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Nowak picks his Olympic hopefuls
by Ridge Mahoney, March 10th, 2008 6:45AM
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[ROSTER] For much of the past year, players have flipped back and forth between the U.S. national team and the Olympic team, which makes for some interesting dynamics when it comes time to select squads for competitions, as Olympic/under-23 Coach Peter Nowak did yesterday. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney checks out the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying.

Half of the team - 10 of 20 players - named to play in the CONCACAF men's Olympic qualifying tournament from which two teams advance to Beijing - are national team veterans. Nowak had been working with 24 players at a camp in Bradenton, Fla., in picking his 20, he dropped five and added West Ham United defender Jonathan Spector, whose 11 national-team caps ranks him on top.

Eddie Gaven and Sacha Kljestan have five caps each, while Freddy Adu and Maurice Edu have four. They will carry a lot of the leadership load, as Spector isn't expected to join the team until next week's semifinals, following first-round Group A matches against Cuba (Tuesday), Panama (Thursday) and Honduras (Saturday) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

"Just having a few games with the national team has helped me, getting a little bit more experience," says Edu, who has played the last four national team matches since debuting against Switzerland last October. "We have quite a list of guys with some games with the full team. When we try to come into these camps we try to take what we've learned in other camps and pass it on to some of the newer guys with less experience."

Left off the team after training in Florida were midfielders Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Rogers and Arturo Alvarez; defender Mike Randolph, and goalkeeper Tally Hall. Edu had spent much of the camp working in central defense, but with the call-up of Spector will probably move back to his central midfield position.

The absence of Feilhaber perhaps leaves the playmaking duties to Kljestan, who captained the Olympic team in its trip to China last December. But with midfield elements like Sal Zizzo, Adu and Stuart Holden also available, and the offensive inclinations of Edu, there may not be a true playmaker, per se.

"I felt I had more offensive duties and responsibilities," says Kljestan, who has played in the middle and on both sides of midfield for the under-23s. "It's helped me become a more confident player going forward. When I come into a camp like this, where I might be playing more centrally, I try to be more of a two-way player, and let some of the more creative guys take on those responsibilities and I sit back a little more."

Group B play at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., starts Monday with Canada, Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico playing a round-robin. The top two finishers in each group advance to the March 20 semifinals scheduled for LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. The winners of those semifinals advance to the 2008 Olympic Games.

"Experience is an important factor in the whole process but not necessarily the most important one," said Nowak in a conference call Thursday, prior to the announcement of the 20-man roster. "As I said, you want to choose players in the group who are sharp in practice and fit in the whole picture of playing three games in five days. That will be difficult for each team in our group and even the other group.

"We do not have a crystal ball to tell us how it's going to be. We just want to focus on the things we can control and make sure that when we hit the field on Tuesday night, we're ready to go and ready for those three games in the group and maybe something extra after that."

USA U-23 roster for Olympic qualifying

Dominic Cervi (out of contract), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake).

Hunter Freeman (New York Red Bulls), Kamani Hill (VfL Wolfsburg), Patrick Ianni (Houston Dynamo), Michael Orozco (San Luis), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC).

Freddy Adu (Benfica), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96).

Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Chad Barrett (Chicago Fire), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake).

CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Schedule:
Group A (Tampa, Florida; Raymond James Stadium)
March 11 Panama-Honduras 5:30 p.m. ET FSC/ESPN
March 11 USA-Cuba 8 p.m. ET FSC/ESPN Deportes/
March 13 Honduras-Cuba 5:30 p.m. ET FSC/ESPN Deportes/
March 13 USA-Panama 8 p.m. ET FSC/ESPN Deportes/
March 15 Cuba-Panama 4:30 p.m. ET FSC/ESPN Deportes/
March 15 USA-Honduras 7 p.m. ET FSC/ESPN Deportes/

Group B (Carson, California; The Home Depot Center)
March 12 Haiti-Guatemala 5:30 p.m. PT ESPN Deportes/
March 12 Canada-Mexico 8 p.m. PT ESPN Deportes/
March 14 Canada-Haiti 5:30 p.m. PT ESPN Deportes/
March 14 Mexico-Guatemala 8 p.m. PT ESPN Deportes/
March 16 Guatemala-Canada 3:30 p.m. PT ESPN Deportes/
March 16 Mexico-Haiti 6 p.m. PT ESPN Deportes/

(The top two from each group will move on to the semifinals, which will be played at LP Field in Nashville on Thursday, March 20. The two semifinal winners qualify the Olympic Games this August. On Sunday, March 23 there will also be a championship and third-place game in Nashville.)



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