Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Green U.S. team gains experience, no wins

World Cup magic ends in losses to Turkey, Brazil

The Associated Press

LYON, France - The U.S. soccer team left France winless, just as it did in 1998.

"The natural reaction is the press will say how bad everything is, and the fans will say how bad everything is," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said, even before his team played its final game. "That's fine."

Five years ago, the U.S. team went 0-3 in the World Cup. This time, the Americans went 0-2-1 in the Confederations Cup at which Arena tested his young players before World Cup qualifying next year.

The Americans, playing their first big games since last year's World Cup quarterfinal loss to Germany, were tentative in their opening 2-1 loss to Turkey and 1-0 defeat against Brazil, then displayed more confidence in Monday's scoreless tie against a second-string Cameroon lineup.

"It's a lot different without Claudio (Reyna) and John O'Brien and Eddie Pope," Landon Donovan said.

Reyna, the U.S. captain, is still recovering from a torn knee ligament, and O'Brien was given the tournament off after the Dutch season. Those two are the only proven U.S. playmakers.

Pope, expected to be the veteran defender in this tournament, was injured in Major League Soccer just before the Americans left for Europe. The team, which returned to Washington on Tuesday, will be without those three for next month's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Arena also was without forward Brian McBride, whose wife was to give birth, and Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, top goalkeepers who started nearly every game for their English Premier League clubs.

Arena was most disappointed in the lack of offense, which featured Donovan, Clint Mathis and Jovan Kirovski at forward much of the time, with Donovan and Mathis often dropping back to midfield. Last weekend, Arena said Donovan was mentally tired and had "flattened out a little bit."

"Our forwards weren't as dangerous as we'd like them to be," Arena said. "We need a little more pace up top."

During qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, defense was a strength for the American team. But the back line was shaky during the World Cup, giving up seven goals in five games.

In the three Confederations Cup games, Arena started Gregg Berhalter, Danny Califf and Carlos Bocanegra at central defense, and Greg Vanney, Frankie Hejduk, Steve Cherundolo and Cory Gibbs on the outside.

Arena said Monday night that Cherundolo and Bocanegra played two good games. The coach added that Gibbs is a good defender, but needs more experience at his position, and Califf improved after the Turkey game.

Midfielders Pablo Mastroeni and Bobby Convey played well, , Arena said. Kyle Martino, 23, making just his third international appearance, excelled against Cameroon before he was hacked down in the second half and limped off with a severely sprained left ankle.

"We've seen in the previous two games some of our young players have started the game very nervous, and Kyle did not exhibit that at all," Arena said.

On the outside at midfield, 34-year-old Earnie Stewart and 21-year-old DaMarcus Beasley stood out.

"Beasley was probably our best field player in the tournament," Arena said. "Stewart's contributions were invaluable."

Tim Howard, starting in place of Friedel and Keller, had some problems, but also made several great saves in the tournament.

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Green U.S. team gains experience, no wins

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