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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 prerequisite nail-biting, U.S. is convincing in defeating Kuwait.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Tuesday, September 29, 2000) -- All's well that ends well. Right?

It's hard to find fault with a convincing victory that sends the United States through to the quarterfinal round of the Olympics since the tournament instituted group play in 1960. Even more than that, the U.S., thanks to a one-goal advantage in goal-differential, won Group C, and, at least theoretically, should face a weaker opponent on Saturday. And if all that isn't enough, the U.S. emerged from group play undefeated. How much more could one ask?

One might have asked for a little less nail biting against a Kuwaiti team that seemed defeated by the weather and by the pressure even before it stepped onto the wet and chilly Melbourne pitch. Kuwait generated almost no offense and allowed the U.S. huge amounts of space to move the balls forward. As they have in the last two matches, the Americans showed a lack of finishing early, squandering a number of dangerous chances.

A Key moment for the U.S. came in the 30th minute when coach Clive Charles finally went to his bench and replaced an seemingly exhausted Conor Casey with Bayer Leverkusen's Landon Donovan. It would be nice to report that Donovan came into the match and set things on fire. He certainly played well, and did about as much as anyone could have expected from him. And he saved the day when Kuwait drew to within one goal in the 83rd minute by combining with Josh Wolff for a marvelous give-and-go that put the match out of reach at 3-1 in the 88th.

It should be noted this late goal not only iced the match, but provided the one goal difference that allowed the U.S. to win the group. But Donovan's main contribution was to force the U.S. to change its formation to great advantage.

Donovan, despite all the publicity, is not a true target forward. In Germany, he has been playing as a withdrawn forward or offensive midfielder. That's what he played against Kuwait, forcing Chris Albright to move to forward actually replacing Casey on the front line. He played like a man born again. More than that, with Donovan in the middle, the U.S. started to attack up the center, instead of up the flanks which had been the basic point of attack in the first two Olympic matches and for the first 30 minutes today.

This opened space to the outside of which defenders Frankie Hedjuk and Jeff Agoos were able to take advantage.

The U.S. looked more dangerous in the second half, than it did through much of the first two. Truth be told, the Kuwaitis did not put up much of a fight. They entered the match believing they could advance with a draw and played like they were willing to settle with a 0-0 tie. Once they fell behind, they seemed beaten and even their goal was more an accident then the result of good play.

The U.S. outshot the Kuwaitis by a very wide margin, and Kuwait was able to generate very little offense.

The interesting question now is whether Charles learned a lesson and will start Donovanin Saturday’s quarterfinals in the middle behind Albright and Wolff, or will he revert to his normal starting lineup?


Player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 7: Again faced few shots, but controlled his area well and continued excellent distribution. Made one good point-blank save, and got tangled up with defenders on the goal. Is having a steady tournament.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 7: A strong match. Controlled a surprising amount of the offense pushing up from his left back position. Took corners and free kicks well. Continues to be the U.S.'s strongest defender.

Defender Dan Califf - 7: Has settled in well in the center of defense. Cleared several dangerous balls and was rarely out of position. Excellent headed goal off a corner. Is becoming the team's most pleasant surprise..

Defender Chad McCarty - 6: His best showing so far in the tournament. Did nothing terribly noteworthy, but today made few errors. Did not get caught out of position too often, a problem in the last two matches.

Defender Frankie Hedjuk - 6.5: Not as pressured defensively as he as been in the previous matches, so was able to push forward and create offense down the right side. Helped out effectively in the midfield. Proving a good addition to the team.

Midfielder John O'Brien - 6: Has settled into what is perhaps too defensive a role. He is doing a fine job controlling play in the defensive end, but while he is occasionally effective pushing forward, has not done so often enough.

Midfielder Ben Olsen - 5.5: Had not played 90 minutes of soccer for more than three months before the start of the Olympics. Trying to play three matches in a week looked to be too much. Was effective in the early going, but visibly wilted as the match progressed. Missed a one-on-one he should have converted with ease, showing he is still not at the level he was before his long injury layoff.

Midfielder Peter Vagenas - 5.5: His best effort of the tournament. Got much more involved offensively, but generally without much effect. Continues to operate too defensively when he needs to control the offense through the middle. Certainly a better effort but still short of what the team needs from him.

Midfielder Chris Albright - 6.5: Came to life in the second half when he was moved to forward after Donovan entered the match. Showed he is more comfortable, and apparently more effective on top where the ball is played to him, than deep in the midfield where he has to create for himself. Scored a good goal. Finally began to look like he did during qualification when he was the team's main offensive threat.

Forward Josh Wolff - 6: Did not play poorly, but labored in the first half. In the second, with more offense coming from others had space and created a number of good chances. Was involved in two of the scoring plays.

Forward Conor Casey - 5: Never really settled into the match. Appeared tired from the start and had a great deal of trouble with the conditions, at times like he was playing on ice. Was substituted for at the half hour.

Reserves

Midfielder Landon Donovan (30th minute) - 6.5: Finally got his shot and generally made the most of it. While he did nothing spectacular, was the most dangerous player on the field for the U.S. over the second half and got a much-deserved goal to ensure the win.

Midfielder Joey DiGiamarino (62nd minute) - 5: Came on with great enthusiasm, but not to much effect. Did not add much to the offensive effort, but helped hold the lead late with some good defensive midfield play.

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

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