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2000 U.S. Olympic Team

After tying Cameroon 2-2 in penalty exchange, it's beat Kuwait or bust.

Olympic Games soccer

Olympic men's analysis

After settling twice for draws, U.S. has no choice but beat Kuwait.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Saturday, September 16, 2000) -- The good news is that if the United States beats Kuwait on Tuesday, it will advance to the Olympic quarterfinals for the first time. Even better, if it can couple a defeat of Kuwait with Cameroon either losing or drawing with the Czech Republic, then the U.S. will probably win Group C, not only advancing to the quarterfinals but avoiding a meeting with powerhouse Brazil.

The bad news is that for the second time in two matches the U.S. settled for a draw in a match it should have won. And for the second time, U.S. coach Clive Charles sat back and played for a draw when it appeared with little risk he could have gone for the victory and three points.

With Kuwait's 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic tonight, the U.S. team (0-2-0, 2 points) sits in third place behind Cameroon (1-1-0, 4 points) and Kuwait (1-0-1, 3 points). Combined with a U.S. win, Cameroon would win Group C by defeating the Czechs Tuesday. If Cameroon should tie the Czechs, a one-goal American triumph would create a virtual tie for the top spot; a U.S. decision by two or more goals and it would win the group.

This was an odd match. Cameroon put more pressure on the U.S. in the first five minutes then the Czech Republic put on over 90 minutes three nights ago. The Americans were back on their heels from the opening whistle. The center of the U.S. defense and the midfield had a great deal of trouble with the blazing speed of Cameroon's forwards and it seemed from the start only a matter of time before the U.S. would break down and yield an opening goal.

Brad Friedel
Brad Friedel
In the 15th minute Cameroon forward Lauren Etame Meyer, Arsenal's new $10 million man, won a foot race into the box from midfielder Ben Olsen. The center of the U.S. defense was absent and when Meyer eluded Olsen and started to turn on goalkeeper Brad Friedel, defender Jeff Agoos, who had come over from his left back position had no choice but to go for the tackle. He was called for a foul and the resultant penalty kick put the Lions ahead 1-0.

Then, surprisingly, after a few more quick thrusts forward, Cameroon seemed to collectively decide a one-goal victory was more than enough, and it stopped attacking in numbers. The Africans sat back and gave the U.S. space, and the Americans, brought the match to their opponent.

To their credit strikers Josh Wolff, and Conor Casey, and midfielders Olsen and Chris Albright created chance after chance. This was another good-news, bad-news story. They created chance after chance but could finish none. Out shooting Cameroon 19-8, and probably 19-3 over the last 75 minutes of the match, the U.S. should have had several goals. The Americans were either just high or just wide, or Cameroon's fine young goalkeeper, Daniel Bekono, came up with the save.

In the 64th minute, Bekono took down Wolff and midfielder Vagenas slotted the ensuing penalty kick inside the left post for a 1-1 deadlock.

Still, the Lions did not push forward with any great effort, seemingly satisfied to escape with one point. The U.S. also seemed content. Before Peter Vagenas converted the penalty, both striker Landon Donovan and midfielder Joey DiGiarmarino were warming up and ready to enter the match. As soon as the U.S. scored, they were ordered back to the bench.

It was another case of no risks, taking as few chances as possible over the last 20 minutes, taking one point and moving on.

After the draw with the Czech Republic, the conventional wisdom coming out of the U.S. camp was it was an amazing draw against one of the most powerful teams in the tournament. Now, after being beaten by Kuwait, the Czechs seem an average side with two good players and not much else.

The same is being said of the draw with the Lions. "I thought tonight's result was a better one for us than the other night," Charles said. The plain truth, however, is the U.S. should have two victories and six points, not a pair of draws, and should already be through to the quarterfinals as the group winner.

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 7: Played well under some pressure. Did not make a false move all evening, playing behind a central defense prone to errors.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 6.5: Being asked to constantly push up on offense, yet to get back to cover all over the box and not just on the left side. Penalty was regrettable, but he should not have had to pick up the man. Otherwise played very well.

Defender Dan Califf - 5.5: Did what he was supposed to do, but did not make many big plays. Had trouble with the speed of Cameroon's forwards in the early going but, as he did in the last match, seemed to settle in and was very dependable in the second half.

Defender Chad McCarty - 4.5: Another highly disappointing outing. Was often beaten by superior speed, had trouble clearing the ball in the air, made few good outlet passes and was no threat when moved into the offensive end on corners and set plays. Continues to be dependent on people bailing him out.

Defender Frankie Hejduk - 5.5: As in the match against the Czech Republic, was forced to lay back through much of the match because Cameroon attacked down its left side. Had a fine defensive evening with few errors. Did push forward to some advantage occasionally.

Midfielder John O'Brien - 5.5: An uneven performance. At times, made unforced errors and had difficulty with Cameroon's speed, especially in the first 30 minutes. But at the same time made some excellent defense stops, some fine passes and several wonderful runs especially late in the match. On some occasions, played the offensive role needed of him, but the U.S. still needs him to be a playmaker.

Midfielder Ben Olsen - 6: Starting to look more like the Ben Olsen of old. Was all over the field and provided much of the offensive spark in the second half. Still does not look completely match ready after battling an ankle injury all year. His timing is getting better, but his first touches are still off.

Midfielder Peter Vagenas - 5.5: A well taken penalty kick, but his role remains unclear. Is doing some fine defensive work in midfield, but contributes little to the offense. Still disappears for long stretches.

Midfielder Chris Albright - 5.5: For those who did not see him play for D.C. United this year, this is how he played. Energetic. Created chances. Could not finish. Is a big part of the offense, so must begin getting some results.

Forward Josh Wolff - 5: As he did against the Czechs, worked tirelessly. But the mark of a quality striker is the ability to finish and he missed chance after chance, including two one-on-ones where he was under no defensive pressure whatsoever. He gets an "A" for effort and a "D" for result.

Forward Conner Casey - 5: Talent in search of discipline and experience. A player canít be asked to work harder, and he continues to create chances for himself and others, but he lacks the experience and probably the coaching. Did almost everything too slowly against Cameroon's experienced and quick defenders. Made numerous poor decisions. Finished badly. At times he does not play well with his teammates.

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

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