Olympic men's analysis
United States is simply outclassed in semifinal by talented Spaniards.By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, September 26, 2000) -- All good things come to an end.
A dead tired United States team lost to what is probably the best team in the Summer Olympics field, an organized and professional Spanish side. The U.S. was simply outclassed by Spain which took the lead thanks to American miscues. Then, after letting the Americans back into the match, the Spaniards slammed the door with a late counterattack and won easily 3-1.
The story of the match was that, once again, the center of the U.S. defense simply could not cope with the speed and the ability of the forwards they were facing. Spain's Jose Mari showed why he was worth $20 million to Italyís AC Milan last year, assisting two goals before scoring the third.
Tonight the U.S. learned that once it reached a certain level of international play. Mistakes became costly. The first Spanish goal came when Jose Mari simply outran U.S. defender Danny Califf down the right side. At the same time, U.S. right back Frankie Hedjuk lost contact with Spanish attacker Tamudo speeding down the left side. As U.S. keeper Brad Friedel was setting up to stop a shot from Jose Mari, he whipped the ball across to the open Tamudo who one-timed it into an open net.
The second Spanish goal came when Califf got tangled in his own feet trying to defend Jose Mari, who collected a high cross and dished off to Angulo, who had eluded Hedjuk, and shot into an essentially open net.
Methodically, Spainís attackers had put away two chances similar to the many the Americans had failed to convert earlier in the tournament. The disparity encapsulated the difference between the two teams.
With the deserved two goals, Spain decided to sit on it lead. When Spanish defender Angulo brought Hejduk down in the box less than five minutes from the interval, it allowed Peter Vagenas to convert his third penalty kick of the competition.
In the second half, the Americans were treated to an exhibition of Spanish defensive football at its best. Spain allowed the U.S. all kinds of room until it reached the attacking third where it allowed the little or nothing. The U.S. could not move the ball through the middle, and when it tried to play down the wings, the Spanish defenders shut that down also.
Finally, after putting on two substitutes, Spain took advantage of its fresh legs and again went back on the attack. In short order Tamudo, who plays for Espanyol in the Spanish first division, burst past a tired Califf and hammered a shot that U.S. keeper Friedel parried into the path of unmarked Jose Mari, who put the clincher away.
U.S. coach Clive Charles started out trying to play a more defensive match. In place of the injured midfielder Ben Olsen, he started Ramiro Corrales in a more defensive role than Olsen would have had. But once the U.S. went two goals down, Charles was forced to pull Corrales in favor of the more offensive minded Landon Donovan.
At the same time he brought in the Sasha Victorine, who played well in the late going in the quarterfinal victory over Japan, in place of an exhausted Chris Albright, who also, thanks to an early yellow card, was playing somewhat timidly.
The best player for the U.S. was forward Josh Wolff who created a number of chances for himself, especially in the early-going, but he too seem to tire and was largely ineffective in the second half.
The U.S. midfield was simply overmatched. Time and time again players lost possession with largely unforced errors.
In the end it came down simply to the best team winning. The U.S. tried hard, certainly, but when putting a quality Serie A striker up against an average Major League Soccer defender, the result is predictable.
Now the U.S. must face a strong and probably angry Chile which let its semifinal with Cameroon slip away after seemingly being in charge. In group play, Chile handily defeated Spain.
Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 6.5: Gave up three goals, but didn't play badly. Kept the U.S. in the match with two terrific point-blank saves. Generally was let down by his defense.
Defender Jeff Agoos - 6.5: The best of the U.S. backliners, did not have as good a match as his previous outings. Probably too many matches in too few days. Played solidly on the left side, but spent so much time pushed far forward into the attack that he had difficulty covering behind him.
Defender Dan Califf - 4.5: Costly errors resulted in Spainís goals. Simply could not match the pace of the forwards he was facing. Had a few good moments in what was an otherwise a forgettable performance.
Defender Chad McCarty - 4.5: Simply outmatched tonight. When he was needed to cover, he was largely absent. When he tried to get physical, he picked up a quick yellow card and will now have to sit out the bronze medal match.
Defender Frankie Hedjuk - 5: A somewhat strange match. Had all sorts of problems defensively, but at times carried much of the U.S. offense both overlapping and also pushing up through the middle.
Midfielder John O'Brien - 5.5: For the second straight match, an uneven performance. As he did against Japan, at times made key defensive stops, and at times pushed the ball forward into dangerous positions, but he seemed to tire badly early in the match and was not really a factor.
Midfielder Ramiro Corrales - 5: Put on as a defensive midfielder, but had little effect. Substituted for quickly, once the U.S. fell behind by two goals.
Midfielder Peter Vagenas - 5: The man can take penalty kicks. Became one of the higher scorers in the competition when he converted his third of the tournament. It's a good thing, because otherwise you might not have known he was on the field tonight. Most of his passes were squared off to the wings with no effect whatsoever.
Midfielder Chris Albright - 4.5: His play can be summed up by one play when he had the ball on his foot and the goalie beaten but simply could not pull the trigger and was tackled off the ball. Clearly had nothing left and was pulled in the 39th minute.
Forward Josh Wolff - 6: A big effort with little result. Was the best player on the field for the U.S. and showed at times he is maturing as a player, but against the experienced Spanish defense could not break through.
Forward Conor Casey - 4.5: Just seemed not to have any legs tonight. Wasted most of the evening far out on the left wing where he was given a lesson by Atletico Madrid's solid young defender Amaya. Obviously lacked the experience to show better in a situation like this.
Midfielder Landon Donovan (39th minute) - 5.5: Was simply lost in the smothering Spanish midfield. Was given almost no room to maneuver and for the second match in a row was solid, but unspectacular.
Midfielder Sasha Victorine (39th minute) - 5.5: Made some nice plays and generally acquitted himself well. Was probably fresher than his teammates which helped, but was not a factor.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at email@example.com.