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American kids are all right; Donovan, Wolff tallies defeat Mexico 2-0.

Analysis

Large crowd, experience for youngsters are among benefits of Mexico match.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Thursday, October 26, 2000) -- The United States scheduled last night’s friendly against Mexico for two main reasons: (1) to give Bruce Arena a chance to look at some younger players and some Major League Soccer veterans he has not previously been able to bring into national team training camps and (2) for the U.S. Soccer Federation to draw a large crowd and receive a large paycheck.

The match was successful on both counts. The 2-0 shutout victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum was a bonus.

Since the primary purpose of the match was to give Arena a chance to evaluate players, it needs to be analyzed in terms of which players helped themselves move up the national team ladder, who worked their way down a rung or more, who stayed about even and who remained a question mark.

The player who made the best showing was 18-year-old Landon Donovan, a rising star at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany though he wouldn’t have gotten in so early if Chris Henderson hadn’t injured himself midway through the first half. Donovan responded with a solid and aggressive effort, scoring the first U.S. goal and assisting Josh Wolff on the second, both coming in the second half.

It has been hoped Donovan would eventually be the answer to the U.S.’s lack of a real target forward. He eventually might be, but more and more, he looks comfortable as a midfielder or withdrawn forward. His goal was made running onto a through pass and his high assist came on a play that started deep in midfield.

What Donovan demonstrated is he is likely to be a much-used sub in the next round of qualifying should the U.S. make it through. At the other field, Carlos Llamosa led a stifling defense. This was not anywhere near the Mexican first team, but it was a team with a few high quality players including Jared Borguetti, the Santos striker who leads the Mexican league in goals and scored two against Trinidad & Tobago in Mexico’s last World Cup qualifier, Daniel Osorno, the Atlas forward and Toluca’s Victor Ruiz, who scored Mexico’s only goal against Bolivia in a hotly contested friendly.

Llamosa, defender Jeff Agoos and Greg Vanney and defensive midfielder Richie Williams marked Osorno, Borguetti and Ruiz right out of the match. Between the three of them, they managed one shot on goal that was easily handled by goalkeeper Tony Meola. Agoos so controlled Borguetti that he left the match in the 23rd minute to get ice applied to his thigh. Osorno was held almost without a touch by Llamosa. Williams took on Ruiz and denied him the ball almost all night.

Then for good measure, when Osorno was replaced in the 70th minute by young emerging Atlas star Juan Publo Rodriquez, Llamosa shut him down.

So who else besides Donovan likely helped themselves towards earning a spot on the full team? Certainly midfielder Clint Mathis did, but perhaps not as much as he could have. Despite playing well and contributing to Donovan’s goal, he also showed he probably is not the midfielder Arena is looking for to hold the ball under pressure and guide the offense.

In the first half, the U.S. sputtered offensively because Mathis was of little help controlling the ball and feeding his two forwards. It is clear the MetroStars midfielder is much more comfortable in an attacking role and not in holding and creating. He showed that he can play at the international level, but now has to take his place behind Claudio Reyna, Earnie Stewart and Cobi Jones.

An unsung player tonight was Los Angeles Galaxy defender Vanney. He played a solid match on the left side, often moving into the middle to back up Agoos and Llamosa as they trailed their marks around the field. Vanney showed he can be counted on and his only problem is that he plays behind Agoos and David Regis as a left defender on the depth chart.

Two question marks remain the two forwards, Chris Albright and Josh Wolff. Albright has become something of a reclamation project for Arena after his disastrous MLS season at D.C. United and his sub-par showing at the Olympics. At times tonight, Albright looked better than he has. He got off a very nice shot in the 59th minute, and at times he made good passes and had several quality touches. He looks more comfortable at forward than in the midfield, but he does not look ready to move into the full national side as more than a sub, if that.

Wolff, at times looked terrific, but for large parts of the match, disappeaed. He was the dominant player in the first 10 minutes, but then the Mexicans shut him down completely until the 79th minute when he scored on a lovely finish of a quality pass from Donovan. Wolff has to become more consistent to be considered anything more than a 15-minute player.

The two Kansas City Wizards’ midfielder Chris Henderson and Chris Klein probably helped themselves. It was a shame Henderson was injured in the 30th minute because he had some quality touches and looked to be the best player in the U.S. midfield in the early going.

Klein played a solid match and showed he might have a role as a defensive wing midfielder who is capable of moving the ball quickly forward at times.

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Tony Meola - 6: Almost completely untested, but had some problems controlling crosses and his distribution at times was below par.

Defender Greg Vanney - 6.5: Controlled the left side of defense and provided support in the middle. A solid effort.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 7.5: Made few errors while playing as a sweeper. An excellent match.

Defender Carlos Llamosa - 8: As he was in the last World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, the best player on the field for the U.S. Marked a quality striker right out of the match, then shut down his replacement.

Midfielder Richie Williams - 6.5: A solid effort at defensive midfield. Showed he can be a capable backup for Chris Armas, John O’Brien.

Midfielder Kerry Zavagnin - 5: Had some good moments, but was ineffective for long stretches, made errors and had little impact.

Midfielder Chris Henderson - 6: A shame he went out with a calf strain in the 32nd minute. Had some quality touches and looked to be the most effective player in the midfield for the US in the early-going.

Midfielder Chris Klein - 6: A solid two-way match. Was dangerous on quick counterattacks down the flank while playing strong defense. Might have gotten more involved in the attack, but pretty much did all that was asked of him.

Midfielder Clint Mathis - 6.5: Probably is not be the controlling midfielder the U.S. so badly needs, but showed he can be a good attacking player.

Forward Chris Albright - 5.5: One of his better outings at this level. Played a solid first half, but seemed to tire noticeably in the second. Played better when the ball was sent to him. But did make a couple quality passes.

Forward Josh Wolff - 5.5: An odd match by any standards. Was the dominant player for the U.S. for the first 10 minutes, then disappeared until he scored a wonderful goal in the 79th minute.

Reserves

Midfielder Landon Donovan (30th minute) - 7.5: Once he settled into the match, and especially in the second half, was the best American offensive player. Scored the game-winner, but the problem remains where to play him.

Midfielder Joey Franchino (77th minute) - 6: Never settled into the match, but did contribute.

Midfielder Pete Vagenas (86th minute) - no rating: No impact in his limited time.

Midfielder Sasha Victorine (89th minute) - no rating: Registered his first cap.

Midfielder Bobby Convey (90th minute) - no rating: At 17, became one of the youngest Americans ever to cap.

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

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