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Second-half revival, led by Stewart, gives U.S. its victory over Venezuala. Plus player ratings.

U.S. men

Stewart's spark, second-half goals by Kirovski, Donovan, lead 2-0 shutout of Venezuela.

SEATTLE (Saturday, March 29, 2003) -- Earnie Stewart might be at the tail end of his United States national-team career, but it showed today he still can make a major impact on a match.

Inserted after intermission, the U.S. men, listless and sloppy in the first half, were transformed into a repeatedly dangerous outfit. Strikers Jovan Kirovski and Landon Donovan scored in the second half, lifting the Americans to a 2-0 decision over Venezuela before 17,819 this afternoon at Seahawks Stadium.

The U.S. outshot Venezuela 15-7 in the closing 45 minutes. "We started off well in the second half," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "Clearly Earnie had a good influence on the game for our team in the second half, and Landon as well, when he came in. Overall, I was very pleased with our defensive effort from a young group of players, and I thought (John) O'Brien and (Pablo) Mastroeni played well in the center of the midfield."

The American starting lineup featured the 2003 debut of four 2002 World Cup veterans -- goalkeeper Kasey Keller, defender Eddie Pope, midfielder John O'Brien and forward Brian McBride. Additionally, World Cup veterans Frankie Hejduk and Earnie Stewart also made their 2003 debuts along with Kirovski who was playing with the U.S. for the first time since March 27, 2002, in a 4-2 loss in Germany.

It was Stewart who started and Kirovski who finished the sequence that put the Americans in the lead after Venezuela defender Luis Vallenilla leveled U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, drawing a yellow card in the 52nd minute.

Thirty yards up the left flank, Stewart bent the free kick to the far post where McBride sent a eight-yard header against the right post. The ball came back to defender Carlos Bocanegra whose four-yard header caught the crossbar. Kirovski was quick to the rebound on the center of the six-yard line, using his first touch to crank a left-footed blast that caught keeper Gilberto Angelucci in the face before finding the net for his eighth international goal and a 1-0 lead.

While the shooting gallery continued, the Venezuela defense stood frozen, mistakenly thinking McBride was offside when he shot.

"A solid, opportunistic goal," Arena said. Being the target player "is not always the best spot for Jovan. He's a little bit more comfortable playing behind the frontrunners. Jovan is only 27 years-old, and I think he still has a future with the national team. He just needs to get into a club environment where he is playing more consistently," referring to the fact Kirovski does not see much first-team action with Birmingham City in England's Premier League.

Four minutes later, Kirovski sent a short shot through a crowd, skimming off the top of the crossbar after a quick combination of passes in the box, started by a Beasley entry pass from the left side.

In the 72nd minute, Beasley charged into the left side of the box and spotted McBride, unmarked, facing the right post from six yards. McBride's touch, however, abandoned him and he could not control the soft pass.

Donovan thrilled the crowd with a 50-yard dash and a precise finish for a 2-0 advantage in the 76th minute. Taking a touch from O'Brien about a yard over the center stripe, Donovan dodged midfielder Leopoldo Jimenez, hopped over a slide tackle by defender Leonel Vielma and was too speedy for Vallenilla to catch. As he approached the top left of the six-yard box, Donovan coolly slotted his eighth international tally into the lower right corner past a helpless Angelucci.

"I try to get behind a defense any way I can," Donovan said. "When you get good service it helps, which I got today. I thought in the first half everything was in front of (the Venezuelans) and we never really threatened to get behind them. Even if it doesn't come off, if you just give them the threat it opens up more space in the middle. I think that happened in the second half."

Donovan nearly scored again two minutes later with Beasley finding him alone in the middle of the box with a pass from the left sideline. Donovan, however, unnecessarily rushed his shot and sent it straight ahead where Angelucci dropped quickly to snag it.

