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Kick Off: Call-up controversy as USA open qualifying

As the US Olympic team gets set to kick off its road to the 2012 Olympics tonight in Nashville, Tenn., against Cuba (9 pm ET, Universal Sports and Mun2), there’s one matter that still gets to Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak.

A former US Olympic coach himself, Nowak took issue with the call-up of his right back Sheanon Williams, who was brought in by US manager Caleb Porter to replace Josh Gatt, recalled by Norwegian side Molde: “It was a drastic change, it was very traumatic for the player, for the team,” he said yesterday.

Nowak’s point of contention is that Williams was not included in any of the recent U-23 camps and there was no communication that he might be an option for a call-up: “We didn’t have any kind of indication during that time the he might be called up last minute. Our understanding was that — and I was part of this process four years ago — that you take the number of players, that if something happens during the camp, you don’t call anybody from the outside.”

So will CONCACAF Olympic qualifying really serve as a “referendum on the progress of MLS?" That’s the case being made in this Los Angeles Times article previewing the tournament.

The 4-3-3 will be getting lots of attention during this Olympic qualifying run. Philadelphia Union midfielder Freddy Adu talks about being “pretty confident in our team, in our system” and New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo says “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.”

Also keep an eye out for now-healthy San Jose Earthquakes center back Ike Opara, who has worn the captain’s armband for this US Olympic team and whose club coach reserved this high praise: “No one can outjump Opara or outrun him,” says Earthquakes manager Frank Yallop.

Back to MLS, if there’s one team under more pressure than most this weekend, it’s the New York Red Bulls. But sporting director Erik Solér is staying cool: “Losers and winners are not decided at this point. … I’m not happy with the start, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for us to get the points we need.”

Like the Red Bulls, the New England Revolution will host their home opener this weekend against the Portland Timbers. And Revs manager Jay Heaps wants visiting teams to be forewarned: “We expect to play some aggressive, attacking soccer and let teams that come in here know that it's a difficult environment.”

Heaps will engage fans in a chat on Boston.com at 3 p.m. ET today.

What was a difficult environment in Philadelphia seems to be back to normal after captain Danny Califf and manager Peter Nowak resolved their differences after their contradictory statements in Sunday’s postgame: “It was a good, constructive talk. We were both able to get some things off our chests and move forward in a positive way,” says Califf.

D.C. United rookie Nick DeLeon, who scored on his MLS debut vs. LA Galaxy last weekend, admits that he did not appreciate his exclusion from the gameday roster for the season opener against Sporting Kansas City: “I was upset,” DeLeon told The Washington Times. “All in all, it turned out to be a good move because it motivated me.”

The Montreal Impact are motivated by their performance against Chicago in their first-ever home game last Saturday. Manager Jesse Marsch called yesterday’s practice session “our best training as a team.” They’ll need it given the schedule they have coming up: at Columbus, at New York and then against Real Salt Lake. “Whoever made our schedule didn't do us any favors," Marsch said.

For a look at what the Columbus Crew might throw at the Impact, Adam Jardy at the Columbus Dispatch reports that Robert Warzycha will likely be going with a two-man forward line of Olman Vargas and Emilio Rentería.

As the Vancouver Whitecaps gets set to welcome DC United on Saturday, someone reminded ‘Caps manager Martin Rennie that his team only had 35 percent of possession in their 1-0 away win at Chivas USA: “I like to have possession but sometimes that’s overrated,” Rennie told The Province. “It depends how you use it and it depends where that possession is.”

Speaking of possession games, Sebastian Velasquez has fit right into Real Salt Lake’s possession style. Here’s a possible explanation: “Sebastian’s the guy you’d be seeing playing at 2 am with adults over at the indoor center,” said his former club coach.

Get prepared for tomorrow night’s NBC Sports Network broadcast of Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo with the Nos Audietis podcast, which features an interview with Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall. (AUDIO)

Chivas USA star forward Juan Pablo Ángel says he’s still feeling concussion symptoms and strike partner Alejandro Moreno is also not ready to come back from a broken nose even though the cast has come off: “It's nice to be able to take a shower and be able to actually wash my face properly,” Moreno said.

Chivas USA are one of three teams in ProSoccerTalk’s “Panic Quotient” compiled by veteran soccer writer Steve Davis.

Watch former Chivas USA midfield star Sacha Kljestan score again for Belgian side Anderlecht against Zulte Waregem yesterday. The goal comes early in this video highlight clip. (VIDEO)

Later today, former New York Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore will lead AZ Alkmaar against Heracles in a Dutch Cup semifinal (3:45 pm ET) with PSV Eindhoven waiting in the championship match.

There are two leftover La Liga matches on the tube later this afternoon as Racing battle Sevilla (3 pm ET, GolTV) and Real Betis host Espanyol (3:30 pm ET, ESPN Deportes). There’s also a Copa Libertadores doubleheader beginning at 6:30 pm ET on Fox Deportes that features Neymar and Santos in the nightcap.

Another American has signed with the Xolos of Club Tijuana. You can now add Alejandro Guido to that group.

Speaking of international clubs, La Liga’s third-placed side Valencia will be playing two matches against MLS clubs this May: vs. Portland on May 23 and eight days later against Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Is Australian Harry Kewell also destined for a stateside arrival? This report claims he’s entertaining a loan deal to MLS that would allow him to stay in competition for a spot on the Australian national team.

Next time you’re in Seattle be sure to try the new “No Equal Amber Lager,” created by and for the Seattle Sounders’ Emerald City Supporters. Check out the beer bottle design. (PHOTO)

Forget beer. What gets discussed over wine is more interesting: Sporting Kansas City owner Robb Heineman tweets #uWontBelieveWhatsComin' after a meeting late yesterday with MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

WATCH: Between The Lines – RSL’s left channel

Your ultimate guide to CONCACAF Olympic qualifying

Climbing The Ladder: Shutout streaks to open a season

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