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Jerry's World

United States did itself proud despite Cup loss to Mexico.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

The growing United States national team may have dropped the U.S. Cup to Mexico, but it lost little else.

The Americans did themselves proud in generally outplaying their rivals in another battle for supremacy in CONCACAF (North America-Caribbean-Central America). Mexico stays No. 1, but the United States is No. 1A.

Coach Bruce Arena's team took the play to veteran-laden Mexico for two-thirds of the match. The only dry spell came in the first 20 minutes of the second half.

This was an American team adept at putting three- and four-pass combinations together, and attacking, attacking, attacking -- as well as pressuring on defense.

Mexico rarely was able to build its offense; instead it counter-attacked. The United States didn't concede ball possession as it frequently does to Latin teams. It showed unusual poise with the ball, supporting each other, providing options for movement.

The forwards came back to help on defense, something relatively new to U.S. soccer -- everyone playing defense. It works.

Chris Armas, forced to play more offense than usual, was brilliant -- again -- winning the ball, distributing the ball, and he didn't embarrass himself moving forward.

We were particularly impressed with David Regis, the left back, a true professional who was our best player in France '98. He was in his first '99 appearance for the Americans and was unofficial Player of the Match. He showed poise, won balls, distributed well, moved up the field -- and yielded nothing down the left flank.

Regis, 30, was quoted before the game as saying he was interested in Major League Soccer. Don't know what the pay would be -- $250,000 is maximum salary -- but there are ways MLS can help financially on star players. A native of Martinique and married to an American woman, he'd be a star in MLS. Maybe he's also tired of playing on lousy teams the past two years in Germany and France.

The Americans badly missed midfield playmaker Claudio Reyna, as there was little offense up the middle. He had to cancel his trip from Germany because of complications in his wife’s pregnancy.

Jovan Kirovski, who was inconsistent, is no Reyna, but remains a strong candidate for 2002. He's better as a third attacking forward.

Brian McBride was dominant against Mexico, showing some ball-handling skills as well. The United States, due to its height advantage, controlled the air game -- winning practically every ball except the one that led to Mexico's winning goal off a corner kick.

Frankie Hejduk showed good form on the right wing, scoring in each game. We liked the toughness showed by left wing Eddie Lewis, who took a nasty hit on his right leg against Guatemala -- and kept on playing.

Arena needs to develop backups at practically every position -- 30 players of national team-caliber so injuries or absences of "starters" aren't such a problem. He's nowhere near the number -- now.

That's why defender C.J. Brown, 23, went 90 minutes against Guatemala. He's shaky, but learning. Not likely to crack a 22- player roster now, but with more experience, maybe.

Carlos Llamosa, 29, is another defender with potential. He's inexperienced internationally. He did well in the 3-1 win against Guatemala. Same with Robin Fraser, 32, who had an own goal against Mexico when he attempted to cover up for Eddie Pope getting beaten by Jose Manuel Abundis on the right flank, the ball bouncing off him into the net after he slid into forward Francisco Palencia.

Fraser responded magnificently, setting up the tying U.S. goal with a brilliant move past two Mexico defenders, before delivering the ball to Hejduk.

Jeff Agoos, 30, is another veteran defender under consideration. He's had plenty of international experience, and was dominant in the Guatemala game.

The need for depth -- including starters -- is obvious. The offense needs to click with Reyna and McBride not in the lineup. The defense needs to function with Pope and Armas not in the lineup. Wing midfielder Ben Olsen, who had a near-miss on an electrifying bicycle kick in the closing minutes, is going to strongly compete for a starting role in 2002 -- somewhere on the field.

Arena has had a good look at how many players compete under tough circumstances. This will continue for at least another year, with new faces (perhaps some from the under-20 team, and even the talented under-17 side) among the possible candidates.

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

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