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Jerry's World

Most impressive of U.S. victory was showing no fear of Germany.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, February 8, 1999) -- The most impressive aspect of the United States victory Saturday against Germany was the lack of trepidation on the Americans' side.

Unlike in their 2-0 World Cup loss eight months ago, the U.S. showed an attitude and dominated from the start. It was aggressive on attack, stringing together passes and continually pressing forward.

Chris Armas led a spectacular defensive effort, stopping any attempts at German organization on attack. Tony Sanneh and Eddie Lewis, non-factors in the national picture until this year, were tough both ways in the flank midfield. They constantly beat their marks, particularly Sanneh, and were equally effective on defense, stopping the feared German crosses, so much a trademark of their offense.

It's too early to tell about the defense, but this was the third straight shutout under Arena. Robin Fraser, Jeff Agoos, and C.J. Brown weren't tested much due to the overwhelming midfield superiority, but when called on, they were more than equal to the task.

And remember Eddie Pope was out injured. And David Regis, possibly the best U.S. player in the World Cup, now playing in France, has yet to be called upon.

Strength in the middle is key to the success of a soccer team, and we particularly like the trio of Jovan Kirovski (attacking midfielder), Claudio Reyna (playmaker midfielder), and Armas (defensive midfielder).

Kirovski is playing regularly this year in Europe -- unlike in past years --and this has made a huge difference in his national team game. He controls the ball well, links up with other players, and has a great shot, as shown by his classic 21-yard, 75 mile-per-hour blast from the left side of the penalty area into the upper right corner of the net for the first goal in the 3-0 rout. Just 22, he could be a U.S. starter for the next three World Cups.

Reyna was all over the field, distributing the ball, making runs, alternating with Armas in bottling up World Cup nemesis Jens Jeremies. He had protection in the back with Armas, and firepower in front with Kirovski. He is not a dominant midfielder but he was making plays and also producing on defense.

The best player on the field was Armas. He doesn't have much speed but he has good reaction quickness and always appears to be around the ball. This is a key position for the United States. Richie Williams is another possibility. So might be Regis.

Arena experimented up front, with Cobi Jones, usually a mainstay on the flank, joining Brian McBride. Joe-Max Moore and Roy Lassiter were late substitutes, but they still figure prominently. So does all-time scoring leader Eric Wynalda. The competition is wide open at forward. Wanted: someone who can score goals.

Don't count out veteran Ernie Stewart on the flank. Nor Frankie Hejduk, but the speed merchant has got to get his offensive game -- particularly the crossing passes -- on target to be a serious threat.

Arena rightfully doesn't want to go overboard on U.S. expectations after this game. But the verdict is meaningful for the confidence it instills in American soccer, and ranks among the top seven or eight victories in history -- even if it was against a German side that surprisingly didn't respond to the challenge.

One can bet Germany will play better July 30 against the United States in the FIFA Confederations Cup tournament in Mexico. But this U.S. team, while inexperienced, is a hungry group. Performances now are important in determining the American lineup for World Cup qualifying in 2000. And Arena is keeping his word about giving everyone a chance.

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

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