Americans waste chances, settle for draw with Danes.By Robert Wagman
(Sunday, January 18, 2004) -- A makeshift United States men's side controlled most of the play and had most of the chances against Denmark's "B" team this afternoon at Home Depot Center, but the Americans could not finish and ended up with a 1-1 draw.
In reality, the score should have been 0-0 with both teams benefiting from gift penalty kicks.
Both teams drifted through a dull first half with neither side doing very much. Denmark went ahead 1-0 on Thomas Roll-Larsen's penalty after U.S. defender Eddie Pope was called for holding midfielder Morten Wieghorst in the box as they battled for a corner kick. The infraction was more or less invisible.
The U.S. came out in the second half with a great deal more energy. Bobby Convey pushed far forward from his left back position and helped the U.S. put a great deal more pressure on the Danes. This resulted in a number of good chances, but some dismal finishing resulted in no goals. The Americans tied the game in the 76th minute when Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick that seemed to be the result of a make-up call.
The U.S. defensive four was patched together. Already thin in the back, U.S. coach Bruce Arena lost Carlos Bocanegra and Cory Gibbs to their European teams, Carey Talley and Robbie Russell to injury and Jim Curtin to his wedding, while Frankie Hejduk was limited to a late relief performance by illness. So Arena moved Chris Albright to right back, continued the experiment of Bobby Convey at left back while pairing Nick Garcia with Pope in the middle.
Thanks in part to the fact that Denmark applied almost no pressure, this unusual back four actually did quite well.
Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Convey all played a hard match Friday night for the U.S. under-23s as they prepared for Olympic qualifying. It was assumed the three would see only light duty today, probably playing a half, but instead, all three went 90 minutes.
Beasley was probably the best American today. He used his speed well and played a solid two-way game, often getting back on defense. Likewise, Convey played well in the back, but more often, especially in the second half, pushed far forward into the attack. Donovan, at times, caused havoc for the Danish defense, but twice he failed to convert wide-open shots.
One U.S. player who needed to make an impression today was striker Ante Razov. He played a very energetic match, getting himself into dangerous positions on a number of occasions. But as has been his biggest problem at the international level, he could not finish when he had the shots. His replacement, Josh Wolff, coming off more than a year of injuries, had little impact.
Today's match was about giving Arena a camp for early training to his out-of-season Major League Soccer players, a look at some younger and fringe players, and giving ESPN something to program against the National Football League playoffs.
To put things in perspective, Denmark can field a powerful national side, witness its defeat of England 3-2 in Manchester last November, and is a group favorite in the upcoming Euro 2004 competition. Unfortunately, that team is a far cry from the one that coach Morten Olsen brought to California. Among today's starters, only defender Per Nielsen and midfielder Morten Wieghorst played against England.
Actually, Denmark divides its national squad into an "A" and "league" teams. The latter took the field today. So, missing were players like Aston Villa goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen, Inter Milan defender Thomas Helveg, Borussia Dortmund defender Niclas Jensen, Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen, and one of Europe's most potent strike forces that includes Chelsea's Jesper Grønkjær, Schalke 04's Ebbe Sand, A.C. Milan's Jon Dahl Tomasson, PSV Eindhoven's Dennis Rommedahl and Glasgow Rangers' Peter Løvenkrands.
Walker, with a solid performance and his extensive international experience in South America, took a long step in claiming the fourth spot on the U.S. depth chart in goal behind Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and Tim Howard. Joe Cannon would seem to be his chief competition.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Jonny Walker - 6.0: Controlled his penalty area at all times. Distributed the ball well. Made two good saves on the Danes' only real shots. Did what was asked of him.
Defender Chris Albright - 5: Playing an unfamiliar position, did not do badly. Made some errors, but none were costly.
Defender Eddie Pope - 6.5: The kind of match you would expect from the U.S.'s best defender who is the fittest he has been in quite awhile. The penalty call against him was silly.
Defender Nick Garcia - 5.5: Roamed widely in back and made an effective pairing with Pope. Was helped by the lack of Danish pressure.
Defender Bobby Convey - 6: Moved to the back after playing in the offensive middle for the under-23s. Defensively, did little wrong and was a big part of the attack. A strong effort.
Midfielder Richard Mulrooney - 5: Was fine working with Armas in the defensive end, but had his problems otherwise.
Midfielder Chris Armas - 5.5: Played more offensively than usual. Had several good shot opportunities, but could not finish. Was solid defensively.
Midfielder Steve Ralston - 4.5: Did not involve himself much on either end. Made a few good plays, but all together did not have a strong match.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5: Wonderful effort on both ends of the field. Forced Denmark into numerous fouls. His pace makes him one of the most effective Americans.
Forward Landon Donavan - 5.5: At times, was the most dangerous Americas. Should have had at least two goals from the run of play, but was let his team down with some dismal finishing.
Forward Ante Razov - 5: On the positive side, worked hard and was able to get himself in position to do damage. But, as has been the case, when he had the chance he could not find net.
Forward Josh Wolff (62nd minute for Razov) - 5: Did not do much. Received no service, but did not put himself into good position either.
Midfielder Chris Klein (62nd minute for Ralston) - 5.5: Certainly did better than the player he replaced, but did not really get into the flow.
Kerry Zavagnin (72nd minute for Mulrooney) - 5.5: Earned his first cap and did little wrong in his 20-minute appearance. Showed a strong leg and a good feel for the game.
Frankie Hejduk (81st minute for Albright) - 5: A token appearance. After several days of illness, was not a factor.
John Wolyniec ( 88th minute for Armas) - no rating: Inserted for a couple of minutes to earn his first cap as a reward for working hard in training.
Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.