When the United States takes on Cuba (8 p.m. CT, Universal Sports Network, Mun2) in their first match of CONCACAF Men's Olympic Soccer qualifying, a process will begin with the ultimate goal being a berth in the 2012 London Olympics. Placed in Group A along with Canada and El Salvador, many will recognize the MLS influence that comes with the U.S. squad under head coach Caleb Porter. Here are three things to consider as the U.S. begins the qualification process:
1. MLS influence - I do not know if I would call this a referendum on Major League Soccer, but the U.S. U-23 squad is comprised of 14 players who currently ply their trade in MLS. The roster is a statement for the league and its continued growth. The Philadelphia Union leads the way with three players: Freddy Adu, Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams, who was added on Tuesday after Josh Gatt was recalled by his Norwegian club. Texas has two representatives with FC Dallas' Brek Shea and the Houston Dynamo's Kofi Sarkodie earning spots on the roster.
2. Kofi Sarkodie - Speaking of the second-year defender, it's great to see some "Orange" representation on the squad! Sarkodie played three years for Porter at the University of Akron and was part of the 2010 NCAA men's national championship winning squad. During the recent 2-0 win over Mexico, Sarkodie went the full 90 minutes at right back. He will get plenty of playing time in this tournament as generally the majority of players are used over the course of a short tournament to handle a quick turnaround of games. I expect him to get the start against Cuba . After tonight's match, the U.S. will play Saturday against Canada and Monday against El Salvador in group play.
3. Key storylines - This talented group of players include some very interesting stories. One example is Joe Corona, who helped Club Tijuana gain promotion to the Mexican first division. He lives in San Diego but commutes daily to Tijuana to play for the first division squad. On another note, the team will be without key age-eligible players such as Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar) in the Netherlands and Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin) in Germany. The U.S. could not secure these players due to the fact that this tournament does not fall on a FIFA date thus teams are not required to release players.
Note: Dynamo TV play-by-play broadcaster Glenn Davis will call all U.S. Olympic qualifying games for Universal Sports/ NBCSN along with Allen Hopkins. Davis regularly calls Dynamo matches on KPRC Local 2 and FOX Sports Houston and hosts weekly radio shows on SportsTalk 790. Follow him at Twitter: GlennDavisSoc.