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Second-half goal by teen Robben sends dominant Dutch past U.S. 1-0.

U.S.-Netherlands analysis

Dutch were clearly superior in victory over Americans.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, February 18, 2004) -- The better team won tonight, easily.

In its 1-0 victory over the United States at the Amsterdam ArenA, the extremely talented Netherlands controlled the midfield and the ball for long stretches tonight, and had the Americans playing frantic defense most of the time. If the U.S. could take anything out of the match, its defense played quite well against a strong, offensive-minded team.

Things might have been a bit different for the U.S. had Eddie Pope (sudden illness) and John O'Brien (hamstring strain) been in the lineup. Cory Gibbs, in the center of defense, played an outstanding match, but made a positional error on the Dutch goal. One would think that Pope would have been in a better position to stop Arjen Robben's inside move against Frankie Hejduk who expected inside help that he did not get.

O'Brien, meantime, might have played the defensive midfield position more creatively, helping to push the ball forward and releasing Claudio Reyna to get more involved in the attack.

The style the U.S. played is one its fans must get used when the Americans are up against a superior opponent. Essentially, the U.S. played a 4-5-1 with only Brian McBride up top. This system features team defense, trying to get two or three players around the ball whenever it comes deep into its defensive third, and then depends on quick counters and set plays to create chances.

The main problem tonight was the Dutch so controlled the midfield that the U.S. was simply unable to make passes to put players into scoring position. Resultantly, the Americans managed only two legitimate scoring chances, the best a quick counter and exchange between midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey with Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar in position to turn away Convey's point-blank shot.

Who among the U.S. players, with the exception of Kasey Keller could have started for the Netherlands? With the possible exception of Reyna, none. And actually, while most of the big-name Dutch players were available to coach Dick Advocaat (sporting a new two-year contract extension), he mixed up his lineup, playing veterans with younger players in both halves. At no time did the Netherlands have its best 11 on the field together. Marc Overmars and the injured Patrick Kluivert were not seen, while Frank de Boer and Boudewijn Zenden made only token appearances.

There is no great shame in losing to the Dutch by a single goal on the road, though U.S. coach Bruce Arena, now 0-5, certainly would love to win his first game against an European opponent on its soil. It would have been nicer if the Americans had been able to create a few quality chances. The U.S. was by no means embarrassed and Arena hopes tonight's game moves his team forward as World Cup qualifying approached in


U.S. player ratings:

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller- 6.5: A very professional and steady performance. He controlled his area well, especially on high balls, and made a few good saves. Had no chance on the goal.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5.5: Might have pushed forward more, but was solid in defense. Still becoming used to outside defensive position

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 5.5: Surprise starter did well, especially later in the match. Strong in the air.

Defender Cory Gibbs - 5.5: Was best U.S. player in the first half. An impressive performance, especially considering he was marking perhaps the world's best striker in Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Defender Frankie Hejduk - 5.5: The Dutch are very much a left-sided team which put Hejduk under tremendous pressure. He responded very well. He was beaten to the inside on the Dutch goal, but he should have had help which was not there.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 5: He was steady and made several nice defensive stops, but was not really a factor and added little to the offense.

Midfielder Eddie Lewis - 5.5: Except for an early miscommunication that led to a Dutch chance, played a strong first half. Was forced to play a lot of defense and was not able to push the ball forward.

Midfielder Claudio Reyna - 6: As usual, not flashy, but very effective in the midfield, especially coming back defensively which he had to do often.

Midfielder Bobby Convey - 5.5: What spark the U.S. had in the first hour was supplied by Convey who roamed all over the midfield. Should have done a lot better with the best U.S. scoring chance, compliments of DaMarcus Beasley.

Forward Landon Donavan - 5: Contributed very little. Was simply not a factor beyond a couple of good passing plays.

Forward Brian McBride - 5: Was handled physically by the tall and tough Dutch defenders. Could not make himself available.

Reserves

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (46th minute for Lewis) - 6: Provided an offensive spark, absent in the first half. Is playing much more physically, with the same speed. The best American field player in the second half.

Forward Clint Mathis (61st minute for McBride) - 5.5: Since moving recently to Germany, has shown he is dangerous running out of midfield. Tonight, could not get through the tough Dutch defense.

Forward Josh Wolff (72nd minute for Reyna) - 5: Simply good to see the oft-injured striker back in a U.S. uniform. Helped create a couple of chances.

Defender Steve Cherundolo (85th minute for Hejduk) - no rating: Had little chance as the Netherlands killed the clock.

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

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