In the 86th minute, defender Nick Garcia found Donovan alone in the middle of the field. Forty yards out, Donovan tried to chip the ball over a charging Angelucci who, 10 yard above his box, knocked the ball away with his hands, earning an immediate red card for the intentional handling.

Stewart was in the middle of most good things that happened to the U.S. in the second half and was named "Man of the Match." "You want to go in and do well for yourself and the team," he said. "It's good that you come out and get recognized for doing something good."

Keller made three saves, two of them difficult, to earn the shutout. In the 29th minute, Pope stuck a foot out to block a cross, but the ball rolled into the path of Daniel Noriega, advancing at full speed to the right post. Noriega laced a shot at the center of the net, but Keller quickly dropped to his right to grab the shot.

More than a minute into stoppage time, Keller had to go high to tip Wilfredo Moreno's angled blast over the bar, giving him his 29th clean sheet in 61 appearances in a U.S shirt. In the last 18 matches he's played on American soil, Keller is 14-0-4.

Keller played for his national team for the first time since May 19 when he was used for the second half of a 2-0 loss to the Netherlands in Foxborough, Mass. Three shutouts shy of Tony Meola's record of 32, Keller is a native of Lacey, Wash., meaning he had his own personal rooting section today.

"It's nice as a goalkeeper, especially in front of your family and your hometown friends," he said. "I thought the team worked extremely hard today all over the field. In a friendly that doesn't really have a lot of meaning, it shows you the dedication that the players have that they will put in that much effort. We came out in the second half much cleaner than the first half, and got a couple goals and the chance to get a couple more.

"We kept it tight in the back, which was fantastic, especially in a situation where you're bleeding two or three younger guys into the team. They showed pretty decent cohesiveness throughout and stepped up their play when it was needed."

Striker Edson Buddle entered in the 80th minute to earn his first U.S. cap. "There were a lot of thoughts racing through my head," he said. "I'm glad to be here. Stepping into this game opened up a new chapter in my life. It's something I've worked hard for. I was a little nervous. I always have butterflies going into a game, but they go away once you step on the field. Bruce just told me to go in there, be myself and have fun."

Venezuela, which did not qualify for the 2002 World Cup, did close qualifying by winning five of its last six games and had not conceded a goal since a 2-0 setback to Morocco on March 3, 2002.

Venezuela was a late replacement for Japan which pulled out because of security concerns related to the conflict in Iraq.


United States 2, Venezuela 0

Lineups: United States - Kasey Keller (captain), Bobby Convey, Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Pope (Nick Garcia 85), Steve Cherundolo (Frankie Hejduk 66), Pablo Mastroeni, John O'Brien, DaMarcus Beasley, Chris Klein (Earnie Stewart 46), Brian McBride (Edson Buddle 80), Jovan Kirovski (Landon Donovan, 60). Venezuela - Gilberto Angelucci, Luis Vallenilla (Wilfredo Alvarado 81), Jose Manuel Rey, Leonel Vielma, Jorge Rojas, Luis Vera - captain (Javier Villafraz 46), Leopoldo Jimenez, Gabriel Urdaneta (Giovanni Perez 67), Ricardo Paez, Daniel Noriega (Christian Casseres 67), Juan Garcia (Wilfredo Moreno 46).

Scoring:
United States - Kirovski (Bocanegra) 52.
United States - Donovan (O'Brien) 76.

Shots: United States 20, Venezuela 10. Saves: United States 3, Venezula 2. Corner kicks: United States 7, Venezuela 4. Fouls: United States 18, Venezuela 15. Offside: United States 2, Venezuela 5. Yellow card cautions: United States - Cherundolo 59; Venezuela - Vallenilla 52. Red card ejection: Venezula - Angelucci 86.

Referee: Mike Seifert (Canada) Assistant referees: Hector Vergara (Canada), Martin Reid (Canada). Attendance: 17,819 at Seahawks Stadium in Seattle. Weather: 60 degrees, scattered clouds, mild.

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