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U.S. U23 Olympic Qualifying Tournament Preview

Published: March 20, 2012

After five months of camps, preparations and scouting, all the hard work that the U.S. U23 men’s national team and head coach Caleb Porter have put in gets put to the test and lays it all on the line.

CONCACAF Olympic qualifying for the USA kicks off this week with group play beginning against Cuba (Thursday, 9:00 pm EST), as the grind towards an Olympic spot begins. 

“We’re very excited to be reaching the final stage of our preparation going into qualifying,” Porter told reporters in a conference call. “This has been a long process for four months, four camps. We’ve had a lot of players in our camps and now we’re reaching the final stages. I’m very excited and very confident in this group.”

Click here to set a reminder to join our Live Chat on Thursday during the game. 

Along with Cuba, the remaining two group opponents are Canada and El Salvador. The top two teams in the group advance for the all important semifinal encounter, with the winner of each semifinal grabbing a spot at this summer’s Olympic games.


Here’s a look at what to expect from the U.S. U23s during the upcoming tournament:


Three Keys to qualifying

1. Executing the system -- From all indications, this team has bought into the way Caleb Porter wants to play, seeking to take the initiative every game and playing an attractive, attacking style. The players want to win that way too, it’s just a matter of sticking to a game plan and seeing it through to a spot in London.

2. Staying strong at the back -- There’s no denying the attacking capabilities that this group has. However, because of injuries, if there’s one spot on the field that isn’t quite up to snuff it’s along the back line. Perry Kitchen and Ike Opara are quite capable as center backs, but the outside pairing of Zarek Valentin and Kofi Sarkodie don’t inspire much confidence. If the U.S. defense performs well, there is little reason to believe the team will fall short during qualifying.

3. Consistent scorer -- There would be a whole lot less worry about this group if the U20 Men’s National team had finished chances against Guatemala and qualified for the last World Cup. Granted this is a new group of forwards and coaching staff, but the lingering feeling of a possession dominant team that cannot score needs to be eradicated from this group. 

Players to Watch

CB Ike Opara -- After a strong career at Wake Forest, Ike Opara’s pro career has sputtered thanks to injuries. Now fit, the center back looks poised to finally live up to his potential this year, first starting with this tournament. An athletic defender with great size, Opara must stay healthy in order for this team to be able to qualify.

RW Joe Gyau -- Lightning quick on the wings, there are likely to be few opposing players who can keep up with the Hoffenheim youngster’s pace. He’ll need to turn that asset into scoring opportunities, and if someone can convert them, the USA won’t have much problem getting out of its group.

MF Freddy Adu -- Freddy Adu is an eight-year veteran of professional soccer, he has played in five youth World Cups, and he is only 22 years old. He has captured the imagination (and ridicule) of U.S. Soccer fans since his first appearance at a youth World Cup in 2003. Now, in his final youth event in 2012, can Adu, who was named captain of the team earlier this week by the coaching staff, completely change preconceived opinions?

F Terrence Boyd -- A part of the recent wave of German-Americans spotted playing in the Bundesliga, Boyd is a member of Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team. He’s impressed when he’s been in camps with the U23s, and already picked up his first cap for the U.S. full team against Italy on February 29. The tournament provides a chance for Boyd to really showcase his talents in front of an American audience.

Said Porter: “He’s a guy that fits in that No. 9 spot. He’s a big, strong, athletic kid, very determined and lethal around the goal... For me, he can hold the ball, he can stretch and he’s great around the box and he can score goals. So I think those things are very attractive in that role.

Click here to set a reminder to join our Live Chat on Thursday during the game. 


Group Opponents

Cuba -- It’s difficult to pinpoint what to expect from Cuba, one of CONCACAF’s truly mysterious teams. With a squad of mostly domestic-based players, the USA enters its opening match as heavy favorites. And Porter says that they’ve done their homework on the opening opponent.

“We’ve seen them live, they’re a very organized team,” he said. “They have some attacking guys that are dangerous. We expect it to be a tight game. They’re going to be organized and disciplined and I don’t think they’re going to open up and run with us.”

Canada -- It has been 28 years since the last time Canada qualified for the Olympics in men’s soccer. Given the lack of preparation from this group, that streak looks likely to head into a third decade. 

Canada has only set aside eight days of training prior to the start of qualifying. If that was not tough enough, Canada is also deprived of two starters due to club commitments, and bringing a very young roster to the event.

El Salvador -- It’s going to be an uphill climb for El Salvador to make the Olympics, although finishing second in Group A isn’t out of the question. Another team with a little-known, domestically-based roster, part of the Salvadorans preparations for the tournament included a 3-1 friendly win over the Maryland Terrapins.


u.s. olympic team depth chart starting lineup

U.S. U-23 MNT Roster By Position

GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C. United; Annandale, Va.), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire; Lilburn, Ga.)

DEFENDERS (6): 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.), Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union; Boston, Mass.)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 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.)

FORWARDS (6): 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.)

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