.

The pleasantries over, we're now only five hours away from getting down to business. Once again, the Chinese media and fans are placing big pressure on their team to get a victory.

CHANGE OF SCENERY

As the team waits to depart for this morning's final training session in China and Battlestar Galactica is screening in the background, we thought it would be interesting to compare the experience in Guangzhou to the previous base camp in Changsha. Here's three:

There is English-language t.v. stations here. Not so in the hotel farther north. HBO, CNN, even ESPN. Guys are loving it. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

We're in the thick of things here. Went from luxury and seclusion to a Marriott that has a Starbucks attached to the hotel and a McDonald's across the street. And there's more people. Way more people.

It's about 20 degrees warmer here. Guangzhou, capital of the the Guangdong province, is located in the southeast near the South China Sea. Game-time temperature should be in the mid-70's tomorrow. And we saw something yesterday that we hadn't in a week: the sun.

FIRST GLIMPSE OF GUANGZHOU

Following the 0-0 draw last night in Changsha, the team changed venues and flew south to Guangzhou, where like Florida in wintertime, it's considerably warmer. Late this afternoon they hit the field for a 45-minute session at Xiu Shan Stadium, the site of Sunday afternoon's rematch with the Chinese U23's. The group warmed up with a version of 5 v. 2, then the starters broke off to stretch while the reserves worked on possession before engaging in a crossing and finishing exercise. The stadium is set in the hills of Guangzhou, and the onset of dusk framed a beautiful scenic of the city with a quarter-moon visible in the eastern sky. Another fantastic crowd is expected on the weekend, both teams clearly intent on aiming for a victory to close out the year...

Friday, December 14, 2007

QUOTE TIME

Here's what some of the guys were saying after the first match against China. If you want to see more of their quotes, click here to get the full quote sheet on ussoccer.com.

U.S. Midfielder Stuart Holden
On playing for the United States at this level:
“I felt a huge amount of pride wearing the badge of the United States. My only other experience was with the U-20s, so this was special for me. Hopefully I can continue to represent the U.S. in the future.”

U.S. Midfielder Arturo Alvarez
On whether playing in the country that will host the Olympics has given added incentive to qualify:
“For sure. I think it is great coming to China to play the team that will be representing them in the Olympic and getting a little taste of what it will be like. If the atmosphere is great now, I can’t imagine what it will be like for Olympics. Being here has given us extra motivation to work hard and make sure we that we qualify for the Olympic Games.”

U.S. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz
On earning two shutouts in two games for the U-23 MNT:
“Anytime the team can get two shutouts in two games you have to be pleased. Things are going well for us as a defensive unit. I have a lot of familiarity playing with these backs in other age groups, so there is already a comfort level. When you are in a game like that, that familiarity helps settle you down a little bit.”

U.S. defender PATRICK IANNI
On the team’s performance:
“I thought we were well prepared for the game. After an up and down first half, we took to them in the second half. In my opinion, we were unlucky not to come away with a win. It was our first game together as a group, and it took a little while for us to sustain a rhythm on offense. We’re still learning where we need to be positionally with respect to our defensive shape as a whole. Those are some things that we have been constantly going over in camp, and I think there was good progress made as the match went on.”

Behind the Scenes: USA vs. China I

We'll catch up more tomorrow, but since the flight to Guangzho is rapidly approaching, a few highlights from this evening's activities:

  • The crowd was fantastic. We knew it was going to be fun night when they applauded our team as they came out for warmups - and then lit flares. We would see those throughout the night.

  • Apparently 'bangers' have become a world wide fan tool. A little know fact - bangers were first developed in the United States. No surprise there, but do you know when they were first used? Portland, Oregon on Sept. 7, 1997 in for the USA-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier. That's right folks. Soccer fans unleashed this phenomenon on the world. Not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing...

  • Our players got a first-hand experience of what referee decisions can be like when you're on the road. Let's just say the wide margin in fouls called was probably a wee bit unjust.

  • The Chinese team is fast and well coached. The number of precision diagonal balls they managed was impressive.

  • There were USA fans in the stadium! Thanks to all six of you for showing up. It was fun meeting you post-game, although we're still not sure how you managed to get down to the locker room door.

  • It's an unusual experience when it happens, but for the second straight press conference Peter and Sacha received an ovation at the end.

  • You can get burgers and pizza at any post-game meal in the world. And they somehow managed to carve happy faces into the hashbrown patties.

  • That's it for this evening. Overall, it was an entertaining game and probably a fair result. For their first time playing together, this group showed a lot of promise. Tomorrow the team travels - on the same flight as their Chinese counterparts - to Guangzho. Should be a light day of training, so we will sit down with some of the guys and get their thoughts on the match.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

STARTING XI

USA Starters (4-4-2):

Chris Seitz

Marvell Wynne     Maurice Edu     Patrick Ianni     Hunter Freeman


Dax McCarty       Sacha Kljestan (capt.)

Stuart Holden                                                      Arturo Alvarez


Charlie Davies                         Jozy Altidore

OUT FOR A STROLL

After breakfast this morning, the team got out for a stroll around the grounds of the hotel - yes, the place is big enough to have 'grounds'.

It's really the first time the group has been outside besides going to training, so it was nice to get a look at the surroundings. The staff here at the Changsha Venice Hotel have really been extraordinary, and the guys have made a lot of friends. You can sense that the players are loose and at the same time really anxious to get on the field. Being in the host country for the Olympics has really brought into to focus what these guys are playing for ...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

HOLDEN’S RESPONSES

Stuart took advantage of the down time on the sometimes painfully slow game day to answer your questions. Most of you were interested in things happening off the field, which the well-traveled midfielder enjoyed. So in no particular order, here’s Stuart’s answers…

Zack said...
Do you still play counter-strike in your free time?

“I had no idea I was such a legend in the counter-strike world! I still play from time to time. I alternate between that and FIFA ’07. I switched to sports games because I can play as myself in the game.”

donovanlover4ever said...
Who was your soccer role model growing up? What is your favorite pro team (not including houston ;) ?

“My soccer role models growing up were David Beckham and Eric Cantona. As you can tell, I’m a huge Manchester United fan. I’ve been to watch them five times at Old Trafford. I admired Beckham because he was a young player that came through at my favorite club. I liked the way Cantona carried himself on the field – his attitude combined with a touch of class.”

Brice said...
Great job this year with Houston. It was a lot of fun to watch you on the field. What is your goal for this trip in China? Can you tell us your favorite experience in China so far?

“Thanks, man. My goal for this trip is to make a good impression on the coaching staff and position myself to make the qualifying roster, and the Olympic roster when we qualify.”

“My favorite experience has been high-fiving all of the staff in the hallway. They don’t know what to do with themselves and just laugh in a really friendly way. In all seriousness, just experiencing a really different culture has been eye opening.”

Matt said...
Who would win in a fight, Brian Ching or Superman?

“Ching Kong for sure. He would eat Superman up and spit him out in liquid form.”

Mikey said...
I have seen your Mum and Dad and they appear to be lovely people but surprisingly quite tall. How did you end up so short and are you siblings taller than you?

“I guess I got the short end of the stick with the height, but fortunately I got the better looks than my brother.”

Nick said...
Oasis or Blur?

“Oasis. Their music is timeless, and I always enjoy relaxing to it.”

Will said...
a) Can you use chopsticks?
b) If so, does it surprise Chinese people that you can use chopsticks?

“I’m actually a sushi lover, so I can eat a kernel of rice with chopsticks. I don’t think it surprises Chinese people that we can use chopsticks, but I think they appreciate it.”

