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Jerry's World

Arena has already left his mark on U.S. national team with impressive wins.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, June 14, 1999) -- Even while carrying out his pledge to look at new faces for the United States national team, coach Bruce Arena in seven matches already has posted two of the Top 10 victories in American soccer history.

The 1-0 win against Argentina was even more significant than the 3-0 rout of Germany in that the South American juggernaut is in the final stages of preparation for the prestigious Copa America tournament.

Yes, one could say there were just three World Cup starters playing for Argentina. One could also say there were six U.S. starters not even on the American roster in France '98, and a seventh who didn't play there.

The Arena Style of soccer already is obvious, merely a continuation of what his powerhouses at Virginia and D.C. United showed:

* This team plays with confidence.
* This team attacks, and maintains possession, no longer getting rid of the ball like a hot potato when facing the slightest pressure.
* This team wins its share of contested balls.
* This team pressures on defense, disrupting rival midfields, opening them up for counter-attacks.
* The forwards are not afraid to use their bodies to grapple for possession, even if they are only 5-7 or 5-9.
* The goalkeeper makes big saves when the defense breaks down.

It is Bruce Arena's goal to develop 20-30 true national team players. He is not there yet but at the present rate may approach 20 within a year. But what a boost for the national team to hold Argentina scoreless without dominating defenders David Regis and Eddie Pope, both injured. And without Carlos Llamosa. And without John O'Brien. And without Marcelo Balboa.

The slow, but aggressive backline of Robin Fraser, Jeff Agoos and C.J. Brown bent some against Argentina, but also showed moxie and increasing confidence as the game went along. And Gregg Berhalter was impressive in a 20-minute relief stint.

Claudio Reyna was the U.S. player of the match along with goalkeeper Kasey Keller. He was strong both ways in the midfield, ably backed up by defensive midfielder Chris Armas, with attacking midfielder Jovan Kirovski displaying his skills mainly in the second half.

Keller may have turned the game around when he stopped Gustavo Lopez's penalty kick late in the first half, and he then proceeded to make two brilliant stops in the second half, one on Hugo Ibarra and the other on Christian Gonzalez.

The versatile Cobi Jones and Ernie Stewart worked hard up front, but weren't able to do much in the air, with deluxe header Brian McBride just coming off the injured list.

Also absent was wing midfielder Frankie Hejduk, who had goals in his last two internationals and may have used his speed to help slow down runaway Argentine wingback Javier Zanetti, who was too much for Tony Sanneh.

The United States is 4-2-1 under Arena, and next is the mid-summer Confederations Cup in Mexico, with the Americans set to face New Zealand, Germany and Brazil in the first round. They may go 1-2 and out, but this team will not play scared or hesitantly as it frequently has in the past against world-class opposition.

Some other random notes:

* Joe-Max Moore scoring the goal was welcome news. He is Mr. Versatility, equally accomplished up front or at right midfield or central midfield or attacking midfield. He gets shuffled all over the field, doesn't complain and is a true professional.

* U.S. Soccer in recent years has pledged to work harder to attract more minority players. Five starters against Argentina were black, as was the first substitute.

* Kasey Keller, a veteran of top English professional play the past decade, doesn't mince words: "What's nice is the (U.S.) depth now . . . It just shows that MLS is really beginning to help the development of a lot of young players in America."

Seven of the starters (including Sanneh) were MLS products, as well as two of the three substitutes.

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

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