Men's Olympic Guide:

McBride return highlights Olympic squad

Two years after retiring from international soccer, U.S. forward Brian McBride is returning not just to MLS, but also to wearing the national team jersey.

Once the participation of goalkeeper Brad Guzan had been secured, the long process of deciding which three over-age players Olympic coach Peter Nowak would add to his under-23 squad could be concluded. Nowak took two players only slightly too old to meet the age restriction, and a longtime U.S. veteran with 29 goals and 90 caps for the senior team.

During the selection process, Guzan, 24, was in the midst of being sold by MLS to English club Aston Villa after playing his first three-plus seasons of professional soccer with Chivas USA. He and New England defender Michael Parkhurst, also 24, give Nowak stability in the middle, and McBride obviously adds experience, leadership and that knack for putting away chances.

If Guzan is counted as a foreign-based player, and McBride as an MLS player despite the drawn-out process of his return, the roster is comprised of 10 MLS products and eight young men based overseas.

Among the notable omissions are Anthony Wallace, Arturo Alvarez and Dax McCarty of FC Dallas, Robbie Findley of Real Salt Lake and Eddie Gaven of Columbus. Defender Jonathan Spector, a starter in the qualifiers, will miss the tournament with a torn labrum that was diagnosed in early June.

Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore are a probable forward pairing of the future for the national team, yet Nowak may still get both on the field if he plays McBride up front with Altidore and uses Adu as a winger or in midfield. Charlie Davies adds another physical striker to the roster and has experience with the senior team, as do most of his Olympic teammates.

McBride is the most complementary forward ever produced by American soccer. More than a decade of playing in different club systems and several coaches for the national team has infused an amazing adaptability to various styles. His courageous play invites harsh confrontations and his history of injuries includes blood clots and facial fractures, but his inspiration and knack for important goals can't be discounted.

Benny Feilhaber is a robust, playmaking catalyst. Despite being cut from the Concacaf Olympic qualifying team last spring and scratching for playing time at relegated English club Derby County, Feilhaber showed enough in a few of his senior team appearances – everyone remembers the great goal he scored against Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final – to make the squad.

After testing various combinations Nowak has myriad midfield options. He successfully secured the services of Michael Bradley amid a flurry of rumors of a transfer from Dutch club Heerenveen. Bradley, Maurice Edu and Danny Szetela are two-way players who can plug up passing lanes and win tackles yet also get forward; Edu's pace and stamina will be especially valuable in closing down space.

The wide options are Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan, though Edu has played wide at times (as well as in the back) and Kljestan is effective in the middle as well as on the right. Holden has played both sides for Houston and Rogers has done the same with Columbus, though more often than not Rogers lines up on the left.

Rogers is a threat to get in behind defenses, Kljestan is tricky on the ball and adept at crossing from the flanks, and Holden can either run the channels much like a forward or drift wide to attack the corners. How they, as MLS players, measure up against young foreign pros is an intriguing subplot to the U.S. Olympic story.

Mexican league veteran Daniel Orozco is the only foreign-based member of the back line that includes Parkhurst, Patrick Ianni, Nathan Sturgis and Marvell Wynne. Nowak's selection of defenders is a curious one, as only Sturgis has a lot of experience as a left back in a four-man system, though Orozco is left-sided.

Orozco and Ianni have been paired in the middle of a four-man system by Nowak, but one must give way for Parkhurst to play centrally and Wynne to handle the right back slot. Sturgis may not have the size (5-foot-10, 150 pounds) to man the middle in a world championship.

Parkhurst is only an inch taller and five pounds heavier than Sturgis, but is seldom overpowered in MLS. His incredible anticipation, cat-like quickness and sublime touch enable him to win duels and defuse situations against stronger, bigger opponents, and his presence is certain to be a vital component. This will be an excellent chance for him to burnish – or tarnish — his international reputation with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on the horizon and the next World Cup less than two years away.

Guzan and Kasey Keller were in contention to fill a need in goal. Though he played well for the U.S. at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup and in the CONCACAF qualifiers, Chris Seitz hasn't garnered much playing time at Real Salt Lake and needs more seasoning to don the gloves in a major competition.

Gold medal
USA faces uphill battle

Upon receiving the news of the Olympic men's soccer draw, U.S. under-23 head coach Peter Nowak termed Group B "a difficult group."
Indeed, the USA faces an uphill battle against the Netherlands, the two-time defending European U-21 champion, former Olympic gold-medalist Nigeria and Japan, an Asian age-group powerhouse.

The Jong Oranje feature some of Europe's brightest young stars, including Ryan Babel of Liverpool and left winger Royston Drenthe of Real Madrid. Also in the Dutch squad is Canadian Jonathan de Guzman, the young Feyenoord star who recently declared his loyalty to the Dutch national team. Veteran striker Roy Makaay is one of three overage Dutchmen.