Matt said...
Cane you remember the last time you megged someone in a real game? What about in practice?

“I think the last meg I had was against D.C. The last meg I had in practice was on Eddie Robinson, and I got booted into the stands afterwards. So I think I’ll leave the megs out of my game for now.”

Rosie said...
Have you tried any new food in China? If so, what?

“We have had hand-tossed noodles in soup every day, which has been amazing and full of flavor. I’ve also had a sushi rolls with ham and some kind of vegetables. They have been surprisingly good. I’m a big wasabi fan as well, and the stuff they have here consistently burns my nostrils. Love it!”

PHOTO CAPTIONS

First set of prints from Changsha are up in the ussoccer.com photo gallery, so thought we would give you some extended captions as if we were sitting right there in your living room!

#1 - Robbie Rogers weaving through Sal Zizzo and L.A. Galaxy defender Mike Randolph. Remember, Mike is the player making his first appearance in any camp for any national team. Welcome aboard!

#2 - A view of the training site with the Changsha Helong Stadium in the background. The modernistic design and construction were completed on the 50,000 seat stadium seven years ago. Officials expect a crowd of 30,000 for the match tomorrow night.

#3 - A view of the aforementioned swanky hotel outside of Changsha where the team is staying. The still to be completed complex has been dubbed "Venice Town" because the owner of the all the land intends to have the community look like an Italian village. Another little tidbit: the Chinese team is also staying here, but we have rarely seen any of them walking around.

#4 - Jozy Altidore, meet Jon Leathers. Jon, as you may recall, is the only college player in camp. He's finishing up his studies at Furman University, the alma matter of one Clint Dempsey. We did a little sit-down with Jon earlier this week.

#5 - Jozy's (umpteenth) attempt at noodle-making. After the team left the dining room last night, equipment manager Gabe Vogler tried his hand at it. No photos exist, but reports indicate the team is in good hands with Gabe.

#6 - Peter breaking out the clipboard at training to diagram team shape for a 9 v.9 exercise. The group have spent a lot of time talking about team shape, movement and individual responsibilities on the field. In last night's meeting, Patrick Ianni and Hunter Freeman were assigned the task of giving a chalk talk on the role of defenders in a 4-4-2.

#7 - Peter addressing the increasing number of Chinese journalists covering the team. Yesterday the team held their pre-match press conference with about 30 reporters and 10 cameras in attendance. A quote sheet from the presser will be available later today. Pretty funny moment when one of the female reporters asked Peter and Sacha if the women of Hunan were cute. Very deftly handled by the men: Peter made Sacha answer; Sacha ducked the question with the agility of Floyd Merriweather.

#8 - Mike Randolph pausing to ponder some of the lessons of Confucianism before restarting play.

#9 - Sacha putting his money where his mouth his in the noodle-making factory. The team captain performed capably. Too bad you can't hear the sound effects he was producing while cooking. In all seriousness, you can see that Sacha has applied some of the lessons learned with the senior team as he serves as one of the leaders in this group.

#10 - Chris Seitz in a warm-up exercise with the city of Changsha in the background. It's been cold and overcast during the training sessions every day, which makes for fine football weather if you're not standing around watching. The city itself has a population of over six million, a medium sized city by Chinese standards.

#11 - A view of training from the concourse level of the stadium complex. Training sessions hav attracted a lot of curious football fans who take up a position here to watch the team. With Chin hosting the Olympics and their U-23 team still taking shape, the fans have told us that they are looking at these next two matches as extremely important to gauge their progress ahead of next summer's Games. Should be a great atmosphere tomorrow night.

Well, there you have it. Time to put away the slide projector and have another glass of eggnog. Hope we're invited back soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

NOODLE APPRENTICES

Remember how Sacha couldn't stop talking about the noodle guy? After watching the poor guy slave over making pile afte pile, our guys 'volunteered' to lend him a hand. First to try their luck were Zac MacMath and Jozy Altidore (wonder what those guys have in common?).

As it turns out, noodle-making is harder than it looks. Like the true leader that he is, Sacha stepped up to show the boys - and the full kitchen and wait staff that had now assembled with cameras in hand - how a veteran would handle the responsibilities. Let's just say they all got an 'A' for effort. Everybody had a good laugh - mostly because they had already eaten. If they had to rely on these guys for noodles...

LEARN SOMETHING NEW TODAY (WE DID)

As fans of the blog know, we pride ourselves on being informative as well as entertaining. So here is today's quick 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.

And on that note ...

PERSONAL SERVICE PERSONIFIED

Since this is everyone's first trip to China, it's difficult to say if customer service is always taken so seriously here. But the treatment the delegation has received at the hotel has been overwhelming. And it's not just the food, the beautiful rooms, and all the little extra touches.

Some examples:

The ratio of employees to guest is a good 3 to 1. It's almost too many. Sometimes you feel like you have to ask for something, just so they will be have something to do. You almost feel bad if you try and do something yourself, like refill your own coffee. As Sacha mentioned in his blog earlier, the noodle guy is a huge hit. And this morning he transformed into omelette guy. Two-for-two ...

One of the staffers (ok, it was your current blogger) had to quickly change for training yesterday because the team gear arrived late to the hotel. Said blogger may have left his clothes on the floor when leaving the hotel, only to return and find everything neatly folded at the foot of the bed and with a chocolate sitting on top of them.

There are six people assigned to the team-only floor and there is veritable army of bellmen to load and unload the equipment onto the bus every day. If this was an Olympic sport, the Chinese would be the gold medal favorites.

All of this is to say that the team is very grateful for the treatment given by our hosts so far. After such a long journey, it's really nice to be taken care of so well. Makes it a lot easier for the team to be focused on getting prepared to play on Thursday.

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 contesta las preguntas.

FULL SPEED AHEAD

After a day of getting the travel out of their systems, the boys got back to business today when Peter Nowak put them through an intense 90-minute session at the Helong Sports Complex in front of a brave crowd of 100 onlookers. We say brave because it was rather chilly, to say the least.

After a 15-minute warmup, all 20 players were pulled into the center circle where 17 balls were waiting. They moved inside the circle at increasing speeds until the 'whistle' blew, and then they had to scramble and sit on any open ball, with the odd men out paying the price with 20 pushups. As the exercise continued, the number of available balls decreased, thereby increasing the number of pushups owed. With the keepers moving off on their own, the group split in half for two separate passing exercises, one involving short movements and the other delivering balls over distance. Next came a 9 v. 9 game from 18 to 18 that focused on team shape and movement, where goals were scored by dribbling the ball over the opponent's endline. One thing that was evident in this exercise

Charlie Davies is pretty darn fast. Big goals and goalkeepers were added for an intense final 20 minutes, and you could see the chemistry starting to coalesce as several times the groups strung together a series of passes and maintained prolonged possession. The session ended with 10 minutes of sprinting at various intervals and distances. The number of Chinese media in attendance has grown each day, and we're expecting a full house at tomorrow's pre-match press conference. Already you can feel the energy shifting towards matchday...

INTERVIEW WITH JON LEATHERS

ussoccer.com: Not having ever been a part of a national team camp before, were you surprised that you got the call?

Jon Leathers: “Yeah, actually. We were in the middle of college season when my coach told me that I was on the provisional roster. It came as a shock to me. I remember the Wednesday right before Thanksgiving I got named to the final roster, and I thought ‘wow, what an exciting opportunity.’ I was definitely surprised. By the same token, it was quite gratifying because I’ve put in a lot of hard work my whole life, especially the four years at Furham. I guess that work is paying off.”

ussoccer.com: Did you even know you were on the radar screen?

