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Americans Abroad

Friedel asserts his worth to Liverpool with pair of victories during the week.

(Sunday, October 17, 1999) -- American Brad Friedel's strange year at Liverpool has come full circle. Just three weeks after taking the field for Liverpool in a reserve league match, the American keeper found himself in the nets for the starting side twice last week, in a Worthington Cup defeat, and a critical English Premier League triumph at home against Chelsea.

Liverpool was eliminated from the Cup, but Friedel emerged with a clean sheet in the 1-0 Liverpool victory over Chelsea, a match that ended up one of the most unusual in the still young Premiership season. A total of eight yellow cards were handed out, two Chelsea players were sent off, and Liverpool wunderkind Michael Owen missed from the penalty spot.

Friedel came up big for Liverpool on several occasions, especially when Chelsea substitute Tore Andre Flo was put cleanly through only to have Friedel save both an initial shot and a rebound. The effort cemented the fact that Friedel remains Liverpool's number two keeper, though he keeps falling afoul of the Premierships' rule that only three non-European Union players may dress for any match among the 16 allowed players.

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier wants to be able to dress Stephane Henchoz and his two Czech standouts, Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer. That leaves Friedel the odd man out and watching the match from the stands. But Saturday, with starting keeper Sander Westerveld serving a suspension for fighting, Houllier turned to Friedel, rather than his second Dutch keeper Jorgen Nielsen.

Houllier's faith in Friedel is interesting in light of Liverpool's midweek dismissal from the Worthington Cup by Southampton, 2-1, on an injury time goal. Friedel was faulted by many on both Southampton tallies.

On the first, he came out to control a free kick and didn't, with the result that Dean Richards scored easily with a header. Then in injury time, Liverpool failed in a clumsy offside trap, and Friedel, who this time stayed on his line, was easily beaten by Trond Soltvedt.

In Friedel's defense, Houllier said that the American simply does not have enough playing time with Liverpool's revamped defense and his understanding of it is still lacking. But Friedel can expect more competition. Nineteen-year-old Norwegian goalkeeping sensation Espen Johnsen will arrive as soon as the Norwegian playoffs are completed. Liverpool is reportedly paying a half million pounds for the young keeper, rated as one of Europe's best youth keepers.

Meanwhile in Spain, it also was quite a week for United States top keeper Kasey Keller and Rayo Vallecano. Thanks to Keller's sparkling play in the net, Rayo notched two more wins and now stands two points ahead of Barcelona atop the Spanish First Division.

On Sunday, Rayo continued its hot streak by defeating Deportivo Alavés on the road 1-0. On at least three occasions in the first half Keller saved what appeared to be certain Alavés goals. He stopped Brazilian striker Magno Mocelin in the 11th minute, Pablo Gomez in the 13th, Astudillo in the 22d, and later, Bosnian forward Meho Kodro and Javi Moreno, as Alavés put tremendous pressure on the Rayo defense.

It was much the same story in the second half with Alavés attacking and Rayo defending for its life. Finally eight minutes from the end, Rayo’s Luis Cembranos got free on the right flank and crossed to Bolo who put it away.

As one dispatch from the stadium noted: "only the brilliance of American keeper Kasey Keller kept Rayo in the game."

In an unusual Spanish League midweek contest last Wednesday, Keller was sharp when Rayo defeated Espanyol 2-1, to -- at the time -- move Rayo back into a first place tie with Barcelona. According to the Spanish media, Keller made three brilliant saves to keep Rayo in the match. He stopped Arteaga in the ninth minute and Tamudo moments before halftime. But it was his stopping Tamudo on a clear breakaway in the 66th minute that was the talk of the Spanish media.

"He saved his team once again," said Diario AS.

Espanyol substitute Velmazan ruined Keller's bid for a third league shutout with a 87th minute blast, but by then it was too late.

Keller now stands in second place in the race for the Zamora trophy (awarded to the Spanish League keeper with the best goals-against average). Dutruel of Celta de Vigo is first, Keller is second and Juanmi of Zaragoza is third. All have the same goals against average, 0.7143, but Dutruel has three more saves than Keller, who has seven more than Juanmi.

It was a pretty quiet week for other Americans playing in first divisions in Europe. In Scotland, injured midfielder Claudio Reyna did not take part in Rangers 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock. It is likely Reyna will not be available for Rangers key home Champions League test against PSV Eindhoven.

In Germany, midfielder Tony Sanneh did not play as his Hertha Berlin team was put in its place by a resurgent Bayer Munich 3-1. Likewise, American mid Frankie Hejduk did not see action as Bayer Leverkusen drubbed SSU Ulm 4-1.

In France, David Regis continues to struggle to regain fitness. He did not appear in Metz's 2-0 victory over Sedan on Sunday, nor in Metz's 2-2 draw with AS Nancy last weekend.

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