Opara to represent USA in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying
CHICAGO - Earthquakes defender Ike Opara was among the 20 players selected to compete the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament kicking off Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. Head coach Caleb Porter and his squad are aiming to reach the tournament's title game in order to qualify for the Summer Games in London.
Drawn into Group A with Canada, Cuba and El Salvador, the U.S. opens play against Cuba on March 22 at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. PT, and the match will be broadcast live on Universal Sports Network, mun2 and streamed live on concacaf.com. The USA faces Canada on March 24 at 4 p.m., and then closes out group play on March 26 against El Salvador at 6 p.m.
The semifinal and final matches will be played at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., on March 31 and April 2, respectively.
"We feel very confident about the team we have put together to help us achieve our goal of qualifying for the Olympic Games," said Porter. "It's been a great week of preparation here in Nashville, and we are excited to reach this stage of the process. This group is united and ready for the challenge."
Porter named Philadelphia Union midfielder Freddy Adu as team captain and D.C. United defender Perry Kitchen as vice-captain.
Porter originally named a 19-player training camp roster on March 12, adding Tony Taylor a day later. On March 18, Molde-based defender Josh Gatt was recalled by his club after the team experienced a series of injuries. The only new player named to the final 20-man roster by Porter was Sheanon Williams.
The roster is loaded with players who have experience in international competition, as 13 players have played in at least one World Cup at the youth level. Four players - Adu, Jared Jeffrey, Brek Shea and Williams - have appeared in both U-17 and U-20 tournaments.
The U-17 Residency Program developed 11 of the players who will represent the United States in Olympic qualifying, with many in Residency during the same cycles: Adu and Michael Stephens (2003 cycle); Jeffrey, Amobi Okugo, Kofi Sarkodie, Shea and Williams (2007 cycle); Juan Agudelo, Joe Gyau and Perry Kitchen (2009 cycle).
A total of 14 players on the roster come from MLS clubs, with the Philadelphia Union contributing three players. Adu is the only player with previous experience in qualifying, having scored four goals in three appearances during the 2008 tournament. FC Dallas forward Brek Shea, who has appeared in all 10 of the U.S. Men's National Team matches under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, was the 2011 U.S. Young Male Athlete of the Year and is coming off a strong season with FC Dallas that included MLS Best XI recognition and a nomination for MLS Most Valuable Player.
Juan Agudelo joins the camp after earning 14 appearances with the senior team last year. Agudelo was the first player to come out of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to earn a cap with the U.S. Men's National Team. A total of four players on the roster have Development Academy ties: Agudelo, Joe Corona, Bill Hamid, and defender Zarek Valentin.
In total, eight players on the roster have at least one cap with the full team, while Adu, Agudelo and Teal Bunbury have recorded goals. The development of these players throughout this cycle has been done in collaboration with the work of U.S. Men's National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, continuing the process of having vertically integrated National Team programs.
Kitchen and San Jose Earthquakes centerback Ike Opara are both coming off their first appearances with the U-23 team, having participated in the February training camp that culminated with the 2-0 victory against Mexico in which Agudelo and Mix Diskerud tallied for the United States.
Five players are plying their trade outside the United States, including Corona (Club Tijuana), Diskerud (Gent), forward Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim) and Jared Jeffrey (Mainz). Borussia Dortmund-based striker Terrence Boyd will report March 21 to Nashville, having made his debut for the full team when he came on as a substitute in the USA's 1-0 victory against Italy.
The U-23 goalkeeping tandem includes D.C. United's Hamid and the Chicago Fire's Sean Johnson. Both played for the U.S. Men's National Team at the start of the year. Hamid manned the net during a 1-0 victory against Venezuela on Jan. 21 in Glendale, Ariz., as the U.S. Soccer Development Academy alum became the ninth goalkeeper in U.S. history to collect a shutout in his first game. Johnson earned his second international cap when he played in the second half of a 1-0 win against Panama on Jan. 25 in Panama City.
The diverse roster includes players hailing from 13 different states reaching from coast to coast, with three coming from California and two each from Maryland and Texas.
U.S. U-23 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Roster
GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C. United; Annandale, Va.), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire; Lilburn, Ga.)
DEFENDERS (6): Perry Kitchen (D.C. United; Indianapolis, Ind.), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes; Durham, N.C.), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo; Huber Heights, Ohio), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact; Lancaster, Pa.), Jorge Villafaña (Chivas USA; Anaheim, Calif.), Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union; Boston, Mass.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union; Potomac, Md.), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Mix Diskerud (Gent; Oslo, Norway), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz; Richardson, Texas), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union; Sacramento, Calif.), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy; Naperville, Ill.)
FORWARDS (6): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls; Barnegat, N.J.), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund; Berlin, Germany), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City; Prior Lake, Minn.), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim: Silver Spring, Md.), Brek Shea (FC Dallas; Bryan, Texas), Tony Taylor (Estoril Praia, Jacksonville, Fla.)