Jon: “A little bit. I may have heard one or two things, but I was really focused on my college season.”

ussoccer.com: You were entering Furham as Clint Dempsey was leaving to join the New England Revolution. Was it your goal to follow in his footsteps and try to make it as a professional soccer player?

Jon: “Definitely. As a kid that was always a goal, and each step along the way I’ve gotten closer to it. When Clint headed to MLS, I saw making it there as a real possibility. At the same time, I knew I was going to have to work really hard to get to where he was.”

ussoccer.com: Of the 20 players here in China, 16 of them play in MLS, so you’ve had the chance to watch them playing in the league. What’s it like now playing with group?

Jon: “I’ve played with a few of them before. I played a lot against Michael Harrington growing up, for example. It’s crazy to think that I’m playing with all these guys that do play professional. I was a little hesitant coming in; it was a little overwhelming. But once I started playing and got a feel for them and how they play, I adapted to it. Playing with this group is definitely going to make me a better player, and will help me as I get ready for the combine and the MLS draft. This past week has given me a lot of confidence to believe that I can compete at the professional level.”

ussoccer.com: You’re the only college player here. Any stick from the guys?

Jon: “Initially I thought that the guys would think that I’m just a college player and don’t have as much experience as them. I think that worked to my advantage coming into this camp, because I knew I had a lot to prove and at the same time there weren’t a lot of expectations. It’s helped me maintain focus.”

ussoccer.com: This is your first time in any national team camp, and you’ve come in at a pretty high level. What has the experience been like?

Jon: “I think everything is done very professionally, and the treatment has been spectacular. We got off the airplane and were greeted by people giving flowers, and there were a lot of cameras around. I wasn’t used to that. You definitely get a lot more attention being a part of a national team.”

ussoccer.com: And how have things been different on the field?

Jon: “Everything is very disciplined. When you go to training, all the players are really focused because it’s their job. In college, you go to a training session and guys are thinking about different things like exams and other stuff outside of soccer. Here, it’s very professional. Everyone is fighting for positions and you have to bring your best every day. The coaches are constantly talking about ideas on the field, and they pay attention to all the little details that you don’t always think about. It’s a whole other level.”

ussoccer.com: It’s been a good week of training with two international games on the horizon here in China. What do you hope to get out of this camp?

Jon: “Ultimately I want to make a good impression on the coaching staff so I get invited back. That’s the most important goal. I would love to be a part of this team when we try to qualify for the Olympics, so I’m going to do everything I can to get back here.”

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Closing Out the Weekend

Overall, it's been a pretty successful weekend here in Bradenton. Residency players will tell you, the Friendlies are one of the best events you can play in during your time here, because we're playing on our home field, in front of the people we've come to think of as family this semester. Most of us had family here, who came from all across the country.

It's become a tradition during the Friendlies that the Residency players who aren't playing in the international games support those who are. It was awesome to see the '90s and '91s out there in body paint, holding signs and singing and yelling. It's all part of the experience. The older guys did it for them when they were the youngsters, and now they're doing it for us.

Great weather, great atmosphere and great soccer made it a highly successful tournament. Thanks for checking in with the blog, and all the happenings in Bradenton on ussoccer.com. We'll be checking in periodically from Residency.... so, until next time!

SACHA FROM CHANGSHA

So, welcome to the Benny and Sacha ... ah, just kidding. It's Sacha's blog coming to you live from Changsha. It's 8:08 p.m. here on Sunday night, and we've just finished dinner. The food so far has been fantastic. I must say my favorite so far has been the 'noodle' guy. He's making homemade noodles right in front of us, and the technique he uses to braid and separate the dough is pretty cool. Hunter Freeman watched him work for about 10 minutes and never even got soup.

The trip was fairly long. It was a 13 hour flight to Beijing from Los Angeles - fortunately I spent 10 hours of it in Sleepytown. During the layover in Beijing, Charlie Davies, Robbie Rogers and I desperately wanted to get noodles, but we couldn't find a good option and it turned out the layover was more like a quick hustle through the airport, so no dice. The only other thing of note was the temperature - it's really cold in Beijing at the moment. Another two hour flight to Changsha, where we were greeted by the local sports authorities and members of the hotel staff. First time I've ever been handed a bouquet of roses. Hopefully the photo with the 'rose ladies' comes out. The bus ride to the hotel took about 30 minutes, and when I walked into the lobby, the first image that came to mind is the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The dome in the lobby is painted like the Sistine Chapel, and there are frescoes all over the walls. Really not what you would expect on your first trip to China; nonetheless, this place is pretty sweet.


We went to the stadium complex in the afternoon for a quick kick around. We trained on the field adjacent to the stadium and it's in great shape. There were about 30 people watching the session, including a handful of journalists. I did my first interview over here, and was a little surprised how much the press knew about the roster, the team's results this year and our upcoming schedule. I guess everybody reads ussoccer.com! (you're welcome, communications staff.)

We had a solid week of training in L.A., and I think the group is excited to be here. Not just because it's our first trip to China, but there is a genuine sense that the competition for spots on the qualifying roster are up for grabs. In many ways, it feels like the start of an adventure.

Well, time to crash. Coach Nowak is giving us the option of sleeping in tomorrow morning, and I think I'll take him up on it. Check back in later this week and I'll give you the goods on the trip.

peace.

BB Tracking MB

As you probably saw on the Fox Soccer Channel broadcast of the USA-Brazil match on Saturday, U.S. MNT head coach Bob Bradley is on hand here at the Development Academy Nike Friendlies taking in games. But today, there was another game thousands of miles away on his mind - Heerenveen vs. FC Groningen. If you've checked out our U.S. Soccer Global updates, you saw that Michael Bradley is having a career day, putting away his first hat trick in Holland. He tallied all three goals in the first half, and his efforts eventually helped Heerenveen top their regional rivals, 4-2 in league play.

Bob headed over to the registration headquarters (where we're usually adding our fantastic entries) and politely asked if we could bring up some of the game highlights. After a bit of a struggle (our internet connection isn't that strong out at the fields!), we were able to come through for Bob and he happily watched Michael tally his three goals. Oh, and we also found a interview with Michael after the game which is great...well, at least we assume it is since it's in Dutch. For those links, check out U.S. Soccer Global!

One-on-One With Reading

Scouts are here at the Development Academy Nike Friendlies in abundance. As they stroll around the grounds watching games, taking notes, and catching some sun (after all most are from England and Germany), we decided to stop Steve Shorey from Reading Football Club to get a few thoughts on the tournament. Mr. Shorey has been with Reading for some time, and knows a fair bit about developing young talent – his son is Nicky Shorey, the Reading fullback and England International.

ussoccer.com: How did you find out about the Development Academy Nike Friendlies?

Steve Shorey: “In England the agent for Nike, who is a friend of mine, gave me call and told me about this tournament. I spoke to my people at Reading Football Club, and we thought it’d be a good idea to have a representative from our academy come out and take a look. We’ve got two American internationals in our roster, and if we could add a few younger talents to that it’d be lovely.”

ussoccer.com: You’re one of the teams with more than one American in the squad. Does that show that you guys see America as a place to find young talent and future premier league players?

SS: “We don’t close our eyes to any nationality, football is a global game. That’s why the World Cup is such a huge event every four years. You have to go and search out new talent for your football club. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but sometimes you can be lucky.”

ussoccer.com: How are American players viewed, especially coming from England?

