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United States cuts it close, but advances by beating Barbados 4-0 behind Mathis, Moore.

Analysis

Four-goal victory hardly tells story of Americans' narrow escape in Barbados.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WATERFORD, Barbados (Wednesday, November 15, 2000) -- The best that can be said of the United States World Cup qualifying performance against Barbados this afternoon -- and throughout its CONCACAF semifinal group -- is, "Allís well that endís well."

The U.S. entered the four-nation group with illusions of joining Mexico as the premier teams in the region that includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean. After struggling for two-thirds of the match before defeating Barbados 4-0 at National Stadium, the Americansí should feel fortunate to advance to the six-team final round robin.

The U.S. won a match it had to win by a seemingly decisive score, but the final score bore little resemblance to the match that was played. The U.S. could easily have put itself in the position to lose this afternoon, and with Guatemala beating Costa Rica, that would have meant the two Central Americans countries would have advanced and U.S. coach Bruce Arena would have been on vacation the next two years.

Through the first 63 or so minutes, the U.S. was not so much disorganized, as it was dysfunctional. The first half might have been the worst World Cup qualifying soccer played by a U.S. team in the last decade.

In the first half, with Barbados defending in numbers, the U.S. displayed no coherent offense whatsoever. Through much of the half, the best offensive player for the U.S. was midfielder Chris Klein, who was in the match to serve as more of a defensive midfielder, but he attacked down the wing with such gusto, it seemed the U.S. was playing three forwards.

All week, Arena had been telling the media that the two most consistent finishers in the U.S. training camp for this match were Clint Mathis and young Landon Donovan. His good play earned Mathis a start at forward along side Joe-Max Moore. If Mathis was having a streak of good finishing he did not exhibit it in the first half. Twice in the first half he had the ball on his foot with the Barbados keeper beaten, but neither time could he put it past him.

Things went from bad to worse for the U.S. at the start of the second half. In the first half, the home side was content to play defense and to attack occasionally. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, however, the Rockets took the game to the Americans and almost scored twice. They seemed to gain confidence and things looked so bleak for the U.S., it was nail-biting time for the hundreds of U.S fans scattered among the 4,000 fans.

The match turned around in the 58th minute when Cobi Jones went in for Eddie Lewis in the midfield. Suddenly Jones both opened up the left side and caused problems for the Bajan defense by making diagonal runs across the top of the box. Five minutes later, Joe-Max Moore found himself one-on-one against a defender in the corner. When he beat him with a terrific move and as another defender moved to cover, Mathis was left wide open in front to take a perfect pass and net an easy goal.

From that point on the U.S. swarmed. When Earnie Stewart scored as good a goal as has been scored by a U.S. player in recent memory, a twisting curving shot that somehow found the left corner, it was all over.

As usual the U.S. was solid on defense. Gregg Berhalter was strong in the center and Carlos Llamosa turned another fine match. Barbados attacked mostly down its left side, so Jeff Agoos had somewhat less to do, but came through when needed. Defensive midfielder Chris Armas played well over the entire 90 minutes.

A big problem for the U.S., particularly in the first half, was that with three defenders, whenever Klein pushed up on the right side, which was often, space was opened up behind him and Barbados midfielder Gregory Goodridge slid in to great effect. With Llamosa occupied man-marking in the middle, twice Goodridge came in alone on goalkeeper Tony Meola and could easily have scored on either play.

"It was a problem for us," Arena said after the match. "When Chris moved up, both Carlos and Gregg should have slid over more quickly and cut (Goodridge) off. We need better communication."

Klein admitted the problem. "I was starting too far forward. I lost track of what was happening behind me," he said. "We talked about it at half time and I was more aware of (Goodridge) in the second half."

So it was a case of ending well. After the match, the U.S. could smile over Guatemalaís 2-1 victory over hated rival Costa Rica. But those smiles were tinged with relief. Everyone here today knew that despite the seemingly lopsided score, the U.S. victory was really by a narrow margin.

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Tony Meola - 7.5: Made an amazing reaction save on Llewellyn Riley and when Goodridge had him dead to rights he stood his ground and allowed his defense to catch up with the play. Meola might be playing better than he has over his entire career.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 7: Another fine effort. Did not make many spectacular plays, but was always in position. Was beaten occasionally by pure pace, but recovered and did not permit a dangerous shot.

Defender Carlos Llamosa - 7.5: A very solid match. Had a difficult assignment because he was man marking in the middle, but was also called upon to get out and cover the wing also. Was up to the task.

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 7.5: The best U.S. defender. Made no mistakes even when under heavy pressure. Was rarely drawn out of position and held the middle ground well.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 8: The kind of performance expected of Armas who is developing into one of the most dependable performers. At times he can be partially beaten by pace, but he closes down quickly.

Midfielder Tab Ramos - 5.5: Not a bad match from the veteran, but he really did not function as a true number 10. He did not control the middle, nor direct the offense.

Midfielder Eddie Lewis - 4.5: Didnít get the job done on the left side. Made a few fine plays, but generally was not a factor.

Midfielder Earnie Stewart - 6.5: Had problems in the first half, but had a strong final 45 minutes, a combination of working well with Cobi Jones and a tiring Bajan defense. Scored a truly wonderful goal.

Midfielder Chris Klein - 6.5: Has thrust himself into the national team picture with another fine performance. Was the best offensive player for the U.S. in the first half. Had some problems tracking back on defense, but improved in the second half.

Forward Joe-Max Moore - 7: When the U.S. simply had to have a goal, did all the heavy lifting. Worked tirelessly for the entire afternoon. Clearly the best U.S. forward.

Forward Clint Mathis - 6: Received his chance to start at forward in a critical match, but did not make the best of it. Had two good scoring chances, but could not convert. Was not really in the match for long periods. To his credit, he converted the winner off Mooreís fine feed.

Reserves

Midfielder Cobi Jones (58th minute) - 7.5: Maybe he was fortunate to come in just when Barbados was tiring, but he had a terrific half hour and was the difference in the match.

Midfielder Richie Williams (75th minute) - 6.5: Brought in to close out the match and played a solid 15 minutes in support of a tiring Armas in the defensive midfield.

Midfielder Ante Razov (78th minute) - no rating: Picked up an injury-time goal.

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

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