ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|Having progressed from a tight
semifinal group and started well in the final hexagonal group, the US lost three consecutive
matches, but qualified with one matchday to go anyway.
here for details
|Participations: (6) 1930, 1934,
1950, 1990, 1994 and 1998
|Best placing: Semifinal 1930
|Topscorer: Bert Patenaude,
detailed history information
|Clint Mathis, recently back from a serious injury, is the man US soccerfans count
on when producing something on the attacking third of the field. He is a very creative player
who might break through internationally during the World Cup. He also contributes with goals
every now and then.
VERDICT: First round exit
|The US haven't taken part in a top competitive tournament since 1998 and
are hard to predict. They are in with a chance, but the team has had problems scoring in qualifying matches especially without Mathis and
will most likely find it hard to go through here. They should do better though than in 1998
when they lost all their games.
DETERMINED TO REVENGE FAILURE IN FRANCE
by Peter Goldstein
The USA was unbeatable in the first half of the CONCACAF Hexagonal; with
four wins and a draw they looked easily the dominant team in the region.
Then the bottom dropped out, and the team wound up qualifying almost by
accident, backing in on a late penalty against Jamaica and a shock loss by
Honduras. Injuries played a part in the slide, but the overall level of play
dropped suddenly and dramatically. The USA likes to think it's making
progress in soccer -- and there are some good young players in the current
pool -- but no one really knows whether this team can improve much on the
disaster of France '98.
A lot will depend on Clint Mathis and Landon Donovan. Mathis, who is best as
an attacking midfielder but also plays striker, emerged as the heart of the
attack during the first half of the Hexagonal. Big and very tough, he's
technically sound and unafraid to go right at his man. He has a hard
right-footed shot, and is especially dangerous on free kicks. He suffered a
severe knee injury during the qualifiers, but appears to be most of the way
back, and should be match fit by June. Donovan, only 20, is the golden boy
of US soccer. He's small, dynamic, an extremely imaginative passer and
scorer. Originally a striker, he was converted to attacking midfielder when
Mathis was hurt, and playing behind the forwards gives his creativity more
scope. The only question is whether he's ready for the big stage.
Another important figure is Brian McBride, the oft-injured striker who
scored the USA's only goal at France '98. When healthy, he's a natural
target man: tall, excellent in the air, he plays well with his back to goal,
distributing both with head and feet. Right now, the likely combination is
McBride and Mathis up front, Donovan just behind. If coach Bruce Arena
decides Donovan isn't ready (or if any of the attackers are injured),
youngster Josh Wolff, fast and inventive, will probably play striker. Also
available is veteran Joe Max-Moore, all hustle and no skill.
The rest of midfield seems fairly set. In the middle is captain Claudio
Reyna, at 28 still the most skilled player on the roster. He has vision,
creativity, and knows how to conduct the transition from defense to attack.
With the emergence of Mathis and Donovan, he can play deeper, where he's
more comfortable. The defensive midfielder is Chris Armas, slow but rugged,
a good ball winner who sometimes comes up in attack. If Arena starts three
of the attackers, as seems likely, there's only one more spot. Earnie
Stewart offers experience, solid all-around skills, and a goal-scorer's
instinct; John O'Brien is quick, creative, and very good on the ball. The
guess now is Stewart starting, with O'Brien a likely substitute. Cobi Jones,
with an amazing 150+ caps, can still offer pace and intensity off the bench.
Arena prefers an attacking 4-4-2 with the fullbacks pushing up in support,
but the fullback cupboard is nearly bare. On the left, David Regis is
probably too old; even at his best, he lacked imagination in attack, and now
his defensive skills appear to be fading as well. But there's really no one
to take his place. On the right, Steve Cherundolo gets forward well, but his
crosses have been inconsistent; he's also small, and tends to get
overpowered by the larger forwards. Other candidates for right back are
Frankie Hejduk, fast and exciting but inconsistent, and Tony Sanneh, big and
powerful, but probably better suited to midfield.
The center backs are stronger. Jeff Agoos, with over 100 caps, is the heart
of the defense, a bit slow but an intense competitor. He should be partnered
by Eddie Pope, mobile, athletic, and good in the air, or Carlos Llamosa, the
best man-marker, intelligent in positioning and a precise tackler. Both have
had injury problems, which might open a spot for Gregg Berhalter, solid and
Keeper remains the great strength of the team. Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel
are superb shot-stoppers: Keller is the smoother, Friedel the more
spectacular. In the past, Keller's leadership and positioning made him the
clear #1, but Friedel appears to have caught him in those areas, and they're
neck and neck for the spot. Right now Friedel is the regular starter at
Blackburn, whereas Keller is mostly on the bench at Tottenham; that may make
the difference come June.
Without Mathis and Donovan, this group looks a lot like the one four years
ago: long on determination, short on imagination and technique. Americans
are incurable optimists, but everyone remembers the fiasco in France, and
there aren't many fans willing to predict a second round berth. A win over
Costa Rica in the Gold Cup offers some cause for hope -- but the USA has a
habit of playing its best when expectations are low. If that pattern holds,
and the new boys are ready to go, a surprise or two might be in the cards.
A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY
by Jan Alsos
The US was one of thirteen countries to participate in the
inaugural World Cup in Uruguay 1930. They beat both Belgium and Paraguay in their
preliminary group which set them up with Argentina in the semifinal. The South Americans
won comfortably 6-1, but this semifinal appearance is still the greatest achievement
positionwise in US soccer history.
The US also participated in Italy four years later, but lost heavily 7-1 to the hosts in the
opening round which was the last appearance the Americans made before the war. Major
headlines were created around the world when the US sensationally beat mighty England in
Brazil 1950 by a 1-0 scoreline. It was considered the greatest shock in the history of the
sport at that time. It wasn’t enough though to progress because no points were picked up
against Spain and Chile.
It took forty years before a US team participated in the World Cup again. Three straight
losses followed in Italy ‘90, but their brave performance against the hosts (0-1) was
memorable. Four years later it was time for the US to host the World Cup and they managed
to scrape through as one of the best third placed teams setting them up with Brazil in the
second round played on 4th of July. It took a special Romario-Bebeto combination to end
the American dream.
France ‘98 was disappointing for US soccer as they copied their Italia ‘90 showing with
three defeats in a row. The key match against Iran hurt the most leaving them bottom of the
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