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Americans fall short of Rothenberg dictum.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

The United States national soccer team failed the first part of United States Soccer Federationsí president Alan Rothenberg's dictum for the World Cup.

1. He didn't require a victory against Germany, merely the Americans play well and "throw a scare" into the Germans.

That didn't happen. Germany took an early lead and dominated the United States the first 30 minutes. The Americans, to their credit, fought back late in the first half and most of the second half, and actually had the better of play some of the time.

They admirably strung together passes, pushed forward, and had one great scoring opportunity, a diving header by Franke Hejduk. But there was no scare nor 90 minutes of decent U.S. soccer.

GRADE: Fail.

The other two parts of the Rothenberg scenario:

2. Defeat Iran in the second game.

3. Play well and "throw a scare" to Yugoslavia in the third game. Neither will be easy, judging from the opening-match 2-0 loss to Germany.

The major problems that surfaced:

* What happens if midfielder Claudio Reyna is effectively taken out of the game due to tight marking, as he was Monday? Someone else needs to take up the creative playmaking aspect. Tab Ramos, regaining fitness after knee surgery, was impressive off the bench and will start against Iran. He's not a defensive midfielder, but neither of the two inexperienced starters there, Chad Deering or Brian Maisonneuve, contributed much against Germany, and that effected the U.S. offense, which had to compensate.

Reyna and Ramos should be on the field together -- whether Ramos goes behind Reyna (defensive midfield) or ahead of Reyna (offensive midfield, now occupied by Ernie Stewart, who played more defense than offense against Germany).

They won't get in each other's way. Reyna likes to hold the ball, looking for the pass. Ramos likes to challenge defenders. They are the best on the national team in keeping possession and creating plays.

* Hejduk also should start. He isn't polished but he brought speed and forward movement to the wide midfield in his second-half appearance, and he was a basic reason the 3-6-1 formation was established in the first place.

He also brings personality, which is needed on this team, according to coach Steve Sampson. Who else but the surfer dude would purposely wear his shorts backwards as a "rally cap" while debuting in the World Cup?

Mike Burns started because Sampson felt Hejduk wasn't fit enough to play 90 minutes after sitting out a month with a hamstring. But he is a defender and slow. By the time the coach was through bringing Hejduk, Ramos and Roy Wegerle off the bench, there was no opportunity for instant-offense Preki Radosavljevic.

* Eric Wynalda probably remains the best alternative at forward, but he needs assistance -- and to work harder. The 3-6-1 is supposed to create help from the runs of speedsters Cobi Jones, Stewart and Hejduk, but there needs to be U.S. control of the game at midfield for this to occur --as well as a high work rate from the striker. If that doesn't happen, the United States should consider going to a 3-5-2 to provide numbers up front.

If Wynalda can't cut it, Wegerle is strong at possession, and Brian McBride shouldn't be ruled out.

* Sampson mentioned another aspect that needs improvement. "We need to be more dominant physically," he said.

Germany pushed the Americans around, and had a kind referee in Said Belqola (Morocco), who easily could have yellow-carded Reyna marker Jens Jeremies out of the game but didn't. "We need to impose our game on Iran from the first second," Sampson said. Iran isn't Germany, but it doesn't figure to be a pushover, either.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.