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Nowak returns from China with some answers
by Ridge Mahoney, December 18th, 2007 7AM

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Peter Nowak was almost home, back to his residence in Naples, Fla., but he had one more layover and one more flight to endure. "Almost home," he said on his cell phone after eating dinner with U.S. head coach Bob Bradley and several U.S. Soccer staff members during the layover. "It was a long trip, 17 days, but I think some good came out of it."

He and the U.S. under-23s had just landed in LAX on their return flight from China, where they played 0-0 and 3-3 ties against the Chinese U-23 team. Nowak gave every fit player on his roster, except backup keeper Zac MacMeth, significant playing time as he begins evaluating his player pool.

"You can't go 12,000 miles just to have players playing for 15 minutes," said Nowak, whose squad was depleted shortly before departure by injuries to Nathan Sturgis and Sal Zizzo, who didn't play in either match. "There were a lot of questions before that, and we have a couple of answers after the trip, so we're moving forward to January."

Nowak will conduct a two-week camp in Bradenton, Fla., starting Jan 6. At the same time, Bradley will be at Home Depot Center preparing the national team for a Jan. 19 match against Sweden.

The injury to Sturgis, who Nowak plans to use as a central defender, prompted Nowak to move Toronto FC midfielder and MLS Rookie of the Year Maurice Edu into the back line. Edu earned praise from Nowak after playing the full 90 minutes of both games.

"We didn't have too many options in the back," said Nowak, who also used Marvell Wynne, Hunter Freeman, Aaron Holbein, Patrick Ianni, Jon Leathers, and Mike Randolph. "It was a pretty pleasant surprise, how he played, how he organized the defenders, how he covered. He's a very smart kid, intelligent, and can read the game pretty good."

The Americans ran all over China in the first half of the second game, rolling up a 3-0 lead on goals by Robbie Rogers, Charlie Davies, and Ianni. But after six halftime substitutions, the U.S lost momentum and China rallied to earn the tie.

"The whole situation in the second half of the second game was completely different," said Nowak. "Considering most of the guys hadn't played competitive games, real games, for more than a month, having two games in three days was hard. They were getting a little tired the second half of the second game.

"These are the things they are starting to learn: if you are ahead, how to manage the game, and if you are behind, how to go forward and push the game. We tell them how to adjust to different situations. Some of them were able to do this but not all of them. But this is why we play these games; to look at players and try different things."

For the January camp, Nowak will have few European-based players. Davies, whose Swedish club Hammarby will be on a winter break until February, is expected to attend, but most of them will stay overseas.

Freddy Adu (Benfica), Michael Bradley (Heerenveen), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Benny Feilhaber (Derby), Kamani Hill (Wolfsburg), Lee Nguyen (PSV Eindhoven) and Danny Szetela (Racing Santander) won't be available. Preston Zimmerman, who just signed a first-team, professional contract with German club Hamburg SV after playing a year in the reserves, will attend according to HSV's official Web site.

A few will be called up for the national team friendly against Mexico Feb. 6, since it is being played on an international fixture date.

Nowak doesn't plan on another camp until early March to make final preparations for the CONCACAF qualifiers scheduled for March 11-23. Eight nations will vie for the region's two Olympic spots.

 



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