U.S. Men's schedule
There was little friendly about the American victory over Ecuador.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Sunday, March 10, 2002) -- It may have started out as a "friendly," but the United States’ match against Ecuador this afternoon turned out to be anything but, with two teams filled with players desperately trying to make their respective nations’ final World Cup teams fighting it out over 90 minutes at Legion Field.
The U.S., receiving a goal from midfielder Eddie Lewis in the 21st minute, won 1-0 despite playing a man short for the final 32 minutes after striker Clint Mathis was sent off with his second yellow card in the 58th minute. Ecuador failed to exploit the advantage, failing to manage a real chance on goal during the entire time.
"What I enjoyed the most out of this game today, was it was not a friendly type of game," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "Ecuador came out and worked hard for 90 minutes and the match had the look and smell of a World Cup qualifier. It's what we need and our players reacted well."
From the onset, this was a very physical match. The tone was set early when Ecuador forward Carlos Tenorio flattened U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan from behind. From that point on, both sides traded blow for blow with Salvadorean referee Rodolfo Sibrian constantly looking on the brink of losing control.
"There was an awful lot going on out there today off the ball," midfielder Eddie Lewis said. "They were constantly looking to confront us, and I think I had more problems well away from the play then when I was on the ball and in front of the referee."
In the second half, Donovan was again knocked down twice. When he retaliated, it was Donovan who was issued a yellow in the 50th minute. Then seven minutes later, Mathis cut down midfielder Edwin Tenorio, momemts after Tenorio had taken down American forward Brian McBride, to earn his walking papers.
Arena was not pleased with Mathis’ ejection. "He needs to be more mature in situations like this," Arena said. "We told him at halftime that he was walking with a bullseye on his back and that the first time he was involved in anything, he would be in trouble. We can't afford to lose players. I hope he learns from this experience."
If Lewis wasn’t already in Arena’s plans for the 23-man World Cup roster, he likely secured his place with a classy goal. He put himself in perfect position to receive a pass from Mathis and then hit a perfect curving shot in full stride. Additionally, his crosses today were sharp and he caused Ecuador all kinds of problems on the left flank.
"I think I have put in some good performances," Lewis said. "You're always happy when you score, but I was just glad to put in a solid 90 minutes."
Arena experimented by playing Donovan in the center of midfield with Lewis to his left and Cobi Jones to the right. At times, Donovan looked a bit lost, especially in the first half when he was not a factor in the match.
With Mathis out, the U.S. essentially played McBride as a lone striker with Donovan additionally moving forward into the attack. This again brings up the question of where he is more comfortable playing. Last week in Seattle in a 4-0 rout of Honduras, it seemed he was clearly better suited for the midfield. Today, he appeared more comfortable up topped when he filled in for the absent Mathis. The four American defenders denied Ecuador many good chances, leaving Tim Howard to make only one difficult save to earn a shutout in his first appearance in the U.S. goal.
Today’s side was not quite as strong of a team as Ecuador coach Hernan Dario Gomez hopes to bring to the World Cup, but it was better than the side he brought to the Gold Cup in January and significantly stronger then the Honduras "B" team the U.S. faced last weekend.
Ecuador did not generate much offense -- four shots, three on frame -- because, in no small measure, it was missing its top three strikers - Agustin Delgado who plays for Southampton in England and is still rehabbing a knee after surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Angel Fernandez of El Nacional de Quito in Ecuador and Ivan Kaviedes, who plays for Guayaquil in Barcelona. Also missing were two top defenders, Ivan Hurtado who plays for Tigres in Mexico, and Ulises De la Cruz who plays in Scotland for Hibernian. All are nursing various minor injuries, but it is probable that five or six of today's starters will hold their positions in the Cup.
Watching the match from the press box was U.S. forward Josh Wolff who continues to rehabilitate an injured ankle. He has been here in Birmingham training with Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire and yesterday he played 50 minutes in a scrimmage against the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
"I felt pretty good," Wolff said. "It's coming along. I've really only been playing a week. I hope to be back near full speed for the MLS season opener (March 23)."
The other injured Chicago Fire national-team forward, Ante Razov is still several weeks away from resuming full-speed training.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Steady performance, though he made only one difficult save. Showed good positioning and distribution of the ball in his international debut.
Defender Jeff Agoos - 6: Was solid all match, ranging from side to side to back up his other defenders.
Defender Greg Berhalter - 5.5: Had some dicey moments early on, conceding Ecuador’s one good shot on goal, but settled in. Showed his ability in the air, but probably would have hoped for a better showing.
Defender Carlos Llamosa - 6: A mature performance, surprisingly consistent considering this was his first competitive match of the year after injury. His fitness looked good, but he still is not 100 percent.
Defender Richard Mulrooney - 6 Was the surprise of the match, putting in a solid performance. Really a converted midfielder, now is starting to look comfortable in the back and might well be in the running for a final World Cup roster spot.
Midfielder Chris Armas - 6: Not spectacular, as he has been lately, but steady for 90 minutes with his usual support to the defense.
Midfielder Landon Donavan - 5.5: Never settled into his role as a central midfielder. Took some serious knocks in the early going. Late in the match, pushed forward and showed better.
Midfielder Eddie Lewis - 7: Was the best U.S. player today, not only scoring a beauty of a goal, but consistently pumping in accurate crosses from the left flank. Combined well with Mathis and demonstrated his experience.
Midfielder Cobi Jones - 5.5: His 50-yard pass found an open Mathis for the game-winning assist. Otherwise, not a good afternoon. A few good touches, but was tightly marked and could do little.
Forward Clint Mathis - 5: Made a beautiful pass to assist Lewis’ goal. Created some nice chances and worked hard for 58 minutes. But his ejection came on a foolish foul; such immaturity would likely prove costly in a match that mattered. Ask David Beckham.
Forward Brian McBride - 6: Took the brunt of the rough play. Was battered throughout much of the afternoon, but showed his value. A quality performance.
Midfielder Brian West (82nd minute for Jones) - 5.5: Went in for defense and performed well. Won several key 50-50 balls and helped prevent Ecuador from generating any kind of attack in the final minutes .