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Americans Abroad

Donovan impresses with Leverkusen reserves, may be destined for full squad.

By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)
Willie Calderon (in Bristol, England)
Arne van Kalsbeek (in Amsterdam) and
Matthias Schneider (in Leverkusen, Germany)

(Monday, March 20) -- The last week may have signified United States striker Landon Donovan's breakthrough on his way to becoming a true professional.

The teenager continues to play for Bayer Leverkusen's third division (Regionalliga) squad. The league is classified as an amateur league, although most teams function as reserve\amateur\youth sides of major Bundesliga teams. They play one or two matches weekly. Matches are taken seriously, as many of the players are hoping to use their performances as steppingstones to the full squads.

Tuesday, Donovan had his best showing as a professional. Playing a midfield role, he set up both goals in Leverkusen's 2-0 win away against Siegen, receiving "Player of the Match" honors.

Then on Friday, playing as an attacking midfielder, he scored a first-half hat trick, helping Leverkusen demolish Rot-Weiss Essen 5-2. His performance was described as "outstanding," and he was again chosen "Player of the Match."

Donovan is starting to get noticed by the German media and it is assumed that at the rate he is progressing. he will earn promotion to the full squad, probably next year, but possibly even late this season. More importantly, he is starting to be talked about as a possible heir to Bayer's star Ulf Kirsten, who at 34 is starting to look at retirement.

In England, it was a bad week Everton, and for U.S. striker Joe-Max Moore. The club failed to score in two league matches and gave up late game-winning goals in both. One of the losses occurred at Goodison Park, thus breaking an unbeaten streak at home going back to last April.

The club was buoyed by the arrival of Mark Hughes whopartnered up front with Moore for both matches. But the new signing did little to avoid the club from sputtering through the matches this week. In both matches, Moore was replaced in the 66th minute with Danny Cadamarteri in an vain attempt to rejuvenate the offense.

Coventry City was the victor Wednesday night thanks to an 86th minute goal from Scottish international Gary McAllister. In a mostly forgettable first-half, Moore tested Coventry keeper Magnus Hedman with a few chances that required saves. On one occasion, Moore pounced on an defensive error by Colin Hendry. but Hedman denied his shot with a fantastic save.

Four minutes from the end, the goal came for Coventry when Moroccan international Mustapha Hadji crossed from the left onto the head of Cedric Rousell. The Belgian under-21 striker's shot hit the post and rebounded to McAllister who pounced on the shot and sent it past Everton keeper Paul Gerard for the 1-0 decision.

Yesterday afternoon, Newcastle broke Everton's unbeaten home streak with a 2-0 win at Goodison Park. Aaron Hughes scored the winning goal in the 79th minute and Kieron Dyer sealed the win with a beautiful run in the 88th minute. The two goals represented Newcastle's only two shots on goal for the match.

In the 20th minute, Everton's John Collins and Mark Pembridge worked a little give-and-go on the left wing and found Moore open in the penalty area for the briefest of moments. But Newcastle's Steve Howey's tackle eliminated the possibility of a one-on-one opportunity.

A week earlier, Moore nearly scored on a 25-yard free kick, but it was barely tipped over the crossbar in a 1-1 draw against Chelsea.

In Germany, U.S. midfielder Tony Sanneh did not dress for Hertha Berlin which earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich before 75,000 fans in Olympic Stadium.

On Wednesday, in a Champion's League clash won easily 3-1 by Barcelona, Sanneh was inserted in the 78th minute for right back Andreas Schmidt. Barcelona moved six points ahead in Group A. Sanneh had no opportunity to move into Hertha's offense, but he made a couple of elegant defensive clearances.

U.S. midfielder Frankie Hedjuk remained injured for Bayer Leverkusen and did not play in a 9-1 destruction of SSV Ulm.

In the Netherlands, it was a lost week for Ajax. Just when the club was gaining ground, it lost two matches.

It was also a long week for American midfielder John O'Brien. Following a solid performance for the U.S. draw with Tunisia in Birmingham, Ala., O'Brien flew immediately back to Amsterdam and was at practice on Monday.

On Wednesday, he played the entire 90 minutes at right midfield as Ajax dropped a road encounter with Fortuna Sittard. He had a good first half, but clearly was tired after intermission and was not a factor in the second 45 minutes.

Last night, he again played the full 90 minutes as Ajax dropped a tough match to FC Twente 1-0. O'Brien played the first 45 minutes at right midfield behind attacking wing forward Brian Laudrup, in his usual defensive and transitional role. Then in the second half, Twente went down to 10 men because of the ejection of Scott Booth.

O'Brien was moved to the middle and was let lose to play more offensively. He made several creative runs and had several shots on goal.

Also in Holland, U.S. defender Gregg Berhalter played the full 90 minutes Friday in Cambuur's 3-2 loss to Feyenord. Cambuur, tied for last place in the Dutch to division, is starting to look like a prime candidate for relegation.

American attacker Ernie Stewart scored in the 30th minute for NAC Breda in a 2-0 defeat of Emmen 2-0 and held its four point margin at the top of the Dutch second division.

In Scotland, U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna joined a long list of ill and injured Glasgow Rangers players and did not dress as Rangers increased their league lead with a decisive 6-2 victory over Motherwell.

The match provided the Scotland debut for Motherwell's most recent signing, Sasa Curcic, most recently with MLS's MetroStars. He was signed last week after an impressive tryout and scored Motherwell's second goal, proving to be among the better players on the field.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com. Willy Calderon, an American living in Bristol, England, can be e-mailed at willy@netcity.co.uk. Arne van Kalsbeek lives in Amsterdam and writes for the English language web site Ajax Mania. Matthias Schneider lives in Leverkusen, Germany and is employed by Bayer Leverkusen as an English-language translator.

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