Tim Parker - Vancouver Whitecaps - Diego Valeri - Portland Timbers
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Vancouver's Tim Parker embraces challenge of leading US back to Olympics

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Up until this year, Tim Parker's last involvement with the US national team was as a senior in high school, when he headed over to Portugal as part of a Under-18 camp.

The stellar play of the Vancouver Whitecaps center back during his rookie MLS season last year has shot the defender back into the international reckoning and following on from a mixed senior and U23 national team camp in January, Parker was today included in Andi Herzog's 23-man U-23 roster for the upcoming Olympic qualifying playoff games against Colombia.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity," Parker told MLSsoccer.com. "Getting down there and being with the guys and seeing what the environment is going to be like and hopefully getting a game in.

"Just being involved in my first senior team camp and being with the U-23 guys was a really good experience. Getting to know the guys and getting to learn from some of the older guys was even better."

The US U-23s face Colombia on March 25 in Barranquilla (5 pm ET, FS1) and March 29 in Frisco, Texas (9:30 pm ET, ESPN2) in a two-game home and away playoff series, with a place at this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on the line. With the US having failed to qualify for the London Olympics four years ago, Parker is in no doubt of what the upcoming matches mean to American soccer.

"It's extremely important," Parker said of the Colombia games. "We took a lot of ridicule as a program for not making it to the last Olympics. We have an opportunity here that we've been given and we should be able to make the most of it."

Parker may be coming off his rookie season as a pro, but he's a very driven professional and what he's learned in his battle to secure a starting spot in Vancouver and playing in Champions League matches against Honduran side CD Olimpia has set him up well for what lies in wait in the first leg, in the red-hot atmosphere of Barranquilla.

"It's helped me a lot," Parker admits. "Being able to play against different clubs, in different areas outside of MLS, has helped me to learn about other sides of the game and how they go about it. The experience of playing against a Honduran team will help me when we play this Colombia match.

No one in the squad is taking anything for granted and they know the challenge that awaits the US side over the two legs, but it's natural for the players to think a little bit ahead to what playing on the world stage would mean to each of them and their individual development as players.

"It's huge," Parker noted. "In terms of big tournaments, that's one of the biggest tournaments you can play in as a player. In terms of the Olympics and the World Cup, that's two of the biggest things you can represent your country in, especially in North America.

"It would be incredible. It's one of those tournaments that not many people can say that they've played in. It would be an honor."

You can catch Tim Parker and Vancouver Whitecaps in action on Saturday evening when they travel to Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders (10 pm ET; MLS LIVE in the US, TSN1 in Canada).