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Beasley goal defeats Poland 1-0, hands Arena first win over host Europeans.

Gritty American effort defeats Poland for first win of 2004.

Califf's tally late in stoppage time salvages 1-1 draw with Haiti.

Outplayed by Haiti, Americans are fortunate to gain 1-1 draw.

Goal by teen Robben sends Netherlands past U.S. 1-0.

Netherlands was clearly superior in victory over Americans.

  • Pope knocks home rebound in stoppage time to defeat Mexico 1-0.

    Analysis

    U.S. put in impressive effort against Mexico, even before Pope won it.

    By Robert Wagman
    SoccerTimes

    (Thursday, April 29, 2004) -- A year ago in Houston, in the first meeting between Mexico and the United States since the Americans ousted the Tri Colors from the World Cup in South Korea, the score ended 0-0. The score line was the same tonight in Houston for 92-plus minutes tonight in Dallas, until Eddie Pope's put-back gave the U.S. a 1-0 victory.

    The two matches, however, were quite different. In Houston, the Americans were on the defensive most of the night and had to hold on to preserve a tie. Last night, the U.S. was on the attack for almost the entire match, and especially in the second half, and it had the Mexicans back on their heels most of the time. Given the fact that Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe brought a squad that was closer to his full side than did U.S. manager Bruce Arena, whose team was drawn almost exclusively from Major League Soccer, the result was both satisfying and significant.

    The Americans won tonight in large measure because they out-hustled their opponents all over the field, especially in the midfield. Over previous U.S. friendlies this spring, Arena was often critical of the effort put out in some disappointing performances. Tonight, he received maximum effort for the entire 90-plus minutes from just about everyone in a gritty performance that left Lavolpe and his players embarrassed.

    Midfielder Landon Donovan, whose national-team outings over the last several months have been disappointing, to say the least, was a revelation. He was everywhere, ranging from deep in the defensive end to mounting attack after attack. He was unlucky not to have scored at least once, if not twice, in the first half.

    "The speed of Donovan and (DaMarcus) Beasley in the midfield made a difference." Arena noted.

    Arena had the team playing in a 4-4-2 formation, with midfielders Kerry Zavagnin and Chris Armas acting almost as defenders while left-side defender Bobby Convey often resembled a midfielder as he charged up the flank and around the field.

    This formation stressed team defense, getting multiple players around the ball when it was in the defensive end, and then countering quickly with the outside backs Convey and Frankie Hejduk pushing the ball forward when they could. At other times, the defenders went over the top to forwards who could pull the ball back to attackers charging out of the midfield.

    The strategy worked like a charm, as it did in a 2-0 victory in the World Cup in South Korea. The American defense was rock solid, not allowing Mexico a single shot on goal, leaving keeper Jonny Walker to earn his first career clean sheet without making a single save. The few Mexican chances were thwarted by the defense or by Walker controlling his area.

    The Americans still have not solved this year's recurring problem, weak finishing. They created numerous chances against Mexico, but until Pope's fortunate last-second rebound, they failed to get one past Mexican keeper Oswaldo Sanchez. If Mexico was any more accurate -- midfielder Jared Borguetti badly missed an empty net from the right side of the box -- it could have taken home a win.

    One of the most interesting moments came in the 80th minute when Lavolpe inserted defender Omar Briceno for Borguetti, Mexico's most dangerous attacker. It was an admission he was trying the preserve the scoreless draw. This loss will have repercussions for Lavolpe and for his players.

    Arena sought to downplay the significance of the win. "At the end of the day, all it is is a little bit of bragging rights," he said. "We know that the most important thing for both teams is to qualify for the World Cup. The game gives me an opportunity to see our players in a great environment, and a lot of our players have made the statement that they deserve to be part of the qualifying process."

    Still, the victory was sweet for the Americans.


    U.S. player ratings

    Starters

    Goalkeeper Jonny Walker- 6: Not called on for any heroics, but was steady and professional and controlled his area well.

    Defender Pablo Mastroeni - 6: Back from a month of injuries, played well. Showed his value in a defensive setup which required mobility from its backs.

    Defender Eddie Pope - 6.5: Solid in the middle, breaking up most Mexican attempts. His game-winning goal was icing on the cake.

    Defender Frankie Hedjuk - 6.5: Detractors notwithstanding,, he had a terrific match. Consistently pushed the ball forward with pace, crossed well, while defending with skill. If he can eliminate his occasional giveaways, he will be very valuable to this team.

    Defender Bobby Convey - 5.5: Looked comfortable of defensive flank and, at times, made good runs into the attack. Was more and more absent for long stretches as the game progressed. Tried to do too much alone at times.

    Midfielder Chris Armas - 6: Supported the defense well while controlling the midfield. Much of his work is unsung, but invaluable.

    Midfielder Kerry Zavagnin - 5.5: Made the most of a rare national-team start. Was active in the midfield and occasionally in the offensive end. Showed he can play at this level..

    Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7: After a bit of a slow start, put in one of his best, most sustained performances, simply running the Mexicans into the ground. If he had finished better, he could have had a multi-goal game. Was the best U.S. player.

    Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: Was active and his pace caused major problems for Mexico. However, he was somewhat inconsistent and, at times, ineffective. Was pushed off the ball by bigger defenders.

    Forward Josh Wolff - 5: Really did not have much of an impact. Certainly worked hard, but without a great deal of effect.

    Forward Conor Casey - 5.5: Is the kind of large target forward the U.S. lacks except for Brian McBride. Held the ball well in traffic. Needs to get better on the turn and opening space for himself, but he is improving and, at 22, will likely be around for years to come.

    Reserves

    Forward Taylor Twellman (66th minute for Wolff) - 5.5: Played extremely well in spots, but not on a sustained basis. Took some time to get into the action once he went in. Did create some chances for himself and would have scored the winner had the Mexican keeper not made an exceptional save.

    Forward Jovan Kirovski (84th minute for Casey) - 5: Was not given much room to do much as Mexico crowded the defensive end playing for a draw. Did not have much of an impact

    Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.

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