SS: “England’s a bit unique in the way we play football. The game is at such a high pace. Players from an Iceland or a South Korea, as we’ve got in our team at the moment, often need time to adjust. The same was true for Bobby (Convey), not so much for Marcus (Hahnemann) because he was a goalkeeper, but when Bobby first came to Reading, he never looked like he was going to turn the corner. Then, in he had a proper preseason with us, and went on to have an excellent second season in England.”

"You only need to ask Bobby how long it took him to adjust, and that’s a 20 year-old who has already played in the national side. That’s why we like to get boys over when they’re a younger age. It gives them a much bigger chance to succeed, to become used to the way we play football, and then when they turn 18, hopefully they have a chance in the senior team.”

ussoccer.com: Talk a bit about what you’re doing at the tournament in terms of scouting? What do you do to pick out players you think will succeed at Reading?

SS: “First and foremost it is identifying talent. Sometimes the biggest difficulty though is knowing whether or not the boy has the right paperwork to come to the EU. It’s a very tough issue to get around because, as you can imagine, sometimes the boys you’d like to get don’t have the paperwork, and the ones that maybe aren’t ready yet for our standard of football do have the right papers. Often times if I see somebody that just maybe isn’t quite up to our level, I’ll pass a tip to a club in the Championship or lower division who I know is looking for a position or certain type of player.”

ussoccer.com: Lets say you come down here and find a Bobby Convey or a Marcus Hahnemann, how does that benefit Reading?

SS: “The way the price of footballers on the market is, it’s unbelievable. While if you can find a young footballer here, almost all you need to pay for is his airfare. And that’s a tremendous result for our club. A younger boy playing for a club in England can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, but you can come to America and find a 16 year-old boy who’s just as good.”

ussoccer.com: What are some of the qualities you find in young players in America?

SS: "Well, you definitely find boys who have good technique. What they’d have to get used to is the way that we play football in England, with pressure and at a high pace. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but that’s another story. To play in the Premiership you need to be up to a certain speed, and that’s maybe the one thing that is lacking. Mostly it’s just because of the way that football is played here, and the weather and heat have a lot to do with the slower pace of the game. That’s why it’s good to get these kids over to our academy early, so they have as much time to learn the game as possible."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

First Glimpse at USA Lineup

Before anyone else gives it to you, we have today's starting lineup for the U.S.:
Earl Edwards

Estanilao Arevalo - Jared Watts - Perry Kitchen - Emilio Orozco

Joe Gyau - Marlon Duran - Carlos Martinez

Jaime Gutierrez - Charles Renken - Stefan Jerome
Check back after the game!

EPL Withdrawal

With all of the international scouts, coaches and staff here in Bradenton, the question of the day has been "what's the score of [insert favorite EPL team here]?" The U.S. Soccer staff work area has internet access to keep everyone informed, and Reading vs. Liverpool is on in the office area. Some of the scouts found a local bar that was playing the games, and got over there as quickly as they could.

Keep up with U.S. Soccer Global to stayed informed on Americans overseas.

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND

You didn't think we forgot about you, did you? Like the players in this first camp of the U-23 National Team under Peter Nowak, we're all getting adjusted to each other and the environment, so we figured we'd ease into it. We'll get you quickly caught up to speed:

  • The roster has been reduced to 20 players, with Nate Sturgis (calf) and Adam Cristman (hamstring) not fit enough to make the trip to China. The travel roster follows:

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)

  • The team is currently at the airport waiting for the 12:40 a.m. departure to Beijing. Surprisingly, the terminal is buzzing with activity as travelers wait for overnight flights to places as disparate as Auckland and San Salvador.
  • Current weather conditions in Changsha are rainy with a temperature of 46 degrees. Looks like it's averaging low 60's during the day and high 40's at night
  • Check out this excellent interview with Peter Nowak and Alan Abrahamson from nbcolympics.com. We'll have our own sit-down with Peter from China.
  • Only one person in the traveling contingent has ever been to China (No, this is not a trivia question). Team coordinator Alfonso Cerda served on the team that ran the Friends and Family Program for the Women's National Team during the 2007 World Cup.

OK, folks. Sounds like they are calling our flight. Check back in Sunday morning - on U.S. time, that is - for Sacha Kljestan's travel blog. In the mean time, if there's something you want to know, don't be afraid to ask.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Nicole Megaloudis Foundation

In spite of all the activity here on the IMG soccer fields, the Nicole Megaloudis Foundation has a table set up amidst the madness.The Foundation was established to assist students who hope to attend and graduate college. Scholarships are awarded based upon leadership qualities and demonstration of financial need. The mission of the foundation is to help students realize their dreams and to allow Nicole's memory to live on.

Autographed jerseys from Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley, Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey and others are up for auction at the table. There is also a 50/50 raffle and various merchandise available, with all profits going to the foundation.

For more information about, or to donate to the Foundation, please visit remembernicole.com

From Russia, With Love

There was some camaraderie and national pride here at the Friendlies, and no it wasn't from the Americans. IMG has one of the premier tennis training centers in the world, and draws international talent. The Russian tennis players were well aware of their countrymen's soccer game against Turkey this afternoon, and came out in full force. The girls made signs and cheered loudly as their team won, 4-3, against Turkey in the day's only international match. Though we don't speak Russian, we're sure that the players were happy to have the girls' support.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

U.S. Victorious

The U.S. won 2-0 over Russia this afternoon in the International Bracket of the Development Academy Nike Friendlies. In the hot afternoon weather, the U.S. got goals from Carlos Martinez and Stefan Jerome to cap an exciting performance in the group's first ever competitive game.

We talked to Martinez, Jerome and midfielder Charles Renken after the victory and they told us they felt really good during the match, despite the heat, and now are looking forward to the match-up with Brazil. Renken was telling us he's excited because it's a chance for the U.S. to go up against one of the best team in the world.

Josh Lambo, Jared Jeffries, Brandon King, Mykell Bates and many, many more players provided ample support for the 92s this afternoon. A whole section stationed in the bleachers at midfield was bouncing up and down the whole game, yelling, singing and blowing horns. The face and body paint was out in the stands, and surely the 92s appreciated the camaraderie, as they celebrated with their teammates and friends after both goals.


The Development Academy Nike Friendlies “Helper of the Day Award” today goes to ‘92er Aaron Horton. Aaron wins this coveted prize thanks to his impeccable cable running for FSC during today’s broadcast. We’re also pleased to report that Aaron, who will be on the roster for the Brazil game on Saturday, encountered no quicksand during his two-hour shift. The reason we’re happy for this, is that apparently the Ohio native is terrified of quicksand. Today’s starting goalkeeper Earl Edwards, in his own words, can’t even sit on a car without getting vertigo. What happened to people being afraid of more sinister things like zombies or aliens? Kids these days…

Lots of scouts are roaming around the grounds here, many from foreign countries and big teams. One scout, from a G14 football club nonetheless, made like the fans at the USA-Russia game, and cruised around the premises sans-shirt before returning to the lodge for a dip in the pool.

If you missed today's live broadcast, don't worry: We'll have highlights coming up later tonight, and in tomorrow's Studio 90 we'll have a full game recap and preview of Saturday's big match against Brazil!

Games on the Showcase Field

In the first game of the morning on the Showcase Field, the U-17s won 2-1 over Philadelphia club FC Delco. Goals from Amobi Okugo and Bryan Dominguez in the first half set the tone for the U.S. team who are now 1-0 on the weekend. You can read the full match report here ...

Later on the same field, the Brazil U-17s beat Turkey 7-2. The game was close at halftime, with Brazil leading 1-0, but a second half barrage of goals created the lopsided scoreline. Check back here later for highlights of the game ...

