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The U.S. dominated the field in the round-robin event, out-homering its five opponents 9-1 and limiting them to 13 earned runs while earning a spot in the Americas Olympic qualifier in Havana, Cuba, the last week of August 2006, with two days to spare.

The question now is the one the U.S. faces every Olympic cycle.

Which players will return?

Brandon Wood and Howie Kenderick, top prospects in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization, are among the young players around whom the Olympic team would like to build, and neither has reservations about playing in Cuba.

"No matter where you are playing, if you have Team USA on your chest, it’s an honor to be there,’’ said shortstop Wood, who doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning and also took hits away from two Canada players back-handed stops in the hole.

"We had a great group of guys here. Everybody can swing it. Everybody can play defense,’’ said Kendrick, who homered in the first inning, hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth and saved a run with a diving stop with runners on the corners and two outs in the sixth to preserve a 2-1 lead.

Wood and Kendrick and other young prospects like them — catchers Jeff Mathis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, outfielders Brad Snyder and Lastings Milledge — represent the future of the major leagues, but not necessarily the Olympic team.

Rules permit Team USA to use only players not in the major leagues at Olympic events; the majors, of course, is where the players would rather be.

"It’s a win-win situation,’’ Wood said. ‘’If you are in the big leagues, that’s where you wanted to be your whole life. But if you are playing in the Olympics, that is as great an honor. You can’t lose in that situation.’’

Team USA officials would like a group of these players to return, but at the same time understand the reality. Only five players on the 2000 gold medal Olympic team played on the team that qualified in 1999.

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