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2000 U.S. Olympic Team

U.S. men defeat Japan on 5-4 on penalty kicks after 2-2 draw, moving into medal round.

Olympic Games soccer

Olympic men's analysis

Despite being outplayed, U.S. character provides an amazing result.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Sunday, September 24, 2000) -- What an amazing result!

We seem to be saying this a lot about the United States menís Olympic team, but once again, all's well that ends well. With this historic penalty kick win over Japan, the United States is through to Sydney and the medal round, where it will play Spain on Tuesday.

To be frank, the U.S. is going to Sydney thanks to the almost unthinkable generosity of the Japanese. In the 60th minute, Japan was clinging to a 1-0 lead. It should have been 4-0. Not once, nor twice, but three times, the Japanese blew absolutely open shots.

Then after the U.S. had drawn level at 1-1, and after Japan had gone back ahead after a complete breakdown in the center of the American defense, a Japanese defender pulled U.S. forward Josh Wolff down in the box in extra time allowing Peter Vagenas to put his second penalty kick of the tournament behind goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki.

Finally, when the match went to a penalty-kicks tiebreaker, it was Japan's best performer, AC Roma's Hidetoshi Nakata, who tried to be too perfect and hit the post allowing the U.S. to prevail 5-4.

The difference in the two teams was defense, especially in the center. The Japanese were both tough and highly organized, making few errors. The American defense was constantly getting pulled out of position or made miscues, with the exception of left side defender Jeff Agoos who had another strong match.

One sequence in the 51st minutes optimized the evening for both teams. Second-half substitute Landon Donovan, a striker who, out of necessity, probably spent too much time and energy deep in his own defensive end, won a ball and made a wonderful pass that should have sprung midfielder Vagenas on a long run. But someone forgot to tell Vagenas that he is part of the U.S. offense and by the time Donovan slid his pass through, Vagenas was already retreating and the ball went to Japan.

The Japanese attacker brought the ball into the center of the U.S. penalty area, easily eluded a tackle attempt from defender Chad McCarty. He pushed the ball wide on the right to Atsushi Yanagisawa who had U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel at his mercy, only to shoot wide.

Both goalkeepers were terrific. Friedel made several wonderful saves, especially one in the 11th minute of the first overtime. Narazaki, who ended the night with 10 saves, was bloodied in a 90th-minute collision, but bravely played on.

The U.S. deserves a great deal of credit for not giving up and pushing for the tying goal even when it looked like Japan would hold on to its one-goal lead. Now the Americans face their toughest test, taking on a young Spanish team comprised of starters from Spainís first division. With the way the U.S. has gotten results in this tournament, however, it can't be counted out.


U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 8: Just a terrific match. Made an unbelievable save in the first sudden-death overtime to keep the U.S. in the competition. Cannot be faulted on either goal.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 7.5: Played all over the field, as a kind of sweeper almost. Took corners and free kicks. Has become the heart of this U.S. team.

Defender Dan Califf - 5.5: More problems today than in the past two matches. Had a lot of difficulty with Japanese speed and was constantly being pulled out of position. But made some big plays.

Defender Chad McCarty - 5: A good-news, bad-news outing. At times, made strong plays, including one sensational slide tackle possibly saving a goal, but at other times was dismal. Outjumped on Japan's first goal and completely out of position on the second. The U.S. needs a dependable central defender for this tournament and McCarty has not gotten the job done.

Defender Frankie Hejduk - 5.5: Not his strongest match of the tournament. Faced several speedy Japanese attackers coming down his side of the field. Was forced to pay a lot of defense and could not contribute much to the offense. But, in the end, was good enough.

Midfielder John O'Brien - 5.5: Again an uneven performance. At times made key defensive stops. But other times was badly beaten and added very little at the offensive end.

Midfielder Ben Olsen - 5: His poorest match of the tournament. Missed a sitter he should have buried and then was badly beaten on a play that resulted in the first Japanese goal. Either ran out of gas or received a knock on his bad ankle and was replaced at the interval.

Midfielder Peter Vagenas - 5.5: Not one, but two well-taken penalty kicks. Otherwise did very little in the match, but the PKs were more than enough.

Midfielder Chris Albright - 6: If he could only finish. Played probably his best match of the tournament. Ran himself into the ground. Created chances for himself and others, but, as has been the story throughout the Olympics, could not finish when he had the openings.

Forward Josh Wolff - 6.5: Another tireless performance. Although off the mark too often, did get the big first goal for the U.S. that drew them level. His effort created the penalty that allowed the U.S. to tie.

Forward Conor Casey - 5.5: Continued to show he is an unpolished talent. Put out a huge effort, but was generally outplayed by the Japan defense. May one day be the striker the U.S. is looking for at the national-team level, but showed again tonight he needs a great deal of schooling and more experience.

Reserves

Midfielder Landon Donovan (46th minute) - 6: Played a solid, but unspectacular match. He is not the electrifying player some think. But he is a talented, solid player and pushed the U.S. forward late in regulation when it was desperately looking to extend the match into overtime.

Midfielder Sasha Victorine (91st minute) - 6: With fresh legs, he was a spark for the U.S. in overtime and made the pressure-filled penalty kick to send the U.S. to Sydney. Did all that could be asked.

Midfielder Evan Whitfield (107th minute) - nr: Not on long enough to rate, but played well in his short stint and provided the U.S. will some key clearances.

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

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