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Depleted U.S. gains respect despite loss to fluid Brazil.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Saturday, March 3, 2001) -- A tired, depleted United States recorded a good showing, but its strong effort was still not enough to prevent Brazil from registering a 2-1 victory in today’s friendly before 45,387 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Brazil dominated play and displayed its usual flair, but despite losing most of its European-based players after Wednesday’s taxing 2-0 World Cup qualifier triumph over Mexico, the Americans turned in a more-than-respectable performance against the four-time world champion.

Brazil too was lacking some if its marquee players, but, considering its pool of talent, there was no weakness in the team fielded today. While, at times, the Brazilians looked disinterested -- possibly because of an arduous week of practice and perhaps looking forward to Wednesday’s much anticipated match in Mexico -- they for the most part displayed their usual fluid ball movement and attack.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who was prepared to juggle his lineup because of players he knew would return overseas, but further hampered when Jeff Agoos, exceptional in the central defense against Mexico, became ill this morning with food poisoning and because Tony Sanneh, who incurred two dislocated bones in his foot Wednesday, was limited to a second-half reserve role.

Instead, Arena went with Greg Vanney, who has had a spotty record of late with the national team and German-based Frankie Hejduk, who the coach probably would have preferred played in front of Sanneh as a wing midfielder.

The midfield alignment was odd with two defensive-oriented players -- Chris Armas and Richie Williams -- and two in the center – Clint Mathis and Bobby Convey, though the 17-year-old did work the left flank.

Arena was able to use his intended duo -- Josh Wolff and Landon Donovan -- up front.

No one on the American side of the ball looked out of place. Donovan, who turns 19 tomorrow, continued to show his great potential, while also showing he still has plenty of room for improvement, understandable considering his age and experience.

"I think Landon learned a little bit today what it is like to play against the big boys," Arena said. "He had a little bit of a tough afternoon, but at times he did well. Their center backs dominated him a little bit physically. He took a knock in the first half, but we couldn't take him out because we came into the game with only three reserves. He hung in there and for the most part did well. For players like he and Bobby Convey this a great experience."

Convey, in his second full international, again displayed his growth, facing off against Cafu, one of the best right backs in the world.

There was never really a feeling the U.S. would win this match, but those expecting a flurry of goals by the Brazilians were disappointed by a sound effort by the Americans, particularly an exemplary performance in the central defense by Eddie Pope and Carlos Llamosa.

No one knows how well the full U.S. squad would have done -- would Brazil have been more motivated? -- but the lively crowd was treated to an entertaining match that, if nothing else increased the Americans credibility.

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Tony Meola - 5.5: - Made several fine saves, but got a late start on the Brazil’s free-kick goal and could have done better on its second tally. A decent, but certainly not spectacular outing.

Defender Frankie Hedjuk - 5.5: Had to spend a lot of time defending, thus not pushing forward which is his strength. Made several decent passes and crosses.

Defender Eddie Pope - 6.: Played well on tired legs. Did not have his usual range, but was not beaten often and made good defensive stops.

Defender Greg Vanney - 5: No errors that hurt the team, but still a step too slow too often.

Defender Carlos Llamosa - 7: Showed again he is the best man marker for the U.S. All but shut down Romario.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 6.0: Tired some in the late-going, but a very solid defensive effort.

Midfielder Richie Williams - 5.5: Put into a difficult situation, required to be more offensive-minded than usual, but turned in a very credible showing.

Midfielder Bobby Convey - 5.5: Did all one might have expected from someone with such little experience at this level. Was not intimidated and showed that he has developed a great deal of maturity.

Midfielder Clint Mathis - 6: Certainly the best U.S. offensive player and that he now must be considered for a starting role.

Forward Landon Donovan - 5: Did not do badly, but showed he still needs to pick up his game, both more quickly making decisions, and moving the ball more quickly. Often fell too deeply back into midfield and was not available on counters, but he continues to make strides.

Forward Josh Wolff - 6: After his "Man of the Match" performance against Mexico, continued to show both pace and technical skill. He too made a statement that he has to be considered for a starter’s role.

Reserves

Forward Cobi Jones (61st minute for Williams) - 5: After coming out of the Mexico match hobbling, was not supposed to play, but came on and made a game effort, albeit, one with little impact.

Midfielder Tony Sanneh (61st minute for Hejduk) - 6: For someone playing on the equivalent of a broken foot, did an amazing job. Made several good defensive clearances and became involved in the offense.

Midfielder Chris Klein (64th minute for Convey) - 5: Was not a factor, never finding any rhythm. Did little with the few chances which came his way.

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

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