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Analysis

Wasted chances don't stop U.S. from defeating T&T, nearing World Cup berth.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (Wednesday, August 17, 2005) -- The United States men are on the brink of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup after defeating Trinidad & Tobago 1-0 tonight. However, there was no reason for more than basic satisfaction.

After Brian McBride scored in the second minute, the Americans squandered opportunity after opportunity, and allowed an inferior team that it thoroughly dominated to remain in contention until the final whistle. Trinidad remained within a bad bounce, missed assignment or other U.S. mistake of earning the draw it so badly desired before 25,488 at Rentschler Field.

Mexico blanked Costa Rica and remained atop the final CONCACAF hexagonal at 5-0-1 with 16 points, one ahead of the U.S. which is 5-1 with four qualifiers remaining. Guatemala defeated Panama 2-1, meaning Costa Rica and Guatemala both are 2-3-1 with seven points, followed by Trinidad (1-4-1, 4) and Panama (0-4-2, 2). The top three teams in the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean advance to the World Cup in Germany. The fourth-place finisher goes into a two-match playoff against the fifth-best team from Asia.

True, the U.S. was robbed of a perfectly good goal by reserve forward Taylor Twellman, who was erroneously ruled offside in the 86th minute, but the outcome should have been settled long before then. Instead, the Americans had to survive some nail-biting moments at the end before securing the victory.

The U.S. outshot T&T 18-1 and did not allow a single shot on goal. Without making a save -- though he snared a couple dangerous crosses -- American goalkeeper Kasey Keller earned his fourth straight World Cup qualifying clean sheet.

"I thought we played well," U.S. manager Bruce Arena said. "We caused problems for ourselves. We created a number of goal scoring opportunities, but came up short. That allowed Trinidad to hang around for 89 minutes or so. They could have been punished and sent home a lot earlier."

The Americans inability to finish was on display again and again, and the U.S. should have walked off the field with several goals before the interval. The Soca Warriors were simply dreadful for first 45 minutes, making error after error and giving the U.S. huge amounts of space in the midfield.

Only a nice combination of passes allowed the U.S. to take a lead at all. After three passes, Bobby Convey, standing on the left sideline found fellow midfielder John O'Brien advancing alone down the left center. As soon as he distributed the ball, Convey sped into of the penalty area for a return pass from O'Brien. Alone in the left side of the box, Convey crossed to the middle where McBride, who had easily shaken his marker, knocked it in from four yards.

In the 41st minute, striker Landon Donovan intercepted a T&T backpass and went in alone on goal before he was fouled from behind by Dennis Lawrence, who was ejected with a red card. Donovan sent the subsequent free quick from 20 yards out into the defensive wall.

"They didn't do anything we didn't expect, if anything they played more poorly then we thought," U.S. assistant coach Glenn Myernick told SoccerTimes. "Our finishing just wasn't there. We should have had four or five by the half."

The second half played much like the first with the Americans thoroughly controlling play, given large tracts of territory by a timid Trinidad defense. In the 88th minute, Convey received his second yellow card for a bad tackle and was sent off, equalling the sides at 10 apiece.

In an interesting development, Arena started midfielder Eddie Lewis at left back tonight. Lewis was steady on defense while, on occasion, he pushed forward and pumped dangerous crosses into the box. Convey, who is off to a strong early start with Reading in England's second division, filled in Lewis' usual spot of the left flank and he attacked with enthusiasm.

Also important was the pairing of Claudio Reyna and John O'Brien in the midfield, the first time the two have been together since the final match of the 2002 World Cup. As they did in South Korea, they complemented each other well.

Oguchi Onyewu and Gregg Berhalter were both strong in the middle of defense, holding in check the usually dangerous Trinidad forwards. Berhalter made a key play in the 66th minute when he caught T&T striker Kenwyne Jones from behind in the box and tackled the ball away from the 20-year-old.

Trinidad brought in Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker to shore up the defense of a team known for its free-flowing offense, but tonight there was all too often chaos in back.

"You play Trinidad at home, you're supposed to win," said Keller, whose scoreless streak in qualifying is now at 417 minutes. "And we did, although we did so with more difficulty then we should have. But we did it and we got the points. Now we have to gear up for a real battle against Mexico."


U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 7: No saves, but ruled his area, cutting off several chances before they were allowed to develop.

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 6.5: A solid effort. Did well in the air against Stern John and made the best defensive play of the match. Certainly helped himself in Arena's eyes.

Defender Chris Albright - 5: Did not play badly and made no glaring errors, but is clearly a backup in the right flank position.

Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 6.5: He is becoming more and more comfortable in the middle. Had good positioning and showed good pace, at times. A fine outing.

Defender Eddie Lewis - 6.5: Played conservatively and did not push forward perhaps as much as he should have. But seemed comfortable and was solid. Worked well with Convey in front of him.

Midfielder Bobby Convey - 6: Despite two yellows cards and his disqualification, was best American in the first half. Missed the net on one open chance and had another close-in opportunity saved. Seems to be a dependable alternative for Arena.

Midfielder Claudio Reyna - 6: Did especially well in concert with O'Brien. Started many of the plays that ended up with solid U.S. chances.

Midfielder Steve Ralston - 5: He had his moments and created some chances, but overall did not have a quality match. Seemed to tire as the second half wore on.

Midfielder John O'Brien - 5.5: Played well, but was slowed after suffering a hip contusion in a collision which caused him to come off at the interval. His passing was sharp, particularly his pass to Convey that led to McBride's early goal.

Forward Brian McBride - 5.5: The high point for him was the early goal. He worked hard, but did not have much to show for it after that. A solid effort both on and off the ball.

Forward Landon Donovan - 5.5: Ran and ran, creating chances for others as well as for himself, but was haunted by problems finishing. Was a positive force.

Reserves:

Midfielder Chris Armas (46th minute for O'Brien) - 5.5: Played more defensively than the player he replaced, but did so with good results. Twice made outstanding efforts to shut down potentially damaging efforts by Trinidad.

Forward\midfielder Santino Quarenta (72nd minute for Ralston) - 5.5: Moved the ball well and put himself in good position to score or assist. Made nice pass to assist apparent goal by Twellman that was negated by bad offside call.

Forward Taylor Twellman Midfielder (83rd minute for Brian McBride) - 5:5: Had a good goal disallowed by faulty offside call. Showed he can be a handful to stop.

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

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