Everybody here is in preparation mode for this afternoon's big game. That includes the Blog, as we take our place field side for the kickoff. Be sure to check back here for highlights and thoughts after the match...

International Flavor

The International portion of the Friendlies is officially underway... Turkey and Brazil '92s have kicked off on Field 1. The bleachers are filled with spectators, scouts and National Team coaches. The perfect weather here in Bradenton has added to the atmosphere at the Friendlies, and so has the high-level competition taking place on seven fields.

USA ‘92s vs. Russia, FSC 3 p.m. ET

The Blog is at the field bright and early Thursday morning, and the tournament kicks off in less than an hour. Teams are registering left and right, and things are becoming increasingly hectic as the unique atmosphere of a tournament begins to creep in. Games occur on seven fields throughout the day, but undoubtedly the pick of the bunch is the USA '92s vs. Russia at 3 p.m. That match will be televised on FSC, so be sure to either cut out from work early, or take a long lunch hour. Don’t worry about the consequences: you have our permission.

Last night we sat a few guys from the team down for a few quick interviews, some of which could make their way on to FSC during halftime of today’s game. If they don’t, be sure to hit up ussoccer.com throughout the weekend, as we’ll be posting news, highlights and everything else that comes of interest throughout the weekend….

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Photo Shoot

As an annual Nike Friendlies tradition, the players in Residency lined up for a photo shoot and took updated headshots. It was quite a process getting 50 players through, but there was an apparent contest to see how much we could make the subject of every photo laugh. Maybe it took a little longer than necessary, but we had to make it fun.

Once we ran over our alloted time, the U-15 boys came in for their turn, and any sort of efficiency in the process was then completely gone. There was a lot of camaraderie between the teams... players coming from the same clubs or local areas, or familiar faces from previous National Team camps. We did get everything accomplished, it just took a little longer than expected.

Time to go rest up for tomorrow's games - check back for more inside info, and check out the '92s as they take on Russia live on Fox Soccer Channel at 3 p.m. ET.

Nike Friendlies Week!

Well... It's Wednesday of Nike Friendlies week here in Bradenton, and we can all tell that things are gearing up for a big weekend. There are signs being put around Field 1... scaffolding is being put up for the TV cameras, U.S. Soccer staff has taken over the facility.

One of the great aspects of the Nike Friendlies is having other Youth National Teams around campus. Today on the fields next to us were the Under-15 boys, who will be split into two teams this weekend. It's always nice to feel a sense of community among the different National Teams, and this weekend is a great opportunity for all of us to be a part of it.

The weather is perfect today, and is supposed to stay like this all weekend. Hopefully that will add to the great atmosphere of the weekend.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Welcome Wilmer

Well, as you all know, some changes are afoot down here in Bradenton. Coach Cabrera is here today for the first time, going through some meetings, and will lead his first practice tomorrow. We’re excited to meet him and see what he’s like – we’ve all heard great things about him. There are a lot of unknowns with new coaches, but here is what we do know:

* Two-time World Cup veteran
* Played in two U-20 World Cups
* Grew up in the Colombian youth system
* Played for some of the best clubs in Colombia
* He's fluent in English after just three years of learning

It's all pretty impressive. We'll start getting to know him (and he'll start getting to know us too) this weekend.

For a complete biography of our new coach, click here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Brrr!

We thought we'd have good (read: warm) weather throughout our time in LA, but we were a bit mistaken. The day was beautiful, but the night game had everyone grabbing extra coats and blankets. It was definitely worth it though, as a lively crowd was on hand to see the '91s top Chivas, 3-0 in the Showcase Game.

Before the game, Bob Bradley, Bob Jenkins, Thomas Rongen and Coach Hackworth were introduced to the crowd. Coach Hackworth gave a welcome speech (so did Bob Bradley), which we think was right on the money. He addressed all of the players at the Showcase, reminding them that they're a part of history. He is quite a good public speaker.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Off to a good start...

After a great day of soccer, a good dinner and some Xbox in the Players' Lounge, it feels like the Academy is really off to a good start. The games have been competitive, there are a ton of college coaches here and we got to eat inside the HDC's Stadium.

The '92s picked up a win in their Academy debut, beating Chivas USA U-16s 3-0, and now the younger squad will be among the hundreds who turn out to watch the '91s take on Chivas U-18. We don't think we're adequately prepared for what feels like is going to be a chilly night, but otherwise, we can't wait.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Change of Venue

After weeks of what felt like endless training, scrimmages and short-sided games amongst ourselves, the two U.S. U-17 squads will finally find opponents in a different uniform at the Development Academy's Fall Showcase Weekend at the HDC. The team will have a late arrival on Friday night into LAX and then head to the hotel to grab a quick dinner and hopefully get a good night's sleep. Showcase games kick off Saturday at 11 a.m., but the YNTs don't take the field until later in the day. The '91s will be a part of the Showcase Game on Saturday night under the lights, taking on Chivas USA Under-18s. Everyone is looking forward to what should be a great weekend.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Closing the Blog

With our return to the U.S., this blog will be inactive until Residency is back in full swing (i.e. when everyone readjusts to the time zone). Thanks for tuning in during the U-17 World Cup! Stay tuned to ussoccer.com for more U-17 updates.

Home Sweet Home

Well.... it is a bit earlier than expected, but the team arrived in Atlanta this morning from Seoul and will go their separate ways from here. Just about everyone slept for most of the 13 hour trip, until a baby decided to scream for the last three hours of it.

Some players will return to Residency next week, others will go on to college or back home to their clubs... whatever they're doing, they'll certainly take away some lessons from their time in South Korea.

As Josh Lambo put it after the game Thursday night (we have no idea what day it is right now:

"It wasn’t meant to be. I’m disappointed, but hopefully in the long run, an experience like this will help me in the future.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Starters vs. Germany

Tonight's lineup is the fourth different Starting XI that coach Hackworth has employed through four games, mostly due to the absence of forward Billy Schuler, who is suspended for this match after earning two yellow cards during the group stage. Tonight, the team that will start off against Germany looks like this:

Lambo
Williams - Bates - Meyer - Zimmerman
Nimo - Wenzel - Jeffrey - Garza
McLoughlin - Urso

Check back after the game.

Skies Cooperating

Once again, the sky has been overcast all day in Cheonan, bringing much cooler temps. So far, there hasn't been rain, but we wouldn't be surprised to see some sprinkles by rain time. Hey, it worked against Belgium....

Vic-toire!

After lunch today, the team watched the end of the 1981 Soccer classic, Victory, a coach Hackworth favorite. It probably has come of the best soccer scenes in any movie ever, and got the team thinking about soccer as more than just a sport. The players know what is at stake, and they are ready to take on Germany.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Surprising Results

Well, Brazil, who was thought to be one of the favorites in this tournament and who scored 12 goals in their first two games, lost to Ghana tonight 1-0. Spain topped North Korea 3-0, which isn't too much of a surprise. Tajikistan fell to Peru in PKs, leaving the USA as the sole representative of Group E.

We have to say that we are disappointed that Tunisia fell tonight to France. They looked like a team with potential to do well here, they played well in our group and we would have liked to see them go a little farther.

I guess that's the way things happen at the World Cup... anything can happen.

Another Wet One

Apparently rainy season has hit Cheonan. After all the heat and humidity we've been dealing with over the past few weeks, the rain brought a welcome chill to the air. Not so welcome was the soaking wet field, but the players handled it well... save for a few through balls that stopped in the puddles.

