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Second-half outburst sends Germany past U.S. 4-2 despite Mathis pair.

Kellerís heroics can only go so far in holding off superior German side from 4-2 triumph.

Late Doherty strike sends Ireland to 2-1 decision over Americans in rainy Dublin.

U.S.-Ireland analysis

Americans no longer have luxury of defensive errors that prove costly in setback to Ireland.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, April 17, 2002) -- If American fans have not yet realized it, the United States men confirmed a simple truth tonight. This World Cup-bound team is not likely to score many goals, so it simply cannot afford to make mistakes on the defensive end.

Against a good Ireland squad, but far from the nationís best, the U.S. made an early defensive blunder, and then a late one. Both resulted in goals and the Irish came away with a 2-1 victory in tonightís friendly, played in the rain and cold of Dublinís Landsdowne Road.

Irelandís decisive tally also came on a set piece, once again pointing out the Americansí continued weakness in dead ball situations, a deficiency that must be corrected soon or it will surely prove costly in the World Cup.

The match started out badly for the Americans with Ireland attacking in numbers and the U.S. having difficulty maintaining its shape in back. Part of the problem was Jeff Agoos was moved to left back at the last minute when projected starter David Regis returned to France with a twisted knee with Gregg Berhalter replacing Agoos in the central defense beside Eddie Pope. The three looked uncomfortable together in the early-going and, to make matters worse, seemed to communicate poorly with the midfielders in front of them -- Chris Armas and John OíBrien.

In just the seventh minute, U.S. defense saw Agoos pulled to the center, marking an advancing Rory Delap. Agoos saw defender Steve Finnan overlapping to the outside of Delap, and he motioned Berhalter to move behind him to the outside to cover. Instead, Berhalter went to the middle and an unmarked Finnan had the time to send a well-placed cross into the middle where it was put away by Mark Kinsella, who had cleanly separated himself from Berhalterís mark.

The U.S. made a handful of errors on the same play. No one came to help Agoos, Berhalter went the wrong way and then lost the man who scored. But most importantly, neither OíBrien nor Armas was anywhere to be seen. One or both should have been in position to pick up Finnan on the overlap when Berhalter didnít; but neither was.

Likewise, the U.S. made another defensive error in the 83rd minute. Steve Staunton, who has one of the most deadly left foots in Irish soccer, put the ball perfectly from the right side onto the far post. When Tony Sanneh allowed Gary Doherty to get a step on him, the young Tottenham Hotspur defender, who is know to have the instincts of a striker, put a perfect header just inside the left post, beating his Spurs teammate Kasey Keller.

Two small mistakes, two Ireland goals and a loss for the U.S.

"I think our defensive shape was better. I think our back line performed a bit better in terms of how they moved," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "Some of the issues defensively were good, but it has to be better. We need to get our players into camp and clean up some of our mistakes."

The match was played under dreadful conditions by any standards. A freezing rain lashed the players as they walked onto a Lansdowne Road pitch already in awful condition. With near gale force winds and standing water all over, the field was close to unplayable in spots.

There were certainly some bright spots for the U.S. tonight. Notwithstanding allowing Doherty to get position on him and score the winner, Sanneh was solid on defense tonight. Greg Vanney, who had not been expected to play, came in as a replacement for Regis, and played a fine final 45 minutes. Claudio Reyna showed nicely in the midfield, and helped the U.S. look much more organized than it did in losing 4-2 to Germany without him three weeks ago. Left winger Eddie Lewis, who came on for the second half, was probably the best U.S. midfielder tonight.

The negatives were simply an almost complete lack of offense and a midfield that was dominated for the entire match. On the few occasions when the U.S. was able to move the ball through the midfield, the play was shut down methodically by an experienced and effective Irish defense. Goalkeeper Brad Friedel summed up the night well: "I donít think there was a heck of a lot to be taken from the result. Having said that, I though their two goals were preventable and itís something we need to work on. The good news is that itís something we can work on. Itís not something thatís going to be hurting us all the time. We can work on it and improve, and we will."

U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel - 6: Good first half performance. Canít be faulted on goal. Well positioned and commanding in the box.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 5.5: Showed he is more comfortable in the middle than out on the left side. Must be the one to organize the U.S. back line and he cannot do that on the outside.

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 5: He is still trying to recover from a groin strain, but made some nice plays. He is most effective in the air. His positioning problems and loose marking led to Irelandís first goal.

Defender Eddie Pope - 5.5: Pope had a few bad moments, but overall had a better than average night and scored the only U.S. goal.

Defender Tony Sanneh - 5.5: He was beaten for the second goal, but for long stretches was one of the better players on the field for the U.S. Was not beaten to the outside, moved well into the midfield and occasionally into the offense.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 5: Not much of a performance. Made some nice defensive plays, but often seemed out of position. Now that Major League Soccer season has begun, seems to tire easily, possibly affected by too many games or too much travel.

Midfielder John OíBrien - 5.5: An off night, but did send perfect corner kick to Pope for his goal. Seemed tentative and off balance and was not a factor either in offense or defense.

Midfielder Claudio Reyna - 5.5: Showed again how much the U.S. needs him. Organized the U.S. middle better than it had been in his recent absence, but he made no spectacular plays and looked unhappy with the playing conditions.

Midfielder Earnie Stewart - 5: Not many offensive contributions tonight. Dropped back into defense often, covering for others who were out of position.

Forward Clint Mathis - 5.5: Certainly worked hard and ran well off the ball, but not one of his stronger matches after facing tough marking from the experienced Irish defense. Long early shot, would have been a spectacular goal, but it was tipped over the bar.

Forward Brian Mc Bride - 4.5: Never in the match. Showed he must get service to have any effect and received none tonight.

Reserves

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller (46th minute for Friedel) - 5.5: Not to blame for the late goal that squeezed just inside the post on shot from point-blank range. Alertly came off his line several times to avoid problems. Professional job in miserable conditions.

Defender Greg Vanney (46th minute for Berhalter) - 5.5:Arriving the night before the match as an emergency replacement, showed that he can play well at a high level, as he has done in at the club level in France.

Forward Joe-Max Moore (46th minute for McBride) - 5: Showed some nice range, but contributed more defensively than as any kind of offensive threat.

Midfielder Landon Donovan (46th minute for Stewart) - 5: Made a few nice runs, but created little and had almost no impact on the match.

Midfielder Eddie Lewis (46th minute for OíBrien) - 6: Probably the best U.S. midfielder with some nice runs down the left side, good defensive efforts and a perfect long feed to Wolff that nearly resulted in a tying goal with three minutes remaining.

Forward Josh Wolff (63rd minute for Mathis) - 5.5: Showed more pace than his teammates for the time he played, but was generally overmatched by the defenders he faced. Did test Irish keeper with volley in 87th minute off pass from Lewis.

Midfielder/Defender Frankie Hedjuk (72nd minute for Reyna) - 5: Came in as a midfielder which is not his strength in situations like this.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com..

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