The Portland Timbers knew that they would be without Jake Gleeson for several games this season when the 21 year old keeper was called up to backstop the New Zealand U-23's in Olympic qualifying. As it turns out, the Timbers will be without Gleeson again this summer as he will be heading to London to represent his country after successfuly qualifying for the Olympics.
In their qualifying run, New Zealand beat Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu, before facing off with Fiji in the tournament final. Gleeson played in three of New Zealand's qualifying matches, posting shutouts in two.
More on New Zealand's qualification for the Olympics plus quotes from Jake Gleeson after the jump.
As the hosts and a team with a record of success at the youth level in recent years, the New Zealand "Oly Whites", as the U-23's are called, were the heavy favorites going in to the qualifying tournament. Despite this, New Zealand struggled in several of their matches, particularly on the attack.
In their first match against Papua New Guinea, the Oly Whites went down a man in the 55th minute. This transformed a match that New Zealand was expected to win handily into a hard fought match that ended 1-0 in New Zealand's favor.
New Zealand's second match went more to plan as they pasted Tonga 10-0 to clinch their three team group and advance to the semi-finals. Gleeson sat this game to rest with two more matches coming in the next three days.
Gleeson was called upon in goal for New Zealand's next match against Vanuatu, a hard fought fixture that ended 3-2 in NewZealand's favor.
Finally, the Oly Whites faced Fiji in what their coach described as an "11 on 11 man scrap" according to the federation's website. In the end, New Zealand went through on a score of 1-0. Thanks to Gleeson's efforts and several saves made by the crossbar, New Zealand qualified.
Where does all of this leave the Timbers? The Olympics kick off on July 25th with the group stages running until August 1st and the gold metal game concluding on August 11th. A pre-tournament training camp is also very likely and would probably start on the 16th of July.
From July 16th to August 11th, the Timbers have five matches, including the newly announced friendly against England's Aston Villa.
Although the official Olympic squad will not be released until next week, there is almost no chance that Gleeson will not be on it as the Oly Whites' first choice keeper.
On going to New Zealand for Olympic Qualifying
It was great, being back in New Zealand. It was great to see my family and friends and with the qualifiers coming through with four wins is fantastic. We didn't make it as easy as we could have, but we got there in the end and we qualified for the Olympics, which is the main goal.
On what it will feel like to be in New Zealand for the Olympics
It hasn't quite hit me yet, that I am going to it. I think it will take a few days to set in, but at the moment I am just really excited. The Olympic Games is the second biggest sporting event in the world aside from the World Cup. It is going to be fantastic. I'm going to be playing with a great group of guys in England, the home of football. Where else would you want to play?
On playing for the New Zealand U-23's
It was good. I know it was just the U-23's but it was a good bunch of guys and it was a great squad to be a part of. It was just a lot of fun being back and playing with guys in my age group and seeing how they've progressed. It was just a good team, good coach, good group of guys so I am really excited for that.
On his reaction to qualifying for the Olympics
For me it was relief. We only had a one - nil lead. They hit the bar a couple of times, so it was a big weight off of our shoulders. We were the favorite team going in and we should have won, and we did in the end, but we probably made it a little bit harder for ourselves then we should have. That is the way it happens when you play against island teams; they come at you in different ways and they are pretty hard to deal with. It was just a big, big relief that we got to the place that we wanted to get to and now we have to kick on and do well in the Olympics.
On being the favorite team in the qualifying tournament
We were there to win. There was no second place. Anything apart from that was a complete failure. There is definitely an expectation to win, and if you don't win, you lose and you let yourself down and your teammates down and the country that you are representing. Coming into it we were favorites and the expectations were huge and thankfully we got there.
On how playing in the Olympics helps players develop
It is fantastic. Coming out here and training is fantastic. It is just another experience, another team to get involved with, another level to get involved with. To get put on the international stage is just fantastic. Playing in England when they have already sold out the games, it is going to be large crowds playing in the big stadiums like Wembley and Old Trafford. It is just going to be really exciting and as a footballer, that is what you play for. You play for games like that. You play for tournaments like that. I am definitely excited.