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Jerry's World

Early poise helped U.S. prevail in Chile match.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, February 22, 1999) -- In many ways, the 2-1 victory by the United States national team against Chile was more significant than the earlier 3-0 rout of legendary Germany.

This was a battle of two inexperienced national sides, neither playing with its best personnel. But unlike the Germans, the South American team was prepared to play and did so with enthusiasm and creativity until wearing down in the second half.

Coach Bruce Arena was pleased with the poise shown by the U.S., especially weathering first 20 minutes when Chile was overwhelming with its quickness and defensive pressure. The visitors constantly beat the Americans to the ball and evaded sloppy defensive marking.

But the United States pulled itself together midway in the first half and took control -- especially in the midfield. It was all USA in the final 45 minutes.

The Americans, without Claudio Reyna and Jovan Kirovski, had little effective playmaking in the middle of the field. The offense instead consisted mainly of Ben Olsen and Eddie Lewis on the wings, serving crosses to workhorse Brian McBride in the box.

The Americans aren't going to win many games against class opponents -- both teams started three players from the 1998 World Cup teams -- this way, but it was enough to dispose of Chile, which made the second round of last year's World Cup.

Some observations:

* Forward continues to be a question mark. McBride is solid, providing he can physically and emotionally handle the hammering a target striker receives. But who else can perform that role if he is injured? And who can partner with him and provide the explosive goal-scoring finishing touch? Roy Lassiter has been found wanting. Eric Wynalda? Cobi Jones? He's normally a wing, but we liked him up front against Germany. He provides speed, moves from side to side, and plays enthusiastic and competent defense to help slow counter-attacks. The combination of Jones and McBride gives the United States two strikers who will play both ways. The Americans are 2-0-2 under Arena, but all five goals have been scored by midfielders.

* Who is going to back up the offensive-minded Reyna and Kirovski? Chad Deering was practically invisible against Chile, though admittedly he didn't get much offensive help as Arena went with Chris Armas and Richie Williams, both defensive midfielders. Brian Maisonneuve? Maybe, but he must stay healthy to be a significant factor. John O'Brien, the injured Dutch league whiz? Perhaps, although Arena may wish to slot him at defensive midfield or on the left flank.

* The play of Eddie Lewis on the left wing continues to draw praise. His crosses are fabulous. McBride should pay him part of his salary for the way he delivers the ball.

* Each time out, Armas solidifies his position on the national team with tenacious defense and ball-winning. He's been the unofficial MVP on the national team under Arena.

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

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