For some reason, after days of not having it on when the weather was so hot and humid, the bus driver decided to turn on the air conditioning for a bunch of chilly, wet players. Making matters funnier, was that right before heading up the steps to the bus, Chris Klute got a nice ice water bath from his teammates. Brrrrrrrr

Lambo Leap

At the team's afternoon snack, no one grabbed his food and ran faster than Josh Lambo. Apparently he had mistimed his afternoon reading, because at 3:30 he said he had just four pages left in The Bourne Supremecy. He'd already read the Bourne Identity and said that the third book in the series, The Bourne Ultimatum was waiting for him in his room. He definitely prefers the books to the movies... we didn't know that they were completely different themes, but apparently they are.

FIFA.com just posted a great article on the 'keeper, who we think looks a little like Clark Kent in this photo

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Welcome to the Big Stage

8/Midfielder Kirk Urso made an immediate impact when he subbed in at the start of the second half against Belgium. His goal in the 63rd minute proved to be the game winner, and helped the team advance to the knock-out rounds. To learn a little more about Kirk's story, check out ussoccer.com's Center Circle's feature on the 17-year-old from Lombard, Ill.
(Thanks to John Dorton/ISI for the photo)

Staff Involvement

Sometimes when extra bodies are needed at practice, various members of the staff (which is made up mostly of ex-college players and pros) step in during 11 v. 11 drills. Today, the warm bodies took it to a new level, getting involved in the penalty kick shootout. We won't mention who did and didn't make their shots, we don't want to create big egos (or hurt feelings)...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Air Force Two

Remember we told you about the men from the local Air Force Base who came to our game last night? We think we got a glimpse of them at the end of practice today. As the team was loading back onto the bus to head home, we heard two pairs of jets flying overhead. Guess they wanted to wish us good luck!

A Warm Welcome


Pulling up to a new practice facility (our first practice outside of the stadium in Cheonan), there was a huge group of people waiting for us, waving Korean, U.S. and FIFA World Cup flags and chanting U-S-A... U-S-A..

It was a group from the bank behind the field, and the chairman of the Local Organizing Committee greeted us warmly (through a translator) and gave flowers to coach Hackworth and Mykell Bates (who in turn, gave them to the two female members of the contingent). Photos were taken... it was a really nice surprise.

Practice itself was a bit wet, as rains had soaked the field earlier in the day and we were hit with a few showers. But the field was near the top of a mountain, giving us a beautiful view of the surrounding hillsides.

Public Baths

For this morning's regeneration, the players ventured down to the hot springs at the bottom of the hotel, which we have mentioned before. Let's just say that putting a group of 16 and 17-year-old Americans alongside men they don't know... in a different country... when the natives are naked - leads to comedy.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

2nd Place!

What a relief... the team is so happy to finally play the way they know how. The locker room was quite a sight after the game, with high fives, hugs, yelling.... just general happiness. With Tunisia's 1-0 win over Tajikistan, the U.S. took second place in a Group E that finished this way:

Tunisia
USA
Tajikistan
Belgium

Tajikistan advances as a third-place team, while Belgium will be heading home. Not too many people had this group pegged correctly.

The players got to enjoy some quality time with their families tonight at the post-game meal, which was held in a big hotel ball room. It was great to see so many parents and siblings who were able to come all this way, and who are so proud of their sons. Most of the moms were wearing jersey's with their sons last names on it.

It's almost time for curfew, and tomorrow the team will begin to focus on Germany.

U-S-A

There was a fairly large contingent of American supporters at the game tonight, and after the match we found out that there was a group of 50 members of the U.S. Air Force in attendance. A couple of the guys came down to the team bus after the game to introduce themselves and say congratulations. The players gave them a round of applause in return, and were happy to pose for pictures. Since we're playing in Cheonan again, they said to expect much more of the base to come out on Thursday night.

Nice Day for Soccer

After heavy rain fell throughout the teams warm up, the precipitation has stopped, but the clouds have stayed to leave a nice, relatively cool cover. The humidity is noticeably lower today and the temperature is definitely a few degrees cooler. The field is still wet, but the weather is a perfect recipe for a good match.

Stay tuned to ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, and check back after the game.

Rain, rain ...

The team is about to load up the bus and were surprised by a bit of rain. That means it is not a stifling heat today. We hope the clouds stick around for the game...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Win and We're In !!

With the results of tonight's other group games (France beating Japan, Nigeria beating Haiti), the U.S. will advance as at least a third-place team if they beat Belgium tomorrow. The U.S. would have three points and tiebreaker advantages to give them the edge to become one of four third-place teams who would advance to the knockout phase.

Sounds complicated, but essentially, win and we're in!

Cheonan Sports Complex

Cheonan Sports Complex, site of the U.S. game against Belgium tomorrow, and the team's training session tonight. To accommodate FIFA regulations, the team warmed up outside of the stadium and then moved to the stadium grass for their "official" pre-game practice. The stadium is quite nice, and only a few years old (built in 2001 for South Korea's National Athletics Championships).

Leaving the stadium, the bus made an impressive u-turn across six lanes because there was no left turn out of the stadium (actually its second impressive u-turn of the trip). Thank goodness for police escorts!

Breakfast Adjustment

Generally, the food in both Changwon and Cheonan (so far) has been impressive. One thing that stands out as being very different are the breakfasts. Every day there has been the usual fruit, cereal, maybe some pancakes, etc... But there is also a wide selection of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Here in Cheonan we have also had sausages that look like the mini-hot dogs that are used for appetizers in the States. None of this has stopped the team from eating... in fact the little sausages were quite good. It's just a mental adjustment.

And we should mention that the staff solved the problem of weak coffee by quickly locating the nearest Dunkin Donuts, just a few blocks away from the hotel. There was a noticeable change in the staff's energy after drinking the "real" coffee.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Scenario Update

An update to the U-17 Scenarios we provided you yesterday (see three posts down). Groups A and B are done and done, and things went 50 percent in our favor.

First, the good news. Korea Republic defeated Togo, 2-1, in their final match which favors the U.S. Why? Well, with that result, Korea ends up in third place with three points, a -2 goal differential and two goals scored. As long as the U.S. defeats Belgium, they will rank above Korea because in every case possible they will beat them on the second tie-breaker - goals scored. With a win, the U.S. secures three points, no worse than a -2 goal differential and they already have four goals (more than Korea at two).

Second, the bad news. Korea DPR pulled out a close one against New Zealand, 1-0. We were hoping for a draw or NZL win, but didn't happen. This didn't help us out because Korea DPR secured third place with four points, which means they will beat out the U.S. in any third place ranking as the U.S. can only get a maximum of three points.

You just kind of knew Korea DPR wouldn't help us out, didn't you? Oh, well. Thanks to the Kiwis for giving it their all (not that we think it was for us). Pretty remarkable to keep in the game after getting sloshed 7-0 and 6-1 by Brazil and England in their first match.

OK, so more games tomorrow and another chance for teams to help us out. Find out what we need in the U-17 Scenarios (scroll down to find Groups C and D).

A Light Day

The players had a pool workout this afternoon in a fairly public pool a few blocks away from the hotel. The team stood out quite a bit walking through the streets, with plenty of onlookers wanting to practice their English or just wave. There were quite a few people in the pool wondering what was going on in the far lane that we rented out for 21 players all going through various warm up and stretching exercises.

A New Scene

After a three hour bus ride, the team arrived in Cheonan early this afternoon and settled into a beautiful hotel that has a spa, bakery, restaurant indoor golf on the premises among other amenities. But what the hotel is famous for is being built over natural hot springs, which they still utilize as a spa and public bath area. Around the year 1500, the king had his residence on this land, and a house built around the hot springs. Later, the ground was used publicly, and eventually made into commercial property.