NIGERIA. Nigeria's squad includes Taye Taiwo of Marseille, Victor Anichebe of Everton and Getafe's Ikechukwu Uche, all prized young talents. Its boss, former Atlanta area youth coach Samson Siasia, also picked first-year Columbus Crew player Emmanuel Ekpo.

JAPAN. Japan is the only Group B team without overage players. Coach Yasuharu Sorimachi said he put a premium on "tenacity and perseverance." Only two Japanese U-23s play overseas. Midfielder Keisuke Honda of Dutch club VVV is a starter on the national team and strikers Takayuki Morimoto has made 19 Serie A appearances for Italy's Catania.

Ronnie and Leo give credibility

The callup of Brazilian star Ronaldinho and his former Barcelona teammate, Argentine Lionel Messi, gives the Olympic men's soccer tournament instant credibility.

Downgraded to an under-23 tournament in 1992, men's soccer has produced great gold-medalists – Nigeria in 1996, Cameroon in 2000 and Argentina in 2004 – but it rarely attracts the game's great names.

Ronaldinho's callup gives Brazil a big-name star to help it in its quest for its first gold medal. It gives the 28-year-old magician a chance to rehabilitate his international reputation after a miserable season at Barcelona, which sold him to AC Milan this summer.

The release of overage players is not compulsory, but Milan, which had rejected Kaka's request to leave for the Olympics, granted Ronaldinho's request.
Barcelona was required to release Messi, who could miss the Spanish club's first leg of its critical Champions League qualifying series on Aug. 12.

Argentina's squad includes Messi and fellow 2006 World Cup team veterans Juan Roman Riquelme, Nicolas Burdisso, Javier Mascherano and Oscar Ustari.

Riquelme, Burdisso and Mascherano are Argentina's overage players.

Argentina and Brazil are expected to contend for the gold medal in China.

Also in the Brazil squad are Real Madrid forwards Robinho, who is going as an overage player, and teenager Alexandre Pato, Ronaldinho's new teammate at AC Milan.

European clubs don't look kindly on releasing players for the Olympics, which fall at the start of the season for most leagues.

UEFA Champions League and English Premier League champion Manchester United went so far as to as to submit a medical report on Park Ji-Sung's need for "rest and dental treatment" and his case of "mental stress" to convince South Korean authorities to drop their request to release him for their Olympic team.

Olympic Gold Medalists
(Men's Soccer)

YEAR    GOLD                 SILVER            BRONZE
1908     Great Britain    Denmark         Netherlands
1912     Great Britain    Denmark         Netherlands
1920     Belgium          Spain             Netherlands
1924     Uruguay          Switzerland      Sweden
1928     Uruguay          Argentina         Italy
1932     no Olympic soccer tournament
1936     Italy               Austria           Norway
1948     Sweden           Yugoslavia       Denmark
1952     Hungary           Yugoslavia      Sweden
1956     Soviet Union     Yugoslavia       Bulgaria
1960     Yugoslavia        Denmark         Hungary
1964     Hungary           Czechoslovakia  East Germany
1968     Hungary           Bulgaria          Japan
1972     Poland             Hungary           Soviet Union, East Germany
1976     East Germany    Poland            Soviet Union
1980     Czechoslovakia  East Germany  Soviet Union
1984     France              Brazil            Yugoslavia
1988     Soviet Union      Brazil            West Germany
1992     Spain               Poland           Ghana
1996     Nigeria            Argentina         Brazil
2000     Cameroon        Spain              Chile
2004     Argentina         Paraguay         Italy

Stadiums reflect boom

As has been the tradition for many years, soccer is a decentralized Olympic sport. Men's and women's games will be spread across China with games in six stadiums in five cities.

BEIJING. The host will hold games at the National Stadium — better known as the Bird's Nest for its twisting steel sections — and the Workers Stadium. The National Stadium (capacity: 91,000) will be the site of the men's and women's gold-medal games. The Workers Stadium (capacity: 72,000) was built in 1959 and was for many years Beijing's most important sports venues. It was renovated for the Olympics.

QINHUANGDAO. Qinhuangdao, located 180 miles east of Beijing, is the chief port of Hebei province. Its Olympic Sports Center Stadium, site of the first two U.S. women's games, was completed in 2004 and has a capacity of 32,000.

SHANGHAI. The 56,000-seat Shanghai Stadium was built in 1997 but is still considered one of the most modern stadiums in China. Shanghai will share the men's and women's semifinals with Beijing and also host the men's bronze-medal game.

