CHESTER, PA- SEPTEMBER 29: Amobi Okugo #14 and Sheanon Williams #25 of the Philadelphia Union battle for the ball with Dwayne De Rosario #7 of D.C. United at PPL Park on September 29, 2011 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Union won 3-2. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Peter Nowak was the last coach to lead the United States U-23 National Team to qualify for the Olympics. Rob Vartughian helped train his stable of goalkeepers (including Chris Seitz, who went to Beijing but never left the bench).
Freddy Adu was the top scorer on Nowak's team during that qualifying tournament, notching the game winning and 2008 Olympic Games-clinching brace in the semifinals. Who threw an elbow to draw a 3rd minute red card, sealing the U.S. team's fate in the final Olympic Group Stage match? Michael Orozco Fiscal.
Not to bring up old wounds, but Brian Carroll's defensive midfield play and Union Youth Technical Director Alecko Eskandarian's 4 goals were not enough to advance beyond the 2004 CONCACAF tournament. Shavar Thomas and Jamaica crashed out of 2004 qualifying as well while David Myrie's older brother Roy helped lead Costa Rica to the knockout rounds in Athens.
Unfortunately for Myrie's Ticos, their Olympic Quarterfinal opponent Argentina was led by Carlos Tevez.
No matter how distant the connection, current and former members of the Philadelphia Union have had a taste of the Olympic tradition and there is reason to believe the young squad will further entwine themselves with the Summer Games in London 2012.
How will this experience affect the start of the Major League Soccer season? Hit the jump for a look at how the U-23 and Union schedules match up...
2012 Union Schedule through the end of April:
Early February - Preseason Camp in Orlando, Florida
Late February - Preseason Camp in Costa Rica
Monday, March 12th @ Portland Timbers
Sunday, March 18th vs Colorado Rapids
Saturday, March 24th @ Chicago Fire
Saturday, March 31st vs Vancouver Whitecaps
Saturday, April 14th vs Columbus Crew
Saturday, April 21st @ Chivas USA
Saturday, April 28th vs San Jose Earthquakes
The Philadelphia Union will start the regular season with 7 games in 2 months, 3 on the road, and only 2 against teams that made the playoffs in 2011. Compare that to last March and April, which included matches against eventual Supporters Shield and MLS Cup Champion Los Angeles Galaxy, US Open Cup Champion Seattle Sounders, MLS Cup Finalist Houston Dynamo, and the highest-spending-but-barely-playoff-bound rivals New York Red Bulls, and it would seem that Philly could almost ease into the 34-game season.
Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath, Freddy Adu, Jack McInerney, and Sheanon Williams spent a week in mid-December training with the US Under-23 National Team, hoping to win over coach Caleb Porter as he started building a squad to compete in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament. They obviously left some sort of impression, as all were included in an 18-day January camp which ended with a tour of Costa Rica.
Most recently, Freddy, Amobi, and Jack got the call to attend an 11-day camp which begins this weekend and features a February 29th clash with Mexico's U-23 side. When combined with a pre-tournament gathering (probably a week or so prior to the tournament), some Union youngsters could miss 3 of the first 4 Union matches.
CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament Schedule:
Group Stage (Nashville, TN)
Thursday, March 22nd vs Cuba
Saturday, March 24th vs Canada
Monday, March 26th vs El Salvador
Semifinals (Kansas City, KS)
Saturday, March 31st TBD
Finals (Kansas City, KS)
Monday, April 2nd TBD
Should they advance, and that is certainly not a given with only 2 teams from the confederation earning a trip to the Summer Games, the Union would stand to lose players for additional camps and the tournament itself from mid-July through mid-August.
If Adu, McInerney, and Okugo turn out to be the only call-ups, the U shouldn't feel much too much of a squeeze considering there are other players ahead of them in the pecking order anyway. Depth (read: Chris Albright) would be tested if Williams were find himself back in the mix due to injuries, form, and other players' club commitments.
The Union have worked to provide cover along the back line this season, but will it be enough to weather a stretch of 10 league games between July and August (against much tougher opponents than they will face in the first two months)?
With three players called in for the most recent U-23 camp, the Union remain the most heavily leaned-upon team by Coach Porter. I'm a country-over-club guy myself - success at an international tournament would be far more meaningful to me than a win over the Fire in early Spring, especially if kids who usually wear 'BIMBO' shirts play an integral role.
What do you think? Are you willing to sacrifice depth early on during a relatively light stretch to allow our youth some meaningful international games? Do you think the front office brought in the right personnel to handle a similar sacrifice in the heat of July and August? Will Porter look to Zac MacMath again with Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid in the fold and U.S. Soccer's history of choosing an over-23 goalkeeper for the big tournament? Are you worried that Sheanon Williams could miss up to 1/4 of the regular season for international duty?
Leave your thoughts below!