STILL ALIVE!!

What does the U.S. need to do to have a chance at advancing? Can the U.S. really end up second in their group still? If we finish third, what needs to happen in the other groups to give the U.S. a good chance to move on?

Questions, questions, questions. That's what you get when trying to figure out what our chances are to move on before we play Belgium. Well, we're here to provide you with answers, answers, answers.

First, we know for certain we need to defeat Belgium for any chance (like...duh). We're not shedding light for anyone with that comment, but we did break down how we'll end up in third or even second in our group. Plus, we broke down what needs to happen in the other groups to give the U.S. a good chance of smelling the sweet roses known as Round of 16. It's all in here - U-17 Scenarios. Check it out!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It Ain't Over...

With Belgium's 1-0 victory over Tajikistan tonight, the U.S. has a chance to take second place in Group E with a win and some help. With a win over Belgium, a decent goal differential, and some help from Tunisia with a win, the U.S. could join Belgium and Tajikistan with three points each and advance on tiebreakers.

Group E is wide open people.

Tunisia

Well... that game didn't go according to plan. The team floor is a very somber place to be tonight as the team went through their standard ice baths, dinner and now a meeting. Tomorrow morning will provide a change of scenery as the team will board the bus to Cheonan for Sunday's matchup with Belgium. A new hotel and a new atmosphere will probably be good for everyone at this point.

Lineup Changes

With the game about to get underway, the lineup has changed a bit from Monday night:


MacMath
Williams - Bates - Meyer - Klute
Nimo - Jeffrey - Wenzel - McLoughlin
Dominguez - Schuler

Stayed tuned to ESPN2 for the match.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This is Sparta!

Joining the tradition of the Under-20 squad, the team came together to watch the movie "300" after dinner tonight on a big projection screen in the meal room (the meal room is rather large). The guys thought they could use a warrior movie to help get them mentally prepared for what's in store tomorrow.

Choice quote from the movie: "A Spartan is only as strong as the man beside him."

Playin' in the Rain

Since the team came together on August 14, we have had nothing but very hot, very humid practices with the sun just beating down. For the first time since then, it rained today in Changwon... apparently it was part of the typhoon that has been hitting Taiwan the past few days. It stormed a bit this afternoon and rained very hard for a while, but cleared up by the time practice rolled around this evening. It was still very humid, but it finally cooled down at least a little bit.

We Never Give Up


FIFA.com posted a nice article yesterday about U.S. forward/midfielder Alex Nimo, and the team's experience in South Korea so far. Nimo, who was born in Liberia and whose family now lives in Portland, Ore., talked with FIFA.com Sunday and assisted on the third USA goal against Tajikistan Monday night.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Others

Interesting results from today's games in Jeju and Suwon...

Brazil beat a North Korea team that looked strong against England just three days ago 6-1 to take control of Group B.

Peru and Togo played to a 0-0 draw and Costa Rica battled hard for a 2-0 win over a very good South Korean side, both results leaving Group A wide open. Costa Rica's second goal led to a difficult looking split from a South Korean defender... oof. You can watch the highlights of the game (of all the games) right here.

Study Time


As part of a FIFA study, four players - Mykell Bates, Brandon Zimmerman, Abdusalam Ibrahim and Tommy Meyer - were chosen to get MRIs taken in order to study the age of their bones, specifically their wrists. FIFA hopes that in the future, similar tests could be used to determine the age of youth players.

The guys said that the hospital was pretty nice, and they were in the MRI tube for about 15 minutes. No big deal. It's interesting to think about what is possible with modern medicine.

EDIT: Yes, we know this is not an MRI picture. We don't understand MRI pictures.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A New Day

The start of a new day brings the start of a new goal... six points in the next two games. The team has mentally shifted their focus to Tunisia, putting last night behind them. The players are physically recovering as well - They will hit the field later this afternoon for the first of just two practices before their next match against Tunisia, which is on Thursday evening (4 a.m. ET on ESPN2).

Minor Issues

While the team is in their rooms, the staff had a minor problem to solve. We're not sure how, but the door to the treatment room in the hotel was latched from the inside, and there was no one in there. It seems impossible. We tried pens, hangers, small fingers... nothing could get the latch to unlock. The hotel engineer had to come up and take the whole thing off. Thankfully it happened at a time that wasn't urgent - the door might have had to be broken down.

There She Is


That's it - that is where it will all happen tonight, Changwon Main Stadium. The team has been relaxing for the better part of the day to make sure they're in top form at 8 p.m. local time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Vote for Nimo

The players took some time yesterday to go to FIFA.com and vote for teammate Alex Nimo in their "Which player do you think will impress the most at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007?" poll.... why are you still reading this? Go vote for him!

Ready for Tajikistan

Have you ever wondered how a team prepares for an opponent that is virtually unknown in the world of soccer? On ussoccer.com's new all_access video you can learn how the coaches break down game tapes, what they are expecting and how they turned the experience into a learning opportunity for the players. Check it out here.

24 Hours Away

Just one day before the team's opening match against Tajikistan and the team is ready to go.
Tonight was the "official training session" in Changwon Main Stadium under the lights. If that wasn't enough to get the team ready to go, nothing is. The stadium was dressed up very nicely, with the sign boards and the benches all in place.

They're quietly confident, focused and excited. They've been watching the games that have already been played (Syria 0 - Argentina 0... anything can happen here!) and that has helped them know what to expect. During dinner, the team watched the first half of their recent 3-1 win over Germany in Geissen, and then went over match day protocols so the only thing they should have to think about is playing.

Beware

This evening was the fourth training facility for the team in four days, and we had our first casualty. The players are all fit and healthy, but a FIFA volunteer was on the wrong end of a Bryan Dominguez shot and ended up with a bloody nose. Michael, our trainer, was quick to get him cleaned up, and to be fair, the volunteer was pretty tough about it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Mania Continues

World traveled pretty fast on the team floor about the LA-NY game that just ended. We couldn't watch it here unfortunately, but the scoreline did raise a few eyebrows. Yes, Beckham was a star with three assists, but he was outdone by U-17 alumnus Jozy Altidore, who tallied two goals. The announced crowd of 66,000 got everything they paid for and we cannot wait to see highlights.

Band of Brothers

Photos from John Dorton/ISI

Check out new all_access video of two U-17 players, Kofi Sarkodie and Brandon Zimmerman, whose older brothers, Ofori and Preston, were part of the Under-20 World Cup squad earlier this summer. Ofori and Preston also played key roles in the 2005 edition of the Under-17 World Cup in Peru. Ofori captained the team from his defensive position and scored a goal in the team's victory over Italy. Preston started all four games and tallied a goal against North Korea in the opener. Check out the video (along with some other U-17 World Cup videos) here.

Underway

Well, the tournament is officially underway, with England and North Korea tying the World Cup's opening match this afternoon, 1-1. The team watched the game together during lunch in the meal room on a big projection screen, and you could tell that the players were really getting into the World Cup vibe. The game was exciting right off the bat, and the team is getting quite anxious to hit the field.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Years in the Making

During and after breakfast this morning, the team watched a video that was made about last year's trip to Uruguay and Argentina. Many of the players on this World Cup squad were there, and they remember the travel, the training and the conditions that they went through for that experience. Giving up a stoppage time goal against Argentina in the tournament final was not something that the team wants to go through again.

The video was a reminder of all the hard work the team has put in over the past two years that culminates here on the world stage. (You can watch the video here.) It was also an opportunity to tease midfielder Jared Jeffrey about the long hair he used to sport.

