[OLYMPIC COUNTDOWN] The USA heads into the Olympic qualifying tournament in Nashville, Tenn., with lots of attacking options. Does it have enough defensively?
U.S. U-23 coach Caleb Porter likes the pairing of Ike Opara and Perry Kitchen in
the middle, even though neither played there this past weekend in MLS.
"We really like Ike and Perry," said Porter. "Obviously, everybody in the camp still has to win a job, there's no decision made at this point on the starting lineup. The next eight days will determine that. But Ike and Perry did well as a tandem against Mexico [2-0 U.S. win on Feb. 29]. They did solid and together they provide a balance of what we want in those positions."
Opara, who has been injured much of his first two MLS seasons, didn't play in San Jose's 1-0 win over New England. Kitchen is playing as a holding midfielder this season for D.C. United, which fell to Sporting Kansas City, 1-0, on Saturday.
Porter says other players can play at center back.
"Zarek Valentin can also shift in there," he said. "He played in the last two camps in [Los Angeles] and Costa Rica and a little bit in this last camp in Dallas in that position and in numerous games. He's played in that spot with Montreal. Obviously, I've seen him there with my team at Akron. That's where he played for two years. He's a guy I think can shift in there along with Amobi Okugo. He can drop down there and play in that spot."
Versatility was a key factor in his selection of players for the tournament -- three group matches in five days and five games in 12 games overall.
"We feel good about our cover," said Porter. "What I like about our backs is they're very versatile. We can shift guys left and right back, like I said Zarek can go in the centerback, Perry can go to the outside back or even holding mid. Amobi has even seen some time in training and for a short period in one of the games at centerback. I think we're covered there."
Porter was expected to name a midfielder as the 20th player to his roster, but he went instead with an out-and-out striker in Tony Taylor of Portuguese Second Division leader Estoril.