US ready to attack in chase of 2012 Olympics berth

TERESA M. WALKER AP Sports Writer Published:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) â€" The U.S. men are ready to go on the offensive as they chase a berth in the 2012 Olympics on the same field where the Americans qualified for Beijing in 2008.

Coach Caleb Porter has held a handful of camps to implement the kind of aggressive, possession-oriented attack he uses at Akron, and the U.S. under-23 team will get the chance to test the approach in games that matter starting Thursday night against Cuba. Porter has Freddy Adu from the Philadelphia Union as team captain with forwards including Brek Shea from FC Dallas and Juan Agudelo of the New York Red Bulls heading up a talented roster.

Porter believes he has plenty of depth, which will be key with three games in five days playing the style the coach used in winning a national title at Akron in 2010. Porter wants the Americans to control the game.

"And how you control a soccer game is you possess the ball, so we're going to be a team that builds out of the back. You're going to see a short passing game. The ball's going to be on the ground. We've worked a lot in training on ball circulation and combination play and movement, spacing, all those little attacking details that take time," Porter said.

"It's not easy to focus on that side of the ball; most teams focus on the defensive side. It's easier to destroy than to create."

Canada plays El Salvador in the opener of Thursday's doubleheader, part of the CONCACAF round-robin qualifying tournament for North and Central America and the Caribbean. The top two teams advance to the semifinals March 31 in Kansas City followed by the finals April 2.

Porter's approach worked well Feb. 29 when the U.S. beat Mexico 2-0 in Texas in a friendly. He brought the team to Nashville on March 13, and players have been training since then at Lipscomb University. Porter said coaches have a plan to handle the tight schedule and manage the roster, with games against Cuba, Canada on Saturday and El Salvador on Monday night.

"This group's fit and they're very deep, and diverse in terms of what they have and what they bring to the table â€" I think the fact that we can switch gears with changing a player," Porter said.

Porter also has some leadership coming from Adu, who was 18 when he helped the U.S. earn a berth in the 2008 Olympics right here at LP Field, home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans. Adu said that was the biggest tournament he'd ever been a part of and called that experience the greatest time of his life. Now he's the player with experience on the roster.

"The guys come, they ask questions sometimes, and it's nice," Adu said. "I've never had a, quote, presence or say on any team, because I've always been the youngest player on the team, so this is a nice little change."

The Americans have set their sights on winning the tournament, trying to grab the nine possible points in Nashville.

"That's what we've worked so hard for, and it's finally here," Adu said. "But we're pretty confident in our team, in our system. As you saw against Mexico, we executed pretty well. Going into these games, I know some of the teams may sit back, so obviously we're going to have to be patient and stick to our plan and we'll be OK. Because we definitely have the individual talent to take us to the next level."

Agudelo said the system is a little different and more possessive. He said the players like keeping the ball â€" a lot.

"And it's fun to play with a team like this, because I think the kind of soccer that most people enjoy is playing with the ball," Agudelo said. "And when we have the ball for the majority of time we have the most chances to go toward the goal and finish off the chances and score."

Shea isn't worried about fatigue.

"The prize is going to London, and if you can't up for that you shouldn't be here," Shea said. "Being able to play here, with kids I played with on the youth national team, I enjoy it a lot."

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Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.