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2000 U.S. Olympic Team

United States dominates, but settles for 2-2 draw with Czech Republic.

Olympic Games soccer

Olympic men's analysis

Was the U.S.that good or the Czechs just bad?

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, September 13, 2000) -- Before talking about how well the United States played in its opening Summer Olympics 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic, one must wonder how good a side the Czechs are. The U.S. was possibly a little better than the Czechs.

If it turns out the Czechs are one of the better teams in the tournament, then the U.S. played a terrific match. If it turns out the Czechs are just an ordinary side, then the U.S. effort may have been well less than it appeared. Under-23 teams are generally hard to forecast.

One of the problems with the U.S. last night in Canberra was the played, at times, as if the point for a tie was good enough. Before the match, U.S. coach Clive Charles was quoted as saying he would take a point "in a New York minute." That's the way he coached, defensively and conservatively.

If the U.S. was matched up against a superior opponent, as the pre-match analysis had it, then it was a good move. But if it turns out the Czechs are not all they are cracked up to be, then Charles might well be faulted for his lack of second half substitution and for leaving offensive players like Landon Donovan on the bench.

There was a lot of good and bad on display for the U.S. in this match. It outshot the Czechs 9-3, but too many of the chances were carelessly taken. A lot of individual skill was shown, but way too much immaturity at other times. The two goals the U.S. scored were well taken and the result of some great individual plays. But the two goals given up were the result of some very careless defending and an almost childish foul.

Going into the match, the conventional wisdom was the Czechs would be on the attack from the opening minutes and would put the U.S. under great pressure for at least the first half. So the U.S. was ready to play eight men behind the ball, win an expected air battle with the taller Czech forwards and try to go forward in quick counterattacks.

The match, however, did not develop that way. After putting some pressure on the U.S. in the first 10 minutes, it was the Czechs who dropped back, ceding possession to the Americans. For long stretches of the first half, the U.S. controlled the ball and the play, although it was not able to attack in a coordinated way.

Both American goals were the result of counterattacks and fine individual plays. On the first, Josh Wolff was released on a long run, outpaced his defender around the corner and found Chris Albright at the far post where he guided the bouncing cross into the goal. On the second, it was a long head ball from Jeff Agoos that released Conor Casey on a long run after which he found Wolff in the center of the box with a low cross. Wolff mirrored Albright's tap-in.

Czech midfielder Marek Jankulovski is good enough to play for Napoli in Italy's Serie A, and the full Czech side in Euro 2000. The U.S. found out why in the 28th minute when he cut the ball back in the box where three defenders could not react and he launched a shot that went in off U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel's finger tips as his feet went out from under him on the wet surface as he dove for the shot.

In the second half, trailing 2-1, the Czechs pushed forward with more vigor. They appeared dangerous at times, but had few real chances. The U.S. countered effectively and actually had several chances for the winner, but could not finish.

Everyone seemed satisfied with the result, but until the Americans’ next match with Cameroon, it will be difficult to assess how happy they should be.

With a victory over Cameroon, the point gained against the Czechs will be good enough. A draw, or a loss to the Africans side, and the opening draw could be seen as two points that got away.

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 6: Not a busy evening. He did not get to Jankulovski's shot, and guessed wrong on Lukas Dosek's well-struck penalty kick, but can't be overly faulted on either. Good distribution in one case almost resulted in a U.S. goal.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 7.5: With Wolff the best player on the field for the U.S., he was a rock on defense, holding Libor Sionko, one of the best young players in Eastern Europe in check all night. At times, was an offensive threat and held the U.S. back line together under pressure.

Defender Dan Califf - 5.5: Last-minute starter had a few shaky moments early on, but seemed to settle in well. Did well in the air, but was beaten too often on the ground. Had his good moments, however, good enough to justify Charles not bringing in an overage central defender.

Defender Chad McCarty - 4: Several decent plays kept this from being an absolutely dreadful performance. Was directly responsible for both Czech goals. Lost his man on a cutback on the first goal and then committed a completely amateurish foul resulting in the penalty kick and the second goal. Will have to raise his game substantially to keep from getting overrun by Cameroon's speedy forwards.

Defender Frankie Hejduk - 5.5: Was forced to absorb a lot of Czech thrusts up their left side and thus was not able to push forward as often as he would have liked. His defensive effort was certainly adequate and did cause some problems offensively. An average performance when perhaps more was needed.

Midfielder John O'Brien - 6: With the exception of a few miscues, had a solid night. Perhaps played too defensively, more as he does for the full national side, but here he is being looked to for leadership and is the key to transitional play. The U.S. needs a playmaker. O'Brien has to fit that role better.

Midfielder Ben Olsen - 5.5: Coming off a serious ankle injury that cost him the last third of the Major League Soccer season, Olsen still does not look sharp. He seems fit enough, but his timing and reflexes look off. Made some good plays and certainly expended a lot of energy, but was less than effective, almost sent one shot out of the stadium and did not do well with a half dozen corners.

Midfielder Peter Vagenas - 5: An uneven match. At times showed well, but for long stretches all but disappeared. Did not work badly with O'Brien in the defensive midfield, and did mark well, but added almost nothing to the offense.

Midfielder Chris Albright - 6.5: Generally a very solid outing, scoring the first goal. Was often dangerous and did well going directly at defenders. Still has problems with his first touches. Called a midfielder, he actually was a third forward for much of the evening. A better showing than he had had through much of a dismal season at D.C. United, but still a notch below what the U.S. needs from him.

Forward Josh Wolff - 7.5: Worked tirelessly all evening. Had a goal and an assist, and was a constant threat. Actually, one could ask little more from him. Performances like this will put him back in the picture for the full national side.

Forward Conor Casey - 6: Casey clearly is going to be more than just a good soccer player. As he has in other matches, showed flashes of brilliance. Big, tough and determined, and surprisingly fast for someone of his size, he was often just a half step away from making the sensational play. But the problem is he remains an extremely immature player, and makes mental mistakes with thoughtless passes or poor touch. How good would he be today if he was in his third or fourth professional season rather than still playing in college?

Reserves

Midfielder Ramiro Corrales (85th minute) - 6: Was in the match only about seven minutes, normally not enough time to be rated. But made his presence felt both at the defensive end and in attack. In fact, seemed to make a statement that he might deserve a start.

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

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