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Despite surprising omissions, Charles needs to be comfortable with his Olympic rosterBy Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Friday, March 24, 2000) -- Ever since Tuesday, when United States under-23 men's coach Clive Charles announced his 25-player pool for the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament in Hershey, Pa., the e-mails have been flying over who is and who is not on the roster. (An aside - that so many people seem to care is a healthy and encouraging sign).
I have to admit I was slightly surprised by a couple of names not on the list, and a couple that were. But all-in-all, the pool probably represents most of the best this country has to offer in the under-23 age group, and, although they are not in for an easy time of it, there is certainly enough talent on this team to qualify for the Summer Games in Sydney in September.
First of all, a clarification. This list represents the pool from which Charles will choose 18 players, and probably three alternates, who he will take to the pre-Hershey training camp April 10-17 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. So immediately at least four of the players on the list will end up not even being eligible for the qualifying for the two berths allotted to CONCACAF, the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
What is somewhat mystifying is why name a 25-man pool if you have to make a cuts before training camp. Why not just swallow now, name your 18 and a couple of alternates, and then if a player on the list goes down to injury, just name someone to replace him?
It will be interesting to see how many players actually go to camp on April 10. I would think Charles and the United States Soccer Federation will be pressured by Major League Soccer not to take in as many as five alternates to training camp who have little chance to make it to Hershey. The argument will be that these players are better off training with their MLS clubs and can be available if they are needed as injury replacements.
But back to the players in the pool and not in the pool. The most surprising name on the list is probably Brian Winters, a four year starter for Charles at University of Portland, who was recently cut by the Columbus Crew, the MLS team who drafted him. There are three other former or current Portland players among the 25.
To many, the most surprising player omitted from the pool is D.C. United midfielder Antonio Otero. Otero had a terrific preseason for United and looks to be the player United will start in place of Marco Etcheverry, whenever Etcheverry is not available due to injury or Bolivian national team commitments.
Last weekend, for instance, with United down 2-0 to Bolivian club Wilstermann, Otero came on in the 20th minute when Etcheverry limped off with a strained calf muscle, and he helped rally United to a 3-2 victory.
Truthfully, Otero figured to be a backup for the Olympic squad. Ajax's John O'Brien will be the central midfielder and the Los Angeles Galaxy's Peter Vagenas will likely get the start in the qualifying.
But Otero seemed to fit the definition Charles has set out for backups, in that he wants players who can fill multiple roles. Otero can play at least three midfield positions.
Otero has clearly been upset by his omission from the player pool, but said he had an inkling after not playing his best during training camp in San Diego and a subsequent tour of Portugal in January.
"It's a little hard to swallow, but what's important is to stay positive and play the best for D.C. United" Otero said. "I didn't have my best camp. That was probably the deciding factor. But I was there for two years. One bad camp?"
Also not on the roster are the two top draft choices in MLS this year, the MetroStars forward Steve Shak and Kansas City Wizards defender Nick Garcia. Personally, I am more surprised by the omission of Garcia, who in MLS preseason action seemed better than several of the defenders in Charles' pool.
But as I said at the beginning, we need to take a step back and cut Clive a little slack. All coaches have a comfort level with certain players and tend to chose them over players they don't know or have not connected with. This is true at every level.
.It is true of U.S. coach Bruce Arena. And look at what Dutchman Louis Van Gaal has done to Barcelona's roster since he got there. So it is only fair that Clive Charles be allowed to name some players he feels he has rapport with.
But as the MLS season progresses, if an Otero or a Garcia steps up and plays better than some of those who play in Hershey, fans will be watching closely to see if they make it onto the eventual roster of players heading for Australia. Assuming, of course, the U.S. qualifies. Hopefully that will happen, but it is by no means a given.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly
on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.