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Dominating El Salvador on the road puts U.S. near final qualifying round.

U.S. was quite fortunate to escape Panama with a draw.

Ching, Donovan provide the goals as U.S. defeats El Salvador 2-0 to take Group 1 qualifying lead.

U.S. was dominant, but could have done better in beating El Salvador.

Ching gains repemption, his goal in 89th minute earning 1-1 qualifying draw in Jamaica.

Reserves spark late rally that allows U.S. to steal important road point in Jamaica.

Bocanegra header is enough for 1-1 draw with Poland.

Mission accomplished for Americans in disposing of Grenada.

Americans take it to next round with 3-2 defeat of Grenada.

Lackadaisical Americans are lucky to tie Poland.

Beasley's pair sparks 3-0 victory over Grenada to open qualifing series.

Second-half goals relieve pressure on U.S. for Grenada return leg.

McBride's two goals spark 4-0 romp over Honduras as Reyna reaches 100-cap milestone.

U.S. heads into qualifying on positive note after drubbing Honduras.

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

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

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.

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Analysis

Overpowering effort sends U.S. to final round of qualifying.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, October 14, 2004) -- The United States men advanced to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with an overpowering 6-0 win over Panama at RFK Stadium tonight. The U.S. clinched first place in Group 1 with a 3-0-2 record and 11 points with one game remaining.

The Americans were clearly dominant, but the game was not as one-sided as the final margin might indicate. Three U.S. goals were scored in the final six minutes and the match was 1-0 in the 57th minute when a great goal from Landon Donovan -- his second of the evening -- broke it open.

"We put out a team that has finally played together a bit," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "The speed of (DaMarcus) Beasley and Donovan in the midfield really gave them problems. I thought if we got the second goal and (Panama was) going to have to open up, they were in trouble. And that was the case."

There were two big differences between the game tonight and a 1-1 draw in Panama City September 8 when the U.S. needed a stoppage-time goal from Cobi Jones to salvage a point in the standings. First, the RFK field was dry whereas the Estadio Rommel Fernandez pitch in Panama City was virtually underwater. Much more importantly, the Americans gave Panama no room to operate in the midfield, challenged for every ball and denied their opponent many good chances.

U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller was not bothered until the 65th minute when Julio Dely Valdes was able to get off a deep header off a corner kick. A minute later, Keller did very well on a sharply curving free kick which he pushed onto the crossbar and out of danger.

"We knew they would play like they did down there (in Panama), trying to flight balls into their big men," Keller said. "We won just about every header and when we cleared the ball, our guys got to it in the midfield."

The U.S. backline of Frankie Hedjuk, Gregg Berhalter, Eddie Pope and Carlos Bocanegra played close to a flawless game, handling Panama's big forwards in the middle and allowing few good crosses from the wingers.

"We concentrated better as a back four and we did better on second balls," Pope said. "The guys tonight were great getting to loose balls and swarming their midfield guys while last time (in Panama) we gave them too much space and allowed them to pump balls into the box."

A key move on Arena's part tonight was to start Eddie Lewis in the left side of midfield -- he had inserted him midway through the second half in Saturday's 2-0 triumph in El Salvador -- and to move Beasley into the middle. With Beasley and Donovan running free and playing off one another, the U.S. pushed forward constantly and eventually wore the Panamanians down.

The surprise tonight was the three goals scored by second-half substitute striker Eddie Johnson who came on in the 65th minute, after scoring once in his international debut against El Salvador Saturday. Narrowly missing a fourth goal tonight, Johnson, 20, became the first U.S. player ever to record a hat trick as a reserve and only the third to do it in a qualifier.

"His physical qualities are outstanding," Arena said. "When you bring a player like that in with 30 minutes left and opponents chasing the game and defenders tired, Eddie's going to be dangerous."

Johnson was modest after the game. "I'm still nervous every time I come in with this team," he said. "It's good to be nervous because it helps with that first touch. Tonight, it was all about putting yourself in position. I made some runs and got good service."

Probably the two most significant absences from the starting lineup tonight were Tim Howard in goal and Clint Mathis in the midfield. Having lost his starting job for Manchester United in England, Howard hasn't seen any game action since September 15 while Keller was sharp when needed against El Salvador, as well as in training.

Mathis is a different story. He played poorly against El Salvador and turned in an inconsistent, at best, effort against Panama in Panama City in the prior outing.

Two other players who might have seen action tonight -- defender Tony Sanneh and forward Conor Casey -- were not available because of minor injuries.

"This game was all about our players," Arena said. "They prepared well. What a great performance over 12 days for us. Our players responded well and to win two these two (against El Salvador and Panana was) simply fantastic. But all the credit goes to the players."


U.S. player ratings:

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 6.5: Controlled his box impeccably. Came up with good saves when called on. Another thoroughly professional performance.

Defender Frankie Hejduk - 6.5: Played essentially as an attacking defender. He constantly ranged far forward and helped push the U.S. attack, but he always managed to get back on defense. His second strong match in a row.

Defender Eddie Pope - 7: He shut down Panamanian striker Julio Dely Valdes completely, allowing him only one header on the night. Showed both speed and range in the center of a solid U.S. defense.

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 6: This was his second appearance coming off a long injury layoff, and he looked more settled than he did in El Salvador on Saturday. He teams very well with Pope to give the U.S. a solid middle.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5.5: Moved to the left flank where he plays for Fulham in England. Showed good range pushing forward and solid defensive work, but was caught up field occasionally as he threw himself into the attack a bit too much. Late, he became an offensive force, assisting on two of Johnson's goals.

Midfielder Kerry Zavagnin - 5.5: He settled in and gave a more complete performance tonight, compared to Saturday in San Salvador. He got more into the offense while also covering for defenders who were pushing forward.

Midfielder Eddie Lewis - 5.5: He added a physical presence on the left side. Had a high work rate and created chances for himself and others all night long.

Midfielder Landon Donovan - 8: One of his most complete games for the national team. He scored two wonderful goals for a 2-0 lead, was all over the field making plays at both ends and did not fade as he sometimes does.

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5: Showed he might actually be more valuable running free in the center of midfield then on the left. His speed and work rate were exemplary. He constantly taxed the Panama defense and opened space for others.

Forward Josh Wolff - 6: Worked hard for an hour until he seemed to tire. Made some wonderful plays, including a textbook pass to set up Donovan's first goal. Seems to have fully recovered from a series of injuries.

Forward Brian McBride - 5.5: Won ball after ball in the air. Worked hard to create chances for others. Took a physical pounding, especially in the second half, but kept up fighting for every ball.

Reserves

Forward Eddie Johnson (65th minute for Wolff) - 7: Three goals in 25-plus minutes for four in the last two matches, his first two caps. Worked hard to get into the right spot against the tiring Panamanian defense and finished his chances in a magical night for an improving young player.

Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni (73rd minute for Zavagnin) - 5.5: Added fresh legs in the defensive end.

Defender Oguchi Onyewu (86th minute for Pope) - 5.5: Made his first international appearance and forced an own goal in the 90th minute.

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

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