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Two goals, two assists from Jones, too much for South Africa; U.S. prevails with 4-0 rout.

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Analysis

Jones takes to heart Arena's plea for a finisher with dominant effort.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Saturday, June 3, 2000) -- United States menís coach Bruce Arena came into todayís Nike U.S. Cup match against South Africa looking for someone who could finish. He got more than he could have hoped for from a somewhat unexpected source, Cobi Jones.

Arena had made it clear that in this U.S. Cup he was looking for finishers. Jones obviously heard him. He had close to a career day. Not only did he score twice and assist on both the other U.S. goals, but he came very close on two other occasions and well could have had four on the day.

"Today I got two goals, tomorrow who knows?" Jones said. "I can't worry about that situation, but just do the best I can and keep pushing and pushing."

Interestingly, Jones started at forward, but effectively on his goals and much of his good play, he was almost a midfielder. In fact, in the post-match press conference, a South African reporter asked Arena why he was playing a 4-5-1 with five midfielders and only Brian McBride on top.

Arena seemed both surprised and amused, saying, "I thought we were playing a 4-4-2, but maybe you know more than I do."

In fact, Jones spent much of his day clearly playing as a withdrawn forward. He seems more comfortable in that role and who is going to argue with the result.

One of the big differences today was the presence of Earnie Stewart. His speed and aggressiveness on the right side opened the middle both for midfielder Claudio Reyna and for Jones. With performances like today's, including netting the fourth goal, Stewart will be an important player during qualifying.

Except for Jones, the best player on the field was defender Jeff Agoos. He had a solid match in the middle of defense and was an absolute rock. He ranged from side to side and combined with D.C. United teammate Carlos Llamosa to deny South Africa any really solid chances.

"Agoos and Llamosa played quite well," said Arena. "I am very comfortable with the two of them in the middle. That's why I played them there."

Asked if he was comfortable playing in the middle, as opposed to his normal left side position, Agoos said, "I grew up playing in the middle. I played there for Bruce in college. I like playing with David (Regis) outside of me. We were well organized and we communicated well."

Arena said he would likely use a number of different players against Ireland at Foxboro Stadium near Boston on Tuesday. "A number of our guys are not going to be able to play three matches in eight days," he said. "I'll wait to see who comes out of this match with bumps and bruises. I would imagine you see some different faces on Tuesday."

As for today Arena said, "It was a good test. A good win against a good team. Obviously I am very satisfied."

Player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 6.5: Called on to make three saves, but not severely tested. Usual competent match. Rarely out of position. A professional performance by a professional keeper.

Defender David Regis - 5: A spotty afternoon. At times was strong, at other times had trouble with Helman Mkhalele and lost the ball too often. He is clearly not match sharp after playing so little in France this past season.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 7: A strong performance, one of his best on the national team. Was easily the best U.S.defender. Seemed comfortable in the center of defense and ranged to both sides throughout the match. Solidified his claim to a starting role come World Cup qualifying.

Defender Carlos Llamosa - 6: A typical quiet, but solid performance. At times one forgets he is there, but when called upon usually does not make a mistake. Shut down Shaun Bartlett almost completely.

Defender Tony Sanneh - 5.5: Playing out of position as a fullback, he got off to a slow start, but played well late in the first half and into the second. In the early-going he seemed concerned with pushing forward at every opportunity and at times got himself in difficult spots. Teamed well with Earnie Stewart in front of him. Showed he can be counted on in the back line if needed.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 5.5: This was not his strongest match for the national team this year. Played more offensively than normal and actually had several good shots and assisted Cobi Jones' first goal. Seemed tired at times.

Midfielder Claudio Reyna - 6: Played well, scoring a well-taken goal. Early on, had several golden scoring chances he could not finish. Directed traffic efficiently in the middle, and looked to benefit from Stewart playing next to him. Also seemed to tire in the late-going, perhaps showing the effects of the long Scottish season.

Midfielder Eddie Lewis - 5.5: Showed he is still not in top physical condition, the result of a lingering shoulder injury. Had several nice runs down the wing but did not accomplish much. Still, a competent performance.

Midfielder Earnie Stewart - 7: Was probably the difference in how this team played compared to the Gold Cup and earlier friendlies is which he was absent. Played midfield like a striker and was willing to take on one, two or, at times, three defenders. His goal was a nice piece of finishing. Served notice he will be a key player for the U.S in qualifying.

Forward Cobi Jones - 8: Probably his best national team performance. Basically was everywhere. Scored, passed the ball well, provided high energy play at all times. Could well have cemented a starting job on the front line for qualifying.

Brian McBride - 6: Not his best performance. Continues to have trouble with finishing and first touch. But plays full-out every moment he is on the field and his hard work opens up others.

Reserves

Midfielder Ben Olsen (65th minute) - 6.5: Provided a spark after entering for Lewis on the left wing. Was constantly dangerous and caused the South African defense a lot of problems.

Forward Ante Razov (70th minute) - 5.5: Really didn't make much of an impact. By the time he entered, U.S. had scored its four and both sides were playing to get off.

Midfielder Steve Ralston (79th minute) - no rating: Did fine subbing for Stewart. Helped control midfield. But was not often pressured and did not contribute much offensively.

Forward Jason Kreis (84th minute) - no rating: Really was not on the field long enough to have any effect. Made one or two thrusts up the middle, but teammates were not able to get him the ball.

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

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