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Olympic men's qualifying

U.S. punches ticket to Sydney with dominant 4-0 win over Guatemala.

By Robert Wagman

HERSHEY, Pa. (Friday April 28, 2000) – The United States under-23 men saved their best performance for their most important game.

As the result of a dominating and complete effort, the U.S. blanked Guatemala 4-0 before 12,299 in Hersheypark Stadium and earned a berth in the Summer Olympics in Sydney in September. With the victory, the Americans advanced to Sunday’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament’s virtually meaningless Sunday final to play Honduras.

"I told them I wanted them to play the best match of their lives," U.S. coach Clive Charles said. "I told each of them I needed 90 of the best minutes they ever played and they gave that to me."

Honduras joined the U.S. with entry to the Summer Games by defeating Mexico 5-4 in penalty kicks after the other semifinal went 120 minutes, including 30 of sudden death without a goal.

The U.S. swarmed all over an outmanned Guatemala side, jumping ahead on a goal by John O’Brien in the first minute, another from Josh Wolff seven minutes later and then a pair from 18-year-old Landon Donovan.

There were heroes aplenty for the U.S. D.C. United's Chris Albright was the dominant offensive player although he did not score any of the goals. Donovan, who plays professionally for the Bayer Leverkusen reserve team in Germany, shone in his first appearance of the tournament, while O'Brien, who plays for Ajax in the Netherlands played a strong match and scored what he called "probably the most satisfying goal of my life."

The U.S. made one tactical change tonight that paid dividends. In group play, it had been playing a traditional 4-4-2. Tonight, the Americans played essentially with three forwards - Albright, Wolff and Olsen, and three in the middle. This seemed to throw the Guatemalans off stride and they had to push midfielders back into defense.

"It really helped us," O'Brien said. "Constantly we were playing three against two in the midfield and that opened all kinds of space for us."

Charles brushed aside the idea that the change of tactics was responsible for win. "Systems don't win games, players win games," he said. "Tonight our players came through when they had to. They won it out there on the field."

When referee Ramesh Ramdhan blew his whistle to start play, the U.S. players acted like it was a starters pistol. They were instantly off running. A Guatemalan foul resulted in a Peter Vagenas free kick that floated deep into the box. Albright rose well above two defenders and headed the ball back into space near the top of the box. O'Brien ran onto it at full speed and blasted the ball into the back of the net with 44 seconds elapsed.

The U.S. kept up the pressure. In the seventh minute, Albright volleyed ball out of the air in the penalty area with his right foot as he ran full speed across the box, right to left. Guatemalan goalkeeper Luis Molina, who would end up with 13 saves on the night, dove full to left and controlled the ball.

But just seconds later, Albright settled a 60-yard pass from defender Chad McCarty, outran two Guatemalan defenders and blasted a shot, this time with his left foot from the left side. Molina again got a hand on the ball, but could not hold it and the rebound game right to the Chicago Fire's Josh Wolff who tapped it four yards into the open net.

Guatemala tried to get back into the match and almost succeeded. In the 11th minute it was awarded a free kick and it went onto the head of defender Luis Swisher. His well placed shot seemed a sure goal, but U.S. keeper Adin Brown somehow got a hand on the ball and pushed it wide.

In the 22nd minute, the U.S. added the exclamation point with one of the prettiest goals scored by the Olympians this year. The play started with midfielder Ben Olsen outrunning a defender and putting the ball forward down the right side to Wolff in full stride. Wolff took the ball into the area and crossed it low to the ground directly for Albright standing in front of the goal. As three defenders converged on Albright, the tall striker simply let it run through his legs to a wide-open Donovan standing on the left side, and he beat a helpless Molina at the left post.

From that point on, the U.S. threatened constantly. Molina came up big on a half dozen occasions. About the only other Guatemalan opportunity came when midfielder Freddie Garcia, who plays on the full national side, took a wicked, curving free kick that was handled by Brown.

The U.S. added a fourth goal in injury time when second-half sub Conor Casey beat several players down the right side and crossed into the middle where Donovan converted. .

In the final analysis the U.S. won because its players were bigger, faster, more talented and much more motivated than the Guatemalans.

The U.S. outshot Guatemala 27-9, putting 17 shots on frame. The U.S. also held a 25-21 edge in fouls in the contentious outing in which eight players were cautioned, four for each side.

Albright probably summed up best how the players felt: "We're going to the Olympics. It's every little kid's dream. I watched the Olympics on television, and now I'm going to be there playing. Wow, how great is this?"

United States 4, Guatemala 0

Lineups: United States: Adin Brown; Ramiro Corrales (Eric Denton 84), Dan Califf, Chad McCarty (captain), Steve Cherundolo; John O'Brien, Ben Olsen, Peter Vagenas, Landon Donovan; Chris Albright (Conor Casey 69), Josh Wolff (DaMarcus Beasley). Guatemala - Luis Pedro Molina; Pablo Melgar, Luis Swisher, Edin Lopez; Uwaldo Perez, Carlos Quinonez (Dwight Pezzarossi 63), Francisco Gonzalez (Andres Rivera 46), Gustavo Cabrera, Carlos Ruiz - captain (Julio Ariz Leiva, 87), Freddy Garcia, Guillermo Ramirez.

United States - O'Brien (Albright) 1
United States - Wolff (Albright) 8.
United States - Donovan (Wolff) 22.
United States - Donovan (Casey) 91+.

Shots: United States 27, Guatemala 9. Saves: United States 3, Guatemala 13. Corner kicks: United States 7, Guatemala 5 Fouls: United States 25, Guatemala 21. Offside: United States 1, Guatemala 2. Yellow card cautions: United States - Vagenas 11, Califf 23, O’Brien 59, Cherundolo 66. Guatemala - Cabrera 5. Gonzalez 21, Ramirez 64, Lopez 73.

Referee: Ramesh Ramdhan (Trinidad & Tobago) Referee assistants: Peter Kelly (Trinidad & Tobago), Vladimir Fernandez (El Salvador) Attendance: 12,299 at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa. Weather: 60 degrees; clear, pleasant

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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