For those familiar with the Akron men’s soccer team, when Caleb Porter’s U.S. U23 team takes the field for Olympic qualifying next week, don’t be surprised to experience a little déjà vu.
The formation and faces will be different, but Porter’s favored philosophy of playing attractive attacking soccer is something that he’s worked hard to impress on this group over the past four months during various pre-qualifying camps.
“It’s the style of play that I think is really what we’ve tried to implement with this group,” head coach Caleb Porter told reporters in a conference call. “Through our training [we] imprint those concepts of how we want to play, how we’re going to attack, how we’re going to defend, the philosophies behind it.”
Now, with the announcement of the qualifying roster, another camp starting this week, and the qualifying tournament starting on March 22, Porter’s group is preparing to bring that style into the limelight in an attempt to punch a ticket to the 2012 Olympic games.
Of course, the style of play can only go so far, as in the end it will be dictated by who comprises the roster. And Porter thinks that the 20 players he named this week are up to the task, and can pull it off.
“I think it fits this group of players: we’ve got technical players, some dangerous attacking pieces, we’ve got athleticism, which is important to be able to in certain positions go box-to-box, and we’ve got a group that’s very honest and willing to defend immediately,” he said. “I think it’s really resonated with this group.”
There is certainly plenty of talent to go around, between the overseas-based players such as Joe Gyau, Joshua Gatt and Terrence Boyd all making the roster, and the MLS contingent led by Brek Shea, Perry Kitchen and Juan Agudelo.
Not only does Porter possess the belief in the group to execute the particular style, but he also thinks deploying his side in that fashion gives them the best opportunity to punch their ticket to the Games.
“It’s the best way to go into qualifying, and for me it gives us the best chance to win,” he said. “It’s a winning philosophy, players have completely bought into it, they believe in it, we’ve had great results playing this way recently – we’ve got a really nice run of momentum going from Costa Rica all the way through the Dallas camp.”
Like almost all rosters, there are concerns. The defensive group is a bit on the thin side, with just six defenders listed. Porter indicated that the coaching staff liked the way Perry Kitchen and Ike Opara worked together in central defense, while the ability of players like Josh Gatt and Kofi Sarkodie to play on different spots of the field helped them secure a spot.
The versatile makeup of the roster is one thing Porter thinks will pay off in the grind of qualification.
“With 20 players going into qualifying and 18 players having to be named for each game, and with only three substitutions, and we’re playing three games in five days in the group stages and five games in 12 days total, we need versatility,” Porter said. “It’s nice to be able to shift guys to different spots without having necessarily named specialists in this group.”
Regardless of style, results are going to come to the forefront when Olympic qualifying begins on March 22 against Cuba.
U.S. U23 Roster for qualifying:Goalkeepers:
Bill Hamid (D.C. United; Annandale, Va.), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire; Lilburn, Ga.)
Joshua Gatt (Molde; Plymouth, Mich.), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United; Indianapolis, Ind.), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes; Durham, N.C.), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo; Huber Heights, Ohio), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact; Lancaster, Pa.), Jorge Villafaña (Chivas USA; Anaheim, Calif.)
Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union; Potomac, Md.), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Mix Diskerud (Gent; Oslo, Norway), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz; Richardson, Texas), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union; Sacramento, Calif.), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy; Naperville, Ill.)
Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls; Barnegat, N.J.), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund; Berlin, Germany), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City; Prior Lake, Minn.), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim; Silver Spring, Md.), Brek Shea (FC Dallas; Bryan, Texas), Tony Taylor (Estoril Praia, Jacksonville, Fla.)