Brrrr

It is quite a sight on the team's floor of the hotel right now. Athletic trainers Paul and Michael have set up ice baths in the players tubs, and are yelling instructions down the hall. We can hear the players screaming at the cold, but it's for their own good!

Ne end in sight

Today the team trained at the third different venue in three days, and this afternoon was probably the muggiest day we've had so far. The players had to work hard to stay hydrated leading up to and throughout the short practice. The South Koreans have told us that they expect it to get hotter and more humid in the upcoming months, though we're not sure how that's possible.

With the first game of the tournament tomorrow, it's starting to feel more and more like a World Cup. The team is focused, driven and working very hard at training leading up to Tajikistan.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Free laundry - Enough said

It's generally not a problem for the players, because their equipment needs are taken care of by FIFA and the team's equipment manager, but one of the issues for staff on the road is laundry. It is impossible to go several weeks on the road without doing laundry a few times. Luckily, the Changwon Hotel has free laundry! Honestly, free. They even provide detergent. The same machine washes and dries, so you don't even have to worry about getting down there to switch the clothes to the dryer. For some reason a cycle takes three and a half hours, but that is a small downside to free laundry. Are there any hotels in the U.S. that do this?

Freedom

With four days still remaining before their first game, the players were becoming noticeably anxious with the limited television and limited hotel activities. So the guys were finally allowed a little bit of freedom to explore the city after dinner tonight. Of course team rules and curfews are still in effect, but the players are happy to get a chance to do a bit of exploration.

New Scenery


Today the team trained at a different training site at another corporate park. It seems that every big company has a really nice soccer field right in the middle of their complex - you don't see that too often in the U.S. But it is nice that the employees can come out after a long day and bask in the very hot and humid weather to check out the U.S. National Team. The field also provided new scenery (pictures added thanks to John Dorton), and the "discovery" of big body of water that we could see coming over the mountain to the field.

Talk of the Day

Though it happened half a world away, part of the conversation on the team floor of the hotel was about David Beckham's free kick against D.C. The great debate was whether any goalkeeper in the world would stand a chance against that free kick, and if Troy Perkins was just unfortunate to be the guy in net.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New 'Dos

We finally have photo evidence of something we've been wanting to share. World Cups have traditionally brought out some great hairstyles (we all remember the Clint Mathis mohawk, right?), and the U-17s won't be outdone by anyone. Pictured here are Mykell Bates and Brandon Zimmerman, who got creative with their 'dos and will no doubt make their mark on the event both on the field and off. Pretty impressive artwork!

Take What We Can Get

There aren't many English-language television stations here, so options are very limited when it comes to entertainment. One thing that doesn't need much language to go along with it, however, is sport. There was a Korean boxing match on television this evening in the training room while guys were getting post-practice treatment. It didn't take much for the players and staff to really get into it, and the yelling could be heard throughout the entire floor. The team will watch any sport they can get. Tonight it just happened to be Korean boxing.

Mountain Men


The city of Changwon is nestled in between a bunch of mountains... no matter which direction you look, you can see the tree-covered mountains in the distance. Our practice field this afternoon was no different. The field was in the middle of a group of office buildings, but on one side there was an opening that provided this scenic shot that gives an idea of what we see out of our hotel window. (Thanks to John Dorton and International Sports Images for all of the photos we'll be using).

(Also, pictures are posted below of the new Nike gear that the team got in Atlanta)

Double windows

Many of the players and staff have just noticed that when they open the window in their hotel room, there is another window a foot away. Apparently the hotel, instead of knocking down walls and rebuilding, just added another layer to the exterior of the building to increase the structural integrity of the building in case of earthquakes. Maybe that's what those orange masks are for?? Again, we hope to not have to find out...

Rainy Season

Well, it looks like all that preparation in the deep south (Clemson and Atlanta) will pay off... it is unbelievably humid here because it is apparently rainy season. Atlanta was probably hotter, but the humidity here is indescribable. Just a few steps outside will leave you covered in sweat, and counting down until you can shower. After a quick exploration of the area surrounding the hotel, there are plenty of stores, restaurants parks and people to be found. There is even a beautiful lake with a huge fountain within walking distance. There is plenty to find, and with a country full of friendly people to help.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Always be prepared

So we just noticed that both in the bottom drawer of the dresser in each room, and at the end of the hallways of the hotel are "repel kits" so that in case of emergency you can repel down the side of the building. There are also orange masks that look like something one would wear when handling bio hazardous material. We're not exactly sure what it's for but we hope to never have to find out. Where is the rest of the suit to go with it? We have no idea...

Safe and sound

Well, after a long travel day (24 hours from hotel to hotel), the team finally arrived at our hotel in Changwon, South Korea. We left the DoubleTree in Atlanta at 9:30 a.m. ET and flew directly to Seoul, on what has to be the biggest plane in the world. There were about 600 people on board and plenty of Korean Air staff to take care of everything. It was a 14-hour flight, but it wasn't as bad as it sounds... each seat had individual monitors to play movies, games, music or shop whenever you wanted. Most of the team tried to sleep as much as possible to pass the time, but movie selections included Shrek 3, Blades of Glory and Fracture.

We then got excellent treatment at the Seoul airport while waiting for our connection. We had ample security and several liasons to take us to the VIP lounge for a short time before hopping on the flight to Busan. The flight to Busan was a bit bumpy, but short nonetheless... about 45 minutes from take off to touch down. Lots of police with automatic weapons guarded our path to the charter bus, and a police escort led us on our way.

After a 45 minute drive to the hotel in Changwon (just outside of Busan), we had a quick meal and then it was time to get settled in and get a normal night's sleep. With six days before our first game, the team is trying to get adjusted quickly to the 13-hour difference from ET.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ready to go!

Well, the equipment was checked, everyone has their boarding passes and we are eating lunch at the Atlanta airport and getting ready to board the plane. The team will fly to Seoul and connect to Busan. From Busan the team will take a charter bus to the hotel in Changwon and get settled in. It will be a long travel day, but everyone is excited to begin their World Cup/South Korea experience. This will be our last entry from Atlanta, so bon voyage!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Where in the world...


Last night, the coaches asked the players to do some homework... they were to research Tajikistan and each present after dinner tonight something they found out about the homeland of their first World Cup opponent. The players impressed (we knew they would), presenting information about religion, politics, geography and population.

Fun fact: In Tajikistan, bread is considered to have a life of it's own. Never drop breadcrumbs or throw bread away with the other trash (thanks, Kirk!).

It's Like Christmas



Part of the fun of getting ready to go to the World Cup is seeing what kind of new gear Nike will send for the team. Along with bags and backpacks, the team got some really nice throwback U.S. gear, with some sweet new jackets. JP, the team's equipment manager kept most of the stuff a secret until he gave full bags to the players all at once. It was like Christmas with guys throwing paper around and opening new shirts. Needless to say, they were pretty happy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

HOT-lanta

The gang is all here in Atlanta, arriving from across the country just days after they left their last camp. Though it's not much of a news item, the story so far is that it is really hot and humid, but this is apparently going to be what it's like in South Korea. It's good to be prepared I guess. The team arrived throughout the day, and trained tonight on the campus of Clayton State in front of about 70 people - including both the men's and women's teams and a group of 14 and 15-year-old campers.

After a late dinner, Coach Hackworth reminded the team that this is what they've been working toward for so long. He went over goals that the players set for themselves and laid out a plan to make those things happen. The meeting served as a great reminder of the task at hand, and we have to say that we were impressed with the way the team focused with a very lively family reunion happening on the other side of the very thin walls.