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American Confederations Cup performance is one to be savored.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
(Wednesday, August 4, 1999) -- The performance by the United States the past 10 days ranks as the greatest in the not-so-sterling history of American men's soccer.
But let's not go overboard on World Cup 2002 yet. The achievement in the Confederations Cup in Mexico should be savored -- not everything has to be predicated on the World Cup, though that is the ultimate goal.
Coach Bruce Arena and his players are not in the elite status yet, but they are definitely on the next rung -- in the top 15 in the world. There were solid contributions from practically the entire 20-player roster in the third-place finish achieved by the U.S., which is 7-3-1 on the season.
The goal is to achieve a pool of 30 top players, and the Americans -- based on their production this year, highlighted by two victories against Germany and one against Argentina -- are more than halfway there.
The accomplishments in Guadalajara -- which came despite flagrant scheduling inequities -- cannot be underestimated. Mexico was at full strength. Germany was not, nor was Brazil. And nor was the United States.
Far from it. Missing was the key offensive cog, playmaking midfielder Claudio Reyna, who is scoring goals for Glasgow (Scotland) Rangers. Also absent was sparkplug Chris Armas (knee), which required Arena to use two defensive midfielders in his place. Also out: not 100 percent fit defenders Eddie Pope and David Regis, along with wing midfielder Tony Sanneh, trying to win a starting slot with Hertha Berlin (Germany).
It's interesting to compare the Confederations Cup effort with the major U.S. breakthrough in 1995, when Steve Sampson's team made the semifinals in Copa America, defeating Argentina and Mexico in the process. The main difference: the Americans had nothing left then in the third-place game in Uruguay, and were blitzed by Colombia, 4-1.
The United States, despite its fourth match in seven days, had the depth last night and blanked Saudi Arabia, 2-0. This doesn't mean the lineups used in Mexico are a portend for South Korea-Japan in three years. Several starters in the Copa America didn't make France '98 or were substitutes, among them defenders Paul Caligiuri, Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa and Mike Burns.
The '99 defense deservedly won high praise for its play in the Confederations Cup -- but in 2002 Robin Fraser and Balboa will be 35, Jeff Agoos will be 34, and Carlos Llamosa and Regis will be 33.
There are other players to be looked at. John O'Brien is a marvelous young midfielder\defender playing in The Netherlands, but he hasn't played for the national team this year due to injuries. Jason Kreis is a possibility from Major League Soccer, but there already is good talent at his attacking midfield\withdrawn striker position. He has a scoring touch but is going to have to do something to stand apart from Cobi Jones, Ernie Stewart, Jovan Kirovski, etc.
Landon Donovan is just 17 but a pure goal-scorer already signed by Bayer Leverkusen (Germany). He is a possibility. There are others on that talented under-17 team that may mature quickly and deserve a look. Same with the under-20s. And the Olympic under-23s.
The highlight of the U.S. effort in Mexico may not have been the win against Germany, nor battling Mexico into sudden-death overtime in the semifinals in Mexico City. It was the 1-0 loss in the first round to Brazil, where the Americans held a 13-8 edge in shots. The outcome should have been a draw, with the usually reliable Joe-Max Moore blowing a penalty kick in the closing minutes.
But the message from that contest was that the United States now has the
confidence to possess the ball and make plays against the country that has the
most creative players in the world.
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.