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Jerry's World

U.S. must do more than qualify for 2002 to erase 98 nightmare.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, November 10, 1998) -- The first game of the Bruce Arena Era is history, a 0-0 draw with Australia, was the start of a process the next two years designed to create a viable U.S. national team for World Cup qualifying in 2000.

However, just qualifying is not enough. The 1998 team qualified, and then imploded in France '98. Qualifying should never be a problem with three slots presumably again allocated CONCACAF (North America-Caribbean-Central America), especially with Major League Soccer about to enter its fourth season.

The goal is to be competitive in the World Cup.

Here's a look at the 22-player roster from France '98, and their chances at this very early juncture for Japan-Korea 2002:

Goal: Kasey Keller, 28, and Brad Friedel, 27, probably haven't even reached their prime yet. Keller is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Zach Thornton, 25, may displace Juergen Sommer, 29, for the No. 3 slot.

Defense: Eddie Pope, 24, is a safe bet. He still needs to work on his offense, particularly ball-control. Will he play in central defense or as marking back? David Regis, 29, was one of the top American players in France. Whether the French-speaking May citizen will be as attractive at age 33 is a question.

Status of the other World Cup veterans is uncertain, except for Thomas Dooley, through at 37. The others: Jeff Agoos, 30; Marcelo Balboa, 31, Mike Burns, 28; and Alexi Lalas, 28. All four are slow. None of the four has been the "best" for his Major League Soccer club, which has been stressed by Arena.

This is the area where the United States is weakest. Among possibilities: C.J. Brown, 23; Leo Cullen, 22; Carlos Llamosa, 29, the latter in particular a strong candidate with his excellent man-marking ability and coolness under fire. Gregg Berhalter, 25, a veteran of Netherlands professional play, is capable but extremely injury-prone.

Midfield:Claudio Reyna, 25, long has been annointed as the U.S. prototype player -- for years by Arena, who had him at Virginia, as well as by departed national coach Steve Sampson, who nevertheless was frustrated by his play early in World Cup qualifying. But now Arena himself has questioned the development of the chief U.S. playmaker, who has not shown he can consistently direct the offense. What are the options?

Joe-Max Moore, 27, might be one. He has been used all over the pitch -- withdrawn forward, striker, wing, central midfield, even defensive midfielder. He appears most comfortable in central midfield or attack. He is a talent who has been handled erratically. Ben Olsen, 21, is a possibility, but he is only 140 pounds. He played wing for D.C. United, with Bolivian superstar Marco Etcheverry in the middle.

The answer could be Clint Mathis, 21, who sparkled in limited appearances in central midfield for the Los Angeles Galaxy. John O'Brien, 21, has played mostly defense in the United States, but is starting at central midfield for a low-ranked Dutch first division team and he was ranked 31st in a Dutch magazine poll for Player of the Year honors.

Chad Deering, 28, was a defensive midfielder in World Cup, and played well as sweeper with the Dallas Burn in MLS. Brian Maisonneuve., 25, also was a defensive midfielder in World Cup, but is injury-prone. Tab Ramos, is 32, also injury-prone, and wasn't among the New York/New Jersey MetroStars' best players. Preki Radsavljevic, a goal-scoring specialist, is through at 35.

Cobi Jones, 28, is strong at the left wing and has radically improved the past year. Frankie Hejduk, 24, also significantly picked up his game, but some observers question how much playing time and hence growth he will get in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen. John Harkes, 31, is fresh from a strong season with (Washington) D.C. United after being jettisoned by Sampson on the eve of the World Cup for his overall attitude. The hoopla over his dismissal glazed over the fact that his national team play at midfield was marred by lack of ball-control and speed. What he brings, however, is a strong competitive nature missing in France '98. If Arena wants him on defense, at age 35 for 2002, that's where he'll go -- without questions.

Chris Armas, 26, is not spectacular but developed into the best defensive midfielder in Major League Soccer.

Forward: What's the status of Eric Wynalda, 29, the all-time U.S. national team scoring leader? Sampson referred to him as "high-maintenance," meaning he required considerable attention to be happy. Arena is known as a players' coach, but that doesn't usually include high maintenance. He didn't pick him for the MLS All-Star game.

Roy Lassiter, 29, and Brian McBride, 26, the starters Friday against Australia, offer exciting potential as well as drawbacks. Lassiter is explosively fast and strong, but must learn how to convert scoring opportunities with headers. McBride, a whiz in the air, must handle the ball better, and stay off the injured list.

Jovan Kirovski, 22, has international experience in England and Germany but needs to settle on a position -- midfield or forward -- and play regularly. He has exciting potential. Josh Wolff, 21, is a scoring threat, with eight goals and three assists in just 651 minutes with the Chicago Fire.

Roy Wegerle, 34, has retired. Ernie Stewart, 29, a starter in Dutch first division for several years, has been like Moore -- a man of many positions for the national team, primarily wing and forward. He also is a good defensive player.

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

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