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U.S. plays spirited 0-0 draw with Ecuador.

Mathis tears ACL, will miss rest of qualifying.

U.S. men

After draw, Arena satisfied with team's preparations for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Thursday, June 7, 2001) -- Following the United States 0-0 draw with Ecuador tonight at Columbus Crew Stadium, U.S. coach Bruce Arena appeared satisfied he accomplished what he set out to do this week: boost the fitness of his European-based players, get a look at some of his younger and fringe players, and possibly to make up his mind who will be in the starting 11 against Jamaica June 16 in Kingston.

"Overall I was very pleased both with tonight and with the whole week," Arena said. "It was not a bad performance for us against a very good opponent. We created chances. We accomplished what we set out to do coming into this camp. Now we move forward to get ready for the next three matches."

This was not a normal match for the U.S, not even what might be considered a normal friendly. One thing was certain -- between injuries, absences and not calling in any Major League Soccer player whose team plays Saturday, Arena started the strangest lineup of his tenure with a 3-2-3-2 formation and usual defender Steve Cherundolo in midfield, and midfielder Jovan Kirovski getting a rare start at striker.

While Ecuador did not start some of its key starters -- goalkeeper Jose Cevallos, injured midfielder leader Alex Aguinaga, striker Ivan Kaviedes, to name three -- coach Hernan Dario Gomez did start eight of the 11 who have played in all of Ecuador’s qualifiers, including two of South America’s best defenders, Ivan Hurtado and Ulises De La Cruz, plus four top-line reserves from his first team.

These are the players who have had some spectacular results of late. On Saturday, a stoppage-time goal by Augustin Delgado, who did start here, gave Ecuador a pleasing 2-1 road victory over Peru in Lima. This left Ecuador with a 8-4-1 (25 points) record and in third place in South American World Cup qualifying, moving closer to a berth in the 2001 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

The first half was tactically interesting. The first 20 minutes were essentially played in the midfield with neither team enjoying much of an advantage. Then for about a 10-minute period, the U.S. took the tactical advantage, getting off several hard shots. Ecuador responded by getting extremely physical, and began to push forward with numbers over the last 15 minutes of the half trying to take advantage of its height and speed. Still, Ecuador could not manage a good attempt on goal.

The entire second half was much like the end of the first half, physical and with both teams trying to push forward, but with little result. In the late going both teams seemed to get a bit frustrated and there were some hard fouls.

It was a strong showing for a couple of U.S. players. Kirovski, often the butt of a great deal of fan criticism, was certainly the best American player on the field, making a strong statement that he should be a starter against Jamaica. Robin Fraser had a solid match on the back line and in doing so may have reinserted himself into the defensive mix for the upcoming qualifiers. Midfielder John O’Brien survived a rocky start and played well in the second half, although he showed the effects of not having played much in the last year and when he has mostly on defense. Defender Mike Petke, making his first international appearance, certainly did not embarrass himself, although he probably did not do enough to break into the defensive pool at this point.

Claudio Reyna continues to remain something of a mystery. He certainly showed his range tonight, making good plays in attack and then at times tracking all the way back and making excellent stops deep in the U.S. end. Still, he continues not at assert himself enough and he certainly did not control play in the midfield tonight against a strong and physical team.

Several players for the U.S. are coming off injuries. Midfielder Tony Sanneh had a recent hernia operation and has not played a competitive match since. O’Brien is still recovering from a season long series of heel and then knee problems. Fraser only recently returned to regular duty in MLS after shoulder surgery.

"Tony thought he could only give us a half, but he stayed on when we had to take Gregg (Berhalter) out at the half," Arena said. "I have to be pleased with his effort coming off his stomach surgery. O’Brien is still not completely fit, nor is Robin. They are not 100 percent but they played hard tonight."

In the final analysis, one can’t lose sight of the fact this was a quality opponent and the U.S. put out a makeshift team and came off with nothing to be ashamed of. To that extent, it is a mark at how far the U.S. program has come.

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 6.5: Not much to do, but did make a big save late. Distributed the ball well, and was well-positioned, especially on set pieces.

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 6: Although he did not look altogether comfortable on the left side, played solidly despite suffering a right quadriceps contusion early in the match and then banging the back of his head on the field, leaving him momentarily dazed.

Defender Robin Fraser - 6.5: Played a strong match against a high quality opponent in Delgado. Is still not completely fit, but went the 90 minutes in a good outing.

Defender Mike Petke - 5.5: Said he was nervous at the start and it showed, but settled in and played well although when he moved to the left side, he was at something of a disadvantage because his left foot is not his best on clearances.

Midfielder Tony Sanneh - 5.5: Was not very involved in the match although did play well defensively and more than held his own in the hard physical marking in the midfield. A good showing since he has not played a competitive match since his surgery about six weeks ago.

Midfielder John O’Brien - 5.5: An uneven match. It took him awhile to settle in and played much stronger in the second half. He showed considerable speed at times and moved well into the offense. His match fitness remains questionable.

Midfielder Claudio Reyna - 5.5: Did not play badly, but continues not to be the kind of dominating midfielder the U.S. expects him to be, and needs badly.

Midfielder Steve Cherundolo - 6: Showed his versatility not only playing in the midfield, but with an unexpected offensive flair. Had a good match.

Midfielder Eddie Lewis - 4.5: Shows flashes of excellence, but his overall performance was substandard. Corner kicks are superb, but his crosses weren’t. Did not help himself.

Forward Jovan Kirovski - 6.5: The best U.S. player on the field. A genuine threat and was unlucky not to score. If he can play at this level consistently, can be a great help to the U.S. in upcoming matches.

Forward Joe-Max Moore - 5: Worked hard, but without a great deal of result. Probably continues the first choice at striker with both Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff unavailable, but needs to do more.

Reserves

Defender Pablo Mastroeni (46th minute for Berhalter) -- 5.5: A last-minute addition to camp thanks to his newly acquired citizenship and yellow card accumulation which keeps him out of the Miami Fusion’s MLS match on Saturday. Showed he might play a role in the future.

Midfielder Joe Enochs (61st minute for Sanneh) - 5.5: Played hard both defensively and getting involved in the offense. In his first time with the U.S. men, he showed his considerable experience -- and received a cut over his eye -- but does not figure in plans for the next matches.

Midfielder John Thorrington (71st minute for Cherundolo) - 5.5: Thrust into perhaps more of an offensive role than he has played in England, he did fine. Showed he has a future with the national side, if not immediately, then in years to come.

Defender Richie Williams (91st minute for Enochs) - no rating: A two-minute stint after Enochs was injured.

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

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