The Road to Athens continues for the U.S. Under-23 National Team. The quest to be one of the 16 teams from around the world to play in the 2004 Summer Games in Greece starts on Feb. 3 with a match against Panama to kickoff the final-round of play in the 2004 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament. It'll be followed by matches against Canada on Feb. 5 and Honduras on Feb. 7 , which will all be played at the 10,000-seat Estadio de Marzo in Guadalajara, Mexico. The top two teams from the two four-team groups will play in the semifinals on Feb. 10, with the winners earning berths to Athens as well as a date in the final on Feb. 12 for region supremacy. After a successful two-week camp held out at the Home Depot Center earlier this month, head coach Glenn "Mooch" Myernick whittled down his roster to 22 players to make the trip, which will then be trimmed to 20 by January 31 after seven days of training. The group he has selected includes U.S. National Team regulars Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey, two recent MLS draft picks in Chad Marshall (Columbus) and Chris Wingert (Columbus), and only one non-MLS player in Zak Whitbread who plays for Liverpool in England. "It's been a two-year process in which I've learned a lot about this pool of players, and overall I think it's a very talented pool," said Myernick, who took over the team in January 2002. "Maybe we're not as experienced in some areas as others, but they're still a very capable team." Two players not making the trip are Belgium-based defender Oguchi Onyewu (R.A.A. Louviere) and German-based forward Conor Casey (F.C. Karlsruher), who were not released from their respective clubs in Europe to take part in this competition. "Both players are significant components in the pool; unfortunately, FIFA rules and their relationship to international fixture dates prevented them from being a part of this squad," said Myernick, who led the team to a 4-0-2 international record in 2003. "While I believe that they can possibly help us in the future, I have all the confidence in the world in this team to get the job done." The only other notable player who has played with the team in the past year that this could have applied to is Alexander Yi, a defender who plays for Royal Antwerp F.C. in Belgium. He was not with the U-23s for their latest training camp as he remained in Europe over the team's winter break. An interesting selection was that of MetroStars midfielder Eddie Gaven. At 17 years and 89 days, Gaven becomes the youngest player ever to appear on a U.S. Olympic Qualifying Team, passing fellow New Jersey native Claudio Reyna, who was 17 years and 336 days when he made his appearance in the tournament. Gaven will be making his fourth appearance with the U-23's since the end of the 2003 MLS season. He scored one of the team's 10 goals in its 10-0 aggregate win over St. Kitts & Nevis in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying action in November. He also appeared for the John Ellinger's U-17s last August in the U-17 World Championship.
|CONCACAF Qualifying Tourney|
After 25 teams in the region began qualifying for the Olympics last year, only eight remain. From those eight sides heading to Mexico for the 2004 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament, only two teams will move on to Athens in August to play in the 2004 Summer Games. Here are the following two groups that will play from Feb. 2-12 to determine the top Under-23 squads in the region:
DEFENDERS (8): Nat Borchers, Jose Luis Burciaga, Ricky Lewis, Chad Marshall, Logan Pause, David Stokes, Zak Whitbread, Chris Wingert
MIDFIELDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Brian Carroll, Bobby Convey, Brad Davis, Eddie Gaven, Ed Johnson, Kyle Martino
FORWARDS (4): Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan, Alecko Eskandarian, David Testo Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.