SHENYANG. Shenyang already had a soccer stadium — Wu Lihe Stadium, the venue of China's victory over Oman that qualified it for the 2002 World Cup — but it spent $120 million on building the Shenyang Olympic Sports Center Stadium (capacity: 60,000) for the Olympics.

TIANJIN. Tianjin, one of China's most important industrial cities, was host to five 2007 Women's World Cup matches. The Tianjin Olympic Sports Center Stadium, completed in 2006, has a capacity of 60,000.


Olympic soccer kicks off Aug. 6 two days before the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. NBC will offer extensive coverage of soccer on USA Network, MSNBC, Telemundo and its digital soccer channel.

Men's Soccer
Group A

Aug. 7 in Shanghai
Australia vs. Serbia
Aug. 7 in Shanghai
Ivory Coast vs. Argentina
Aug. 10 in Shanghai
Argentina vs. Australia
Aug. 10 in Shanghai
Serbia vs. Ivory Coast
Aug. 13 in Tianjin
Australia vs. Ivory Coast
Aug. 13 in Beijing
Argentina vs. Serbia

Group B
Aug. 7 in Tianjin
Japan vs. USA
Aug. 7 in Tianjin
Netherlands vs. Nigeria
Aug. 10 in Tianjin
Nigeria vs. Japan
Aug. 10 in Tianjin
USA vs. Netherlands
Aug. 13 in Shenyang
Netherlands vs. Japan
Aug. 13 in Beijing
Nigeria vs. USA

Group C

Aug. 7 in Shenyang
Brazil vs. Belgium
Aug. 7 in Shenyang
China vs. New Zealand
Aug. 10 in Shenyang
New Zealand vs. Brazil
Aug. 10 in Shenyang
Belgium vs. China
Aug. 13 in Qinhuangdao
China vs. Brazil
Aug. 13 in Shanghai
New Zealand vs. Belgium

Group D
Aug. 7 in Qinhuangdao
Honduras vs. Italy
Aug. 7 in Qinhuangdao
South Korea vs. Cameroon
Aug. 10 in Qinhuangdao
Cameroon vs. Honduras
Aug. 10 in Qinhuangdao
Italy vs. South Korea
Aug. 13 in Shanghai
South Korea vs. Honduras
Aug. 13 in Tianjin
Cameroon vs. Italy

Aug. 16 in Shenyang
Game 25: 1C vs. 2D
Aug. 16 in Beijing
Game 26: 1D vs. 2C
Aug. 16 in Shanghai
Game 27: 1A vs. 2B
Aug. 16 in Qinhuangdao
Game 28: 1B v. 2A

Aug. 19 in Shanghai
Game 29: Winner 26 vs. Winner 28
Aug. 19 in Beijing
Game 30: Winner 25 vs. Winner 27

Bronze-Medal Game
Aug. 22 in Shanghai
Loser 29 vs. Loser 30

Gold-Medal Game
Aug. 23 in Beijing
Winner 29 vs. Winner 30

Women's Soccer
Group E

Aug. 6 in Tianjin
Argentina vs. Canada
Aug. 6 in Tianjin
China vs. Sweden
Aug. 9 in Tianjin
Sweden vs. Argentina
Aug. 9 in Tianjin
Canada vs. China
Aug. 12 in Qinhuangdao
China vs. Argentina
Aug. 12 in Beijing
Sweden vs. Canada

Group F
Aug. 6 in Shenyang
Germany vs. Brazil
Aug. 6 in Shenyang
North Korea vs. Nigeria
Aug. 9 in Shenyang
Nigeria vs. Germany
Aug. 9 in Shenyang
Brazil vs. North Korea
Aug. 12 in Tianjin
North Korea vs. Germany
Aug. 12 in Beijing
Nigeria vs. Brazil

Group G
Aug. 6 in Qinhuangdao
Japan vs. New Zealand
Aug. 6 in Qinhuangdao
Norway vs. USA
Aug. 9 in Qinhuangdao
USA vs. Japan
Aug. 9 in Qinhuangdao
New Zealand vs. Norway
Aug. 12 in Shanghai
Norway vs. Japan
Aug. 12 in Shenyang
USA vs. New Zealand

Aug. 15 in Shanghai
Game 19: 1G vs. #EF
Aug. 15 in Tianjin
Game 20: 1F vs. 2G
Aug. 15 in Shenyang
Game 21: 2E vs. 2F
Aug. 15 in Qinhuangdao
Game 22: 1E vs. 3FG

Aug. 18 in Shanghai
Game 23: Winner 20 vs. Winner 21
Aug. 18 in Beijing
Game 24: Winner 19 vs. Winner 22

Bronze-Medal Game
Aug. 21 in Beijing
Game 23 loser vs. Game 24 loser

Gold-Medal Game
Aug. 21 in Beijing
Game 23 winner vs. Game 24 winner

